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Songkran 2012 Bangkok Survival Guide

Dry man, Songrkran 2012

Ready for Songkran 2012? Before you go, let me take you on a journey. A journey to the steamy and exotic city of Bangkok, Thailand. Songkran is the worlds largest multi-day water-fight, and traditional Thai New Years celebration. Taking place around the 13th to the 15th of April every year, my sorry tale of Songkran destruction should be a warning, to all who choose to brave this spectacular event.

Songkran celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand

OK. There is one piece of Songkran advice you really need to know: you will get wet. Drenched. You can’t avoid it. From the moment you step outside, onto the soaked streets of Bangkok, smiling Thai’s await, ready to squirt you with a water-pistol, throw a bucket of water on you, or point a conveniently located  fire-hose in your direction.

This is Songkran

Songkran 2012, Bangkok, Thailand. Target = YOU

I was totally caught by surprise at the tremendous city-wide scale of Songkran. New Years is celebrated by the entire city of Bangkok, by splashing everyone in sight, and randomly pasting faces with mushy talcum powder. Even inside a car or taxi, windows down, you will be targeted. Tip: a Tuk Tuk offers no protection. All over Bangkok, everyone joins in the fun. From glitzy hotels on busy roads, through to quiet “Soi’s” and back streets, Songkran is truly everywhere. For several days, Bangkok takes on an entirely new persona. Songkran is truly one of the greatest attractions of the Thai calendar – for locals and tourists alike.

Songkran water fighting

In the days before Songkran last year, I excitedly purchased my “dream” travel camera from a well-reputed Bangkok camera and photographic store. Its a “Leica”. For over fifty years, Leica has been a camera brand renowned for hand-built German precision. A “bulletproof” camera. Songkran proof? Well, just in case, I wore my most water-resistant backpack, with a built-in, totally waterproof, elasticized  rain-cover that fits snuggly over the top.

The precious camera was placed inside a wet-suit like case, then wrapped inside a small towel, and placed in the backpack. Only should it be deemed safe, would I take out my new toy from its snug little cocoon. On the first day of Songkran, as I left the Hotel, it didn’t take long to realise that the camera was unlikely to be safe, at any point during the next few days. I lasted about 30 seconds, before being completely saturated. 

Bangkok Songkran

During Songkran, There Isn’t a Dry Eye in the House

Enjoying the coolness of being wet on a brutally hot Bangkok day (the water is often ice-cold) , I travelled around the city for hours, checking in at various Songkran hotspots. I noticed people specifically targeting cameras, phones, and any electronic device. With a cheeky grin, the water-pistols would be aimed right at cameras. I used my $10 film camera to get the pictures you see here, thinking that if the cheap camera was destroyed, it wouldn’t be a great loss.

Several hours into the day, I found myself high above the road, on a platform of Sukhumvit train station. Below me, at street level, was absolute mayhem. After watching more than a few failed attempts at shooting me from below, I decided that I was high and dry enough to get some unique photos, in relative safety. Time to get the Leica out.

Without opening my backpack fully, I slid my hand deep into the backpack, all the time scanning for Thai water-snipers. Then, it happened. I felt the blood draining from my face. The backpack, water-proof as it should be, was indeed, half-full of water. My hand was completely submerged, as was the first part of my fore-arm. I had been attacked by bucket toting Thai’s an hour or so earlier. When they poured a large quantity of water over my head, it must have found its way down my neck, and had been pooling inside the backpack, unable to drain away.

Songkran, Bangkok, Thailand

I could feel the camera. It was totally underwater. Days old, and with a purchase price equivalent to an some annual Thai salary’s, I was scared to pull my Leica out from the backpack. I looked at Phillipa, the better looking half of Yomadic, and said something along the lines of “holy sh*t mother f….” I was calling for divine intervention.

As I pulled the camera from the bag, water was quite literally pouring out, from inside the Leica. I had to think fast. We were in a relatively safe zone, so I passed the camera to Phillipa. “HOLD THIS, WAIT HERE!” I ran to the nearest 7-11, to buy some tissues, a towel, anything dry that I could hopefully salvage the camera with.

Songkran from above

All of my clothes were soaked, as were Phillipa’s. There is water, mixed with talcum powder, absolutely everywhere. I made it to the local 7-11 within a few minutes, hurriedly scanned the shelves, tried to make sense of the Thai language on the packaging- ahh! A box of tissues! I jumped to the counter, paid, and ran back to Phillipa, and the Leica-on-life-support.  Deftly shuffling through the Bangkok crowds, bag of tissues in hand, slipping and sliding along the side-walks, I thought I just might save the Leica, the most expensive camera I have ever bought.

Consider Not Using the Most Expensive Camera in The Universe During the Songkran Celebrations

Puffing, panting, and still smiling, I ran up the stairs. There was now a small crowd around Phillipa, it seems we truly discovered one of the few Songkran-safe-zones in the entire Bangkok metro area. I ripped the package of tissues out of the 7-11 bag, and proudly held them high. “I GOT TISSUES! QUICK! GIVE ME THE CAMERA” Phillipa looked at the package, and despite her lack of Thai, said to me “uh, Nathan, they’re not tissues. They’re… Pads”. My face expressed my confusion. “Pads. Like Tampons. A bit. Pads. You know…” .

I’d not only proudly bought Tampons (or Pads, I’m still not totally sure, it’s all a blur), from a ram-packed 7-11, I had run with them through the bustling streets of Bangkok, held them high and proud at a busy train station, and then pulled them out to dry my camera, as many, many Thai’s watched on.

Drowned rats at Songkran, Bangkok

Songkran Epilogue:

Yes, I used Tampons, in public, in Bangkok. Possibly, “Pads”. Oh yes, they really mopped up the water well. By the next morning, the dream camera was beginning to return to life. A blinking light here, a shutter-click there. But, it wasn’t to be. Despite all my efforts, the Leica, although still partially operational, would have to live out it’s days being permanently crippled.

I decided to return to the shop where I had purchased it from just days before, and explained to the one salesperson that could speak any English…“umm, well, it kind of got wet during Songkran. Really, quite wet indeed”. I tried to explain about the Tampons (pads), you can imagine the body language during that conversation. He asked to take a look at the barely alive camera. “A lot of water, umm, many water”, I said. Looking through the viewfinder, he announced “hmm…even many water…should be OK….hmmm..I replace for you.” 

And that, is my tale of Songkran.

If you go, maybe leave your camera at the Hotel.

Nate.

Phillipa is here at Songkran, Bangkok

new years songkran

PS, the photos on this page were made with a very cheap camera.  You should check out  my secret photography weapon.

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26 Responses to Songkran 2012 Bangkok Survival Guide

  1. The Travel Fool Mar 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I was in Thailand last year but missed Songkran by about a week. Next time I will make it. There a few people I wouldn’t mind dousing.

    • Nate Apr 2, 2012 at 3:17 am #

      haha. Yes, I know what you mean ;) It’s worth going back to Thailand for!

  2. Jim Mar 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Im going to be in Bangkok this year over Songkran. I must admit, I’m not really looking forward to it. I hate the thought of being wet and not doing stuff for 3 days.

    • Nate Mar 28, 2012 at 1:08 am #

      …well Jim, it will be interesting for you, to say the least ;)

  3. Ian Ord Mar 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I’ll be in Chiang Mai over Songkran.. possibly the even soggier version of Bangkok’s (as the city has a a moat surrounding it’s center!). Hearing this story just makes me even happier with the last minute decision to buy an underwater camera before heading to Thailand!!

    Great story, thanks for sharing :)

    • Nate Mar 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      That’s a great idea Ian. I *had* an underwater camera, it’s now at the bottom of the Indian Ocean (but that’s a story for another day….) I’ve heard that Songkran is HUGE in Chang Mai, enjoy yourself!

  4. Tracey - Life Changing Year Mar 29, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    So did you get the camera replaced? You handled this well – there would have been a meltdown in our household!!! And at least you managed to find tampons (or were they pads? Lol) in Bangkok. We had such trouble and were just not prepared to mime what we were after!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Nate Mar 29, 2012 at 4:45 am #

      Hi Tracey. I was told by Phillipa that perhaps I was a bit “kurt”..but, I kept my cool rather well, given the circumstances. And yes, the camera was replaced. I couldn’t believe it! I was sure it was going to be a very, very, expensive lesson…

  5. Kurt Mar 31, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    Who knew that there were so many uses for Tampons? Nice pictures for such a cheap camera. Software must be pretty good.

    • Nate Mar 31, 2012 at 1:37 am #

      haha yes, I certainly didn’t consider all of the uses Kurt! Thanks for the compliments on the pictures, seriously, it’s such a great little camera, software tweaking is hardly required! The lens is sharp, and film gives such nice tones. Your photos are good as well, so as you know, its more about how you use the camera, than the camera itself.

  6. Tash Mar 31, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    Can’t believe they replaced the camera, that’s awesome. I guess it must happen a bit during this time!
    I can just picture a bloke running through a crowd with a pack of pads held aloft as if he is saving the day – a ha ha ha ha! Sorry, but that’s funny!

    • Nate Mar 31, 2012 at 4:17 am #

      haha Tash – yes, it was very, very, amusing for all involved ;). I couldn’t believe it when the camera was replaced, literally a big sigh of relief!

  7. Kieu Mar 31, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Bahahahaha… Love it! We will be in Chiang Mai for Songkran this year. Do you think “Super” will do the trick?! Lol. Great post! Thanks for the tip.

    • Nate Mar 31, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      haha thanks Kiue…and oh gawd I’m starting to feel slightly embarrassed, with all this talk of feminine hygiene products. Make sure you enjoy yourself at Songkran in Chang Mai!

  8. MAD for SONGKRAN Apr 6, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Sounds like it s going to be SPLASH, I can’t wait. We will enjoy every minute of it.

    • Nate Apr 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

      Best. Joke. Ever. ;)

  9. Joe Apr 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    i have lived in Pattaya, Thailand for twenty years, so Songkran is nothing new to me.
    The first few years were exciting. But after being
    subjected to being doused by five-gallon buckets of
    questionably-polluted water, and being groped
    at my crotch by groups of lady boys, it’s lost it’s
    charm. Now I stock up on enough supplies to
    last through the longer Pattaya Songkran,
    and hibernate until the whiskey-filled idiots
    wear themselves out!

    • Nate Apr 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      Maybe I should head to Pattaya next time ;)

      But seriously, thanks for the insight to Songkran in Pattaya, Joe.

  10. Torre – Fearful Adventurer Apr 12, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I’m in Koh Tao for Songkran. Bring on the sanitary hygiene products!

    • Nate Apr 12, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      I think sales of “sanitary hygiene products” will be much higher than normal, this year during Songkran ;)
      PS, have fun!

  11. Geoff Apr 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Songkran in Pattaya and Jomtien Thailand;- how to survive,

    1. Buy 2 cheap new phones and sim cards (one international), You can phone eachother cheaply when seporated and phone home fairly cheaply for about £40 including phones,sims and credit, and when you leave thailand you can give them away or keep the handsets for next year (the sims will expire but are cheap enough to buy.

    2. Dont wory too much about sunburn, although hot the cloud cover is good so no direct sunlight, usually.

    3. Before leaving the hotel, put 500 baht in small notes or coins(£10) and your cheap phone into a plastic bag in your pocket.

    4. Put everything into hotel security box, money, tickets, passport, camera, iphone, mp3 player, you get the picture.

    5. On the bahtbus (pickup with roof and seats but no sides or back) keep your eyes open and be ready to duck behind the cab, 2 vehicles passing at 40mph means that water thrown will hit the side of your face at 80mph throwing you off the back of the vehicle unless your foot gets caught in a seat support so be prepared and hold something tightly OR use a taxi.

    6. If you go into a 7-11 or Tesco-Lotus the air conditioning will freeze you very quickly so avoid if possible.

    7. The young male white tourists can sometimes be very drunk, agresive and get over excited, the Thai’s are usually far more polite, gentle and civilised about how they paint and drench you.

    8. Watchout for drunk drivers, I.E. young white male tourists showing off on motorbikes, quads or small cars hired for the day.

    Basically, leave everything in the hotel safe, dont get drunk, enjoy the 5 days and nights of loud music with breaks from midnight to 5am, and expect to get white and wet.

    But most of all just enjoy it.

    • Nate Apr 13, 2012 at 4:21 am #

      I definitely agree with the last point – most of all enjoy it (hard not to, really)…

      Also, I love point number 5, if gives people an indicator as to how huge this water-fight really is!

  12. Yoga Jun 20, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    OMG I can’t believe you got your Leica replaced !!! Your angel must have been working overtime !! I had an awesome time in Songkran and I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before. Definitely left my dslr at home and brought along my cameraphone which was kept dry in a waterproof pouch. Was in Khao San and Silom on two separate days !! Definitely felt like a kid all over again :D

    • Nate Jun 20, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Yes, I certainly was lucky. Glad you had a great time at Songkran in Bangkok, it’s really a great experience!

  13. Tony James Slater Oct 22, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Wow, great story Nate! How awesome, that you ran through the streets brandishing sanitary towels…!
    I’ve survived a few Songkrans in Koh Pha Ngan, and am writing about them now (which is what led me to your page). For me it was summed up by my sister, after taking a water balloon to the face: “Damn those whores are good shots!”

    • Nate Oct 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

      haha. Sounds about right ;)

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