So I sort of promised more from Bangkok this week, but I’ve failed on that front. I woke up at 6am in Bangkok this morning and was back in Laos by 11:30am, only to find that the streets are as crazy here as they were in Thailand.
The last three days have marked the traditional New Year festivals in both Thailand (Songkran) and Laos (Pii Mai Lao)
I’d heard that the locals celebrated New Years in Thailand and Laos by turning their towns and cities into a big three-day water fight, but before this week I couldn’t really understood how that worked. Unless you happened to get really unlucky, I thought, surely you could venture out outside without getting that wet? Surely it’s not like half the population has nothing to do for three days straight except stand around and assault others with water? Right?
Wrong. So wrong. On several fronts. Let me count the ways.
- It’s not like it’s half the population staking out the roads and looking to drench others. More like 80% I’d say.
- They’re not just standing around staking out the roads from the pavements. Gangs of over-excited teenagers, adults, and even a few grandpas, also ride around town in the back of pickup trucks armed with garbage cans of water they use to bail and toss, and water guns that squirt a huge stream of water more than fifty feet. When they see anyone walking or riding past and looking somewhat dry, a great cry of, “get them!” arises. And then they do. Even if you’re obviously pregnant.
- Not all the water being tossed is just water. Some of it’s been dyed pink. Or black. That’s particularly great when you’re dumb enough to venture out in white linen pants, as I was last night in Bangkok.
- Water is not all that’s freely bestowed. People also run around toting bowls of thick, white rice paste. As you walk past they reach out and smear this paste on your face, leaving behind big white streaks. Or they throw a cloud of rice flour onto you right after they throw water.
All this is quite fun when you’re watching it from the safety of your front porch or even the first time you get drenched. It’s a lot less fun three days later when you’re being drenched for the tenth time and you’re on your way out to dinner wearing conference attire.
I’d thought things might be a bit quieter up here in Luang Prabang than in Bangkok, but the reverse seems to be true. Everyone is out and about. Mike says he’s never seen so many people out giving morning alms to the monks as he did this morning, and as we drove in from the airport to meet friends for lunch, the streets were thronged. Hundreds of kids were crawling all over the one fountain in town – their parents standing around grilling meats, drinking beer, and tossing the odd bucket of water whenever the mood took them. Luang Prabang is just one giant, wet party that puts our university shenanigans (seemingly so many years ago now) to shame.
As we walked out of the café after lunch two little girls ran up to me with full containers and big grins on their faces. Fresh from the airport I was still wearing my conference attire, but it was close to a hundred degrees here today so I just stood still and let them soak me. It felt wonderful. I guess the eleventh time is the charm when it comes to getting into the party spirit (or getting so hot you’re just desperate to be hosed down).
Siok dee pii mai! Happy New Year from Laos!