Sangkran Festival, Bangkok

(click for more Bangkok photos)

Thai New Year - April 10th-14th

Enter the war zone, Sangkran festival in Bangkok. Millions take to the streets at the hottest time of the year, marching down main roads and alleyways. Yet the war here is waged with water. Water pistols, pump-action guns, drinking water bottles, buckets, hoses, etc.

Like aboriginal ghost dancers, some are half naked, with wet white clay smeared all over their bodies. [This is apparently for good luck.]

Gangs of young men come marching down the road, spreading their chalk on anybody in sight. Going after farangs. [ Pronounced falang = westerner]  Kao San road, a usual back packer haven of a road, has been reclaimed by the Thais. I try to avoid its 1 million plus chaos. An unarmed farang, I go sneaking through the madness. A Thai man comes out at me with a bucket and I turn it back on him. But from my side a four year old girl shoots me in the face with her pistol.   I make it to the end of Rambutri road where a sound system pumps out psychedelic trance from 10 am till 1 am. Farangs and Thais dance in the street, smeared in chalk, water flying in every direction. In the evening it becomes more of a drunken mess, dancing in puddles of water, street muck, and beer. Taxis try to drive through, get smeared in chalk, and a shouting drunk guy jumps on the trunk.

Some guy throws beer all over me and I surpress my urge to dump the whole bottle on him. ["Surpress my Viking instincts" as my Norwegian friend says.]

On Kao San road, a Thai band plays 80's style rock. Thais sing along waving their hands like some Bon Jovi concert.

You can hardly believe that this will go on for 4 days and only get crazier.

In fact by the fourth day, Sangkran was going as strong as ever. You can hardly believe the sheer numbers of people on the streets here, especially at night. By this day I seemed to have created a protective aura around me. I was almost entirely dry as some poor back packers got completely drenched, back pack and all. They have no mercy for farangs with back packs or cameras.

The Sangkran festival says something about Thai culture. This is probably the most intimate festival that involves so many people. Everyone is touching each other, dumping water, and smearing clay. The Thais are smiling and happy. It seems that the festival is one great purification for the people and for Bangkok, among other celebrating cities and villages. On the following morning, Kao San road is completely white with clay; the city has purged.


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Steve Harkless
Created: June 14, 2003
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Last modified: June 20, 2003