After meeting up with Patty (a college nickname for my friend–it kills me to call him “Pat” or “Patrick”) and my ill-timed sickness, we were running out of time to see everything that we had planned on seeing. The original plan was to take a bus from Chiang Mai up to Chiang Rai, where we would see the White Temple. Then we would take the 2-day scenic Slow Boat down the Mekong River into Laos, travel by bus to Vang Vieng, and then ultimately end up in Luang Prabang.
Easy peasy, right?
Unfortunately, time was not on my side. I had less than a week before my flight out of Luang Prabang and accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see or do everything.
Instead of rushing through Laos, Patty and I stayed in Chiang Mai to kick off the start of Songkran Festival.
What’s Songkran, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s a week-long water fight in the streets. It started out as a cleansing ritual to ring in the New Year where people gently sprinkle water on you. But during the New Year, the weather is intensely hot (check out the screenshot of the 10-day forecast!) so people started to throw water as a way to cool people down during the hot summer days.
I was a little nervous about “playing Songkran,” especially after my experience with Holi Festival in India.
But unlike Holi, Songkran was innocent, lighthearted, and fun.
On every street corner were roadside stalls selling water guns of all sizes, buckets, rain jackets, and waterproof cell phone bags. Adults and children alike stood in the streets cheerfully tossing water onto passersby. Large trucks ambled through the streets, their beds full of people armed with huge bins full of water, buckets, and guns; its occupants tossing water onto anyone who dared come close. At first glance, one would think that there was a recent downpour in the streets. Young children clutched at water guns far too big for their tiny frames, preparing to squirt people walking by. The water adorably dribbling out of their gun while they looked to their parents for approval, as if to say, “Am I doing this right?” Elderly residents gingerly walking through the water puddles, smiling while they toss their small bowl of water onto the driest person they see.
As we rode by in our songthaew (a truck where you ride in the back), people would spot us and shoot their guns, hoses, and throw their buckets of water into the open windows. I couldn’t stop squealing with delight while trying to duck my head from the onslaught of water.
We arrived at our destination: a hotel where we were attending a rooftop pool party. Glancing around, I saw them: a large group of guys, strategically surrounding a huge tub of water, fully equipped with guns and buckets.
Our eyes locked. They hastened over to me and scooped me up. They had clearly done this before. I knew what was about to happen. I gave up the fight and accepted my fate: I was going into the tub and there wasn’t a darn thing that I could do about it.
Being the ever-considerate gentlemen, they removed my bag from my back so as not to damage any of my valuables. Then without warning, they unceremoniously plopped me into the tub.
I was completely soaked and laughing hysterically.
Refreshed and feeling fully initiated into the true spirit of Songkran, I looked around for Patty, wondering if he got away unscathed. The guys helped me out of the tub, returned my bag, and then I found Patty (what help he was!) to get some snacks before the pool party.
We walked into a small shop, purchased some delicious beverages (and mangosteen ice cream), and relaxed in the dry safety of the shop. We chatted with the shopkeeper and his friend and toasted to Songkran.
Patty and I made it up to the pool party to cool down, swim in the pools, and to play on gigantic blow-up swans. It was a great way to finish off our first day of Songkran.
Since we were running out of time, we decided to book a 1-hour flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. This was the first time that I’ve ever booked a flight on the same day that I took it (what a rebel I’ve become).
We arrived into Laos at a tiny airport. The skies were hazy from the burning fields to make way for new crops. We were excited for the next part of our adventure and ready to get to our guesthouse for a quiet night in.
We were in for quite the surprise when we starting driving through town, only to have our taxi surrounded by more people playing Songkran. Water splashed onto the windows, people stood in the middle of the street to stop cars driving by
The drive that should’ve only taken 10 minutes ended up taking an hour due to all the rowdiness in the streets.
And I loved it.
Those riding motorbikes seemed to be asking for water assaults from all angles. It seemed like they would slow down and drive towards the people with water buckets so that they could have the bucket poured down their backs and splashed with water.
It was just like Songkran in Chiang Mai but on a smaller scale.
The things that I loved about this festival was there didn’t seem to be any malicious intent with Songkran. Locals didn’t target foreigners any more than they targeted other locals. It was just good, clean fun. The festivities lasted for the full week: children had time out of school and many shops were closed down so that the workers could spend time with their family during the New Year.
I had a blast during Songkran and feel so fortunate that I was able to experience such a fun (gosh, I keep saying that word, but it’s the best way to describe it!) festival in two different countries.
Patty and I had to say our goodbyes on the 19th, as he returned back to Bangkok to prepare for a trip to Nepal, and I departed for the Philippines to do some surfing, sunning, and relaxing.
I am now in San Juan, a small surf town that is a 7-hour bus ride north of the capital, Manila.
I am being hosted by an awesome friend that I met while traveling through India. So far, I’ve been loving my time here. I don’t feel like a tourist because he’s been showing me the local hangouts, best food, and we even made a late-night McDonald’s run for ice cream with his friends. Everyone here is incredibly welcoming and friendly.
It has been difficult to be present and appreciate every second that I have here because as I get closer to the end of my trip, I can’t stop thinking about the ever-increasing list of obligations waiting for me back home.
Once again, I need to take a step back and breathe.
Here’s to living in the moment and appreciating the unforgettable memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.