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A Thailand Experience
by René Hasekamp

Songkran

When you are in Thailand on 13 April you will undergo the experience of the Songkran Festival (originally: Thai New Year). On that day everybody is allowed to throw water at everybody, and I can assure you that nobody escapes this free-of-charge shower! So carry your underwater-camera only. But because it is the hottest time of the year, nobody minds.

The background of this custom is doubtless the idea of "cleaning" for the New Year. The only time I was there (in Phuket) on that date -a day that has been written in my memory very clearly- things were as follows:

In the morning we -my wife and I- went to my mother in law in order to pour some water over her hands. A very old custom. When you walk in the streets early in the morning of Songkran Day you are still relatively safe, apart from the danger of being "shot" wet with some water gun by small children. But the real "danger" starts later in the morning. We were sitting in what they call a "tuk-tuk" in Phuket, but what in fact is a small taxi, with holes on the places where normal cars have their doors. Suddenly the contents of a bucket full of water was thrown into the car. My first wet suit! "Yes, this is Songkran", my wife said in a meaningful way (with a Thai smile, of course)! Little did I know that this was only the beginning.

In the afternoon the real festival bursts out. The population divides itself in two groups: One group is standing along the streets with "weapons" like buckets, garden hoses and what else have you to throw water with, while the other half prepares their cars. These cars should be open, and preferably be pick-up trucks. Suddenly everybody seems to have one. Or do they but them for this occasion? Anyway, a very large container, filled with water, is placed on the back of the car and around it as many people as fit on it, armed with small buckets and other convenient containers. Some carry specially devised weapons, that can be described as (small) water guns. Available around 13 April only.

Now the confrontation starts. The cars drive through the streets and the people on them -your author among them- throw as much water as they can at the people along the streets. These, of course do the same in the direction of the cars and... Well, you can imagine how this goes on.

After some time people discover that you can put ice cubes (large ones!) in your water container, in order to have a stronger weapon. Wow! That really can be cold! But, as things go in Thailand, everybody discovers this at the same moment, and in less than half an hour there is no single gram of ice available any more in the whole town of Phuket, which means that the water gradually becomes warm again!

Now, this "war" goes on until sundown, and then everybody returns home in a peaceful way, with a wet suit. Rules are rules, and it seems to be a major rule that this war stops at sundown! If you can bear the heat (up to 40 Centigrade; 100+ F) you really should go at least once to Thailand on 13 April. Although I tried to describe my experience, you have to undergo it to believe it!
Happy Songkran!!

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