Last year, we arrived in Thailand about a week too late to enjoy the festivities of Songkran, the traditional New Year’s celebrations. Originally, the 3-4 days of Songkran was a time for people to visit and pay their respects to their elders, monks and Buddhist relics, by gently pouring water over the hands and shoulders. However, today, the celebrations have morphed into massive water fights, with Thais and foreigners alike soaking each other with anything from buckets to hoses to water guns sold at exorbitant prices.
In Chiang Mai, commonly known as the best place in the world to celebrate Songkran, the old city, specifically around the moat, is a continuous splash-fest from morning til night. Although the water is meant as a symbol of cleansing, the buckets armed with moat-water is anything but. We were heavily warned to keep our eyes and mouths closed when getting doused, unless we want to risk getting an infection of some various kind.
A highlight of our Songkran festivities was when an elderly Thai woman gave us the most sincere smile and then, with her small silver bowl filled with water, gently blessed our shoulders and wished us a happy new year. We walked away from this actually feeling blessed. This heartwarming experience didn’t last long, though. A couple jerks with super-soakers walked by and sprayed us in our ears with freezing cold water!
That brings us to a lesson we’d like to discuss: if you are looking for an instruction manual for “How to be a jerk at Songkran”, simply follow these steps. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can assist you in performing one, two or all of the suggestions below. If your goal is to be the biggest jerk at Songkran, then you have to do not only all five steps, but do them repeatedly. Good luck as there is a lot of competition out there!
How to Be a Jerk at Songkran in Five Easy Steps
- Spray someone talking on the phone
- Seek out and aim at someone who is trying to take a picture
- Throw buckets of water over people just arriving with all their luggage
- Pour a bucket of water over someone at the ATM
- Spray someone intentionally with water in the face, and in particular, aim for their mouth or eyes
10 thoughts on “How to Be a Jerk at Songkran in Five Easy Steps”
Charli l Wanderlusters
Great advice girls! I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the festival and I have to say it does look as though some take the soaking one step too far. It’s a shame when you consider the original purpose of the water was to show respect.
Mindy & Ligeia
We completely agree. We suppose we have become traditionalists in our “old” age. :):)
No excuse for dickheads but I guess cultural insensitivity is bound to be common in our mobile world, especially when many offenders don’t educate themselves on local traditions – and when booze is involved… says the shoe-drinking sozzler with a few memory gaps from her youth 🙁
We read before our trip last year that some Thais consider westerners loud and dirty so we were really conscious of trying to keep our, um, ‘exuberance’ down to a low roar, especially in temples and other such situations. Our excitement didn’t always remember to zip it though and one morning one of the kitchen workers at the ENP pleaded with our group of volunteers to “Please not be so noise” at the buffet. We didn’t think we were being excessively loud but it did make it clear that what we consider just happy conversation can sound like a pack of baying hyenas to gentler ears.
Mindy & Ligeia
Cultural sensitivity is definitely important when traveling. When we first arrived to Thailand we were so uber-aware of our feet as to not point them at anyone, for example. The concept of “loud” and “quiet” is definitely a relative thing. Having lived in Thailand for almost a year now, we speak in low voices, so when we recently went to the Philippines so often no one could hear us when we spoke and we felt like we had to yell only to be heard.
In terms of wearing the “jerk hat”, both foreigners and locals alike took their turns. We guess the possibility of being a jerk is international. 🙂
Gee, it looks like you are still in the states considering the behavior you described above. Guess you can’t even escape jerks even that far away!!
Mindy & Ligeia
One thing we have discovered from traveling to so many places is that stupidity, being a jerk and kindness are all international. There were plenty of Thais and foreigners from a variety of countries alike engaging in not-nice behavior. The trick is not to let them get to you and to try to see the good parts of things. 🙂
I bet there are plenty of jerks there. Did you see all of the above happen to people? I was in Brazil recently and a girl pushed a guy in the pool at a party. When he climbed out, he had his broken iPhone in his hand. She didn’t even look remorseful!
Mindy & Ligeia
Plenty of jerks indeed! we kept trying to focus on the nice people who were also present but that wasn’t always easy since the jerks of the world have a way of making their presence known. We saw all of these happen accept for the ATM one – but it wouldn’t surprise me to see this at all. So jerks have made it all the way to Brazil huh? Guess being a jerk really is international. 🙂
Nicole Rossetti le Strange
You forgot perhaps the most dangerous example of Songkran jerkery – dousing people who are on bikes and scooters. This year, there was a local guy, his wife, and child on a scooter, who had a bucket of water thrown over them by an idiot drunk farang outside Soho Bar… and yes, they all came off the scooter. Said farang was completely unconcerned.
Of course, it could be argued that riding a scooter during Songkran is pretty stupid… but then we all know that locals do stupid things on scooters anyway!
I don’t like it around the moat at Songkran – it seems to be a hive of arse-hattery. Last year we attempted to walk into the old city but only got as far as the moat. It was actually fine until we walked past a pickup truck full of farangs who chucked a bucket of iced water over us (lumps and all). We immediately turned around and returned to HK Road/Nimman… which is far saner (leaving aside the incident outside Soho).
Overall, we’ve found few examples of drunk people – a couple of drunk locals but not many – and even fewer drunk farang. TBH, I think it’s such an exciting event that foreigners don’t tend to notice the lack of alcohol… at least at our end of CM! Having said that, a couple of times we’ve been offered illicit beers from people on the street but we’ve never availed ourselves of the ‘service’ (my partner is tee total anyway). Who needs to get drunk to enjoy the festival? Not me!
One thing we have found is that although locals lob buckets of water (warm, mostly!), or let rip with super-soakers, it’s never at heads or faces. Farangs, on the other hand, do seem to delight in getting in headshots. I have no idea whether they just don’t know not to do it, or that they don’t care, or just get caught up in the moment… but some of them do behave like idiots. Fortunately, not many – most people, local and foreign alike, are great. I’ve even the local cops join in on HK Road!
I do have to admit however, that after several days, it does get a bit old! And it did actually become a tad annoying when all I wanted to do was go to KSK to buy some groceries first thing one Sunday morning, and got drenched by the ONE person who was out and about at that time!
I totally agree about how noisy foreign people can be! As two uber-quiet Europeans, one of the best things about living here is how quiet the locals are. We can be in a crowded restaurant, and still not have to raise our voices in order to talk to each other! But it does mean that we really notice how loud other foreigners are! 😉
Mindy & Ligeia
Yes, throwing buckets of water on motorcyclists and bicyclists. So many accidents happen this way every year.
And yes, a bit can be fun but it seems to last for days in Chiang Mai and after awhile when you’re ready for life to resume, it gets a bit annoying.
We know Thais who live inside the moat who refuse to go out during Song Kran and instead buy everything they need ahead of time and hunker down until it’s over. 🙂