11 to 14 April 2010
We had an interesting arrival into Bangkok early on the morning of 11th April … The “Red Shirts” have been camping out in Bangkok for about a month now and up until this point everything had been peaceful, almost with a festival atmosphere but with the massive inconvenience of blocked streets, closed shops and traffic disruption. I won’t post a political or history lesson as it will take too much time but if you don’t know, you can look it up! Let’s just hope they sort themselves out soon. Back to our arrival…. Having spent 16 hours on an overnight train, we arrived in Bangkok at 5am blissfully unaware that one of most violent nights in Thailand’s modern history had just come to an end. I had commented on the train to Mark that maybe he should change out of his yellow t-shirt in to a more neutral colour but he forgot! Our tuk tuk drove through streets full of people only wearing red shirts, trying to get a route through to where we were staying until he got to a point where he said he couldn’t get through and we would have to walk the last 10 minutes or so. So when we got out of the tuk tuk, Mark ducked down a side road and changed into a blue t-shirt. The Red Shirts that saw him doing that starting smiling and giving the thumbs up and came over to our shake hands. So we walked to our guest house near Khao San Road through the Red Shirts camps with the atmosphere calm and subdued and not at all threatening. It was only when we were checked in that we found out what had happened the night before. Wandering around, the streets were in a right mess including smashed up vehicles, shops and phone boxes. Some of the worst violence was right at the end of Khao San Road (the main backpacker area of the city) – for some it was too close for comfort and they were leaving Bangkok; for others it has given them a travellers tale they can tell in the bar for a while to come! Sunday was a day of mourning and the atmosphere remained quiet and subdued with Red Shirts and tourists taken pictures of bullet holes and the places where people had fallen, creating mini shrines. It’s not difficult to see how these actions are harming Thailand as a tourist destination although as I said, at no point did we feel uneasy. For now, there’s an unofficial standing down by the army but who knows how things will get resolved. Hopefully quickly and peacefully but sadly neither seem likely at this point in time…..
But on to happier times….. Monday saw the start of Songkran in Thailand – Thai New Year and their most important holiday of the year. Also known as the “water festival”, it’s a time to party hard and get very, very wet indeed! Traditionally, the extent of the water is a small amount sprinkled on the head or shoulders as a blessing but like all traditions this has now grown into a full-blown dousing of water by the bucket load, distributed by bucket, hose pipe or all manner of water pistols, mostly the size of AK47’s and the equivalent water pistol force of. There are 2 options: 1. Stay inside for 4 days or 2. Put on swimmers and old clothes, put your money and phones in water-tight bags and get out and join in the fun.
You can run but you can’t hide and pretty much within seconds of stepping outside, you’ll be wet! After two days of fun on Khao San Road and still damp and covered in the talcum powder paste you are also “blessed” with, we covered our backpacks with bin bags and headed to the station for the overnight train to Chiang Mai for the second part of the holiday period. Songkran in Chiang Mai is even crazier than Bangkok; whereas where we were in Bangkok the streets were for the best part pedestrianized and water restricted to re-fills from taps, hoses or bottle with face to face combat, in Chiang Mai the city is ringed by a moat, providing easy and unlimited water. The streets all around the moat are crammed with people and their buckets on a rope so that they can be easily dipped into the moat for re-filling, then everyone else drives around the moat on the back of pick up trucks, motorcycles or tuk tuk’s with their roofs removed especially for the occasion – motorcycles are defenceless sitting ducks but everything else carries huge drums full of water. The traffic is either slow-moving or at a standstill and so battle commences! There is no such thing as non-participation and even those travelling on public transport which is open at the back will have buckets of water thrown in at them! The central gate, Tae Phae has dancing and a foam machine. If sat in a bar, cover your beer and hold onto it. Both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai the atmosphere was fantastic and it’s been a really fun few days – and probably the longest party either of us has been to!