One of the things we were most looking forward to during our time in Thailand was joining the festivities of Songkran, the Thai New Year. The holiday is based on a tradition of monks sprinkling water on people as a sign of cleansing the bad deeds of the previous year. But it has morphed into a huge, country wide, water fight. Chiang Mai is especially well known for its four day long celebration where people line the moat around the city and use water guns or buckets to throw water on any passerby. Everyone participates and no one is safe from getting wet.
We had been hearing for weeks from tourists and locals how much fun the weekend would be, so we were excited to be there. We even decided to switch to a hostel near the north gate so we would be right in the heart of the action. On the first day of Songkran we spent much of the day at our first hostel, and we caught the tail end of the festivities as we took a taxi to our new hostel in the late afternoon. The roads were crowded with cars and people splashing water, but we were able to drop off our bags at our new hostel and wander around the moat just as it was getting dark without getting wet.
The next day was a different story. We set out around 9am in search of breakfast and from the moment we left our hostel we were immediately doused with water. We hadn’t even had a chance to buy our own water guns!
While eating breakfast at our favorite restaurant we devised a plan to take back streets through the old city join in the festivities on the east side of town. There we would buy ourselves some guns or small buckets, partake in the festivities for as long as we felt like, then sit back at one of the bars on the moat and take in the action from the sidelines in the late afternoon.
As we walked we looked for vendors selling water guns but we never saw any so we tried to avoid groups of people until we could arm ourselves. We were somewhat successful in avoiding direct attackers, only getting sprayed when someone came up on us from behind.
It wasn’t exactly that the water was unwelcome, there’s a reason the holiday is set in April, the hottest month in Thailand. It was mostly the fact that it was easy to be caught off guard. Even as we were feeling relatively carefree about it, we just didn’t have as much fun walking around as sitting ducks. The longer we walked the more desperate we became to be able to get our attackers back.
As we got closer to the action the atmosphere got much more chaotic. People were running in the streets, cars zoomed past, and water was spraying everywhere. At one point we approached a large group hanging out in front of a hostel. We were so close to the main area where we could finally buy ourselves water guns and properly join in the fight. We just had to pass this one group, walk a few more blocks and we’d be there.
Right before we got to the hostel I started to run across the street. At that exact moment a scooter came out of nowhere and we collided. We both went down as the scooter slid a few feet. The driver came away with a skinned knee, the scooter had a broken mirror, and I had a twisted wrist and a bruised ego.
As I sat on the side of the road with adrenaline pumping through me, I tried to pull it together. We were close enough to hear the party happening just a few blocks away but the sounds and energy of people running around me were too much to bare. The fun we had been looking forward to seemed so impossibly far away.
The whole morning I had been waiting to be able to properly join in. Instead, we were dodging groups of people, purposefully walking empty streets, and generally missing out on the action. Then it was topped off by the crash. I felt so defeated.
After a long time, I still couldn’t find it in me to want to get back out there. I eventually I had to admit the crash had sucked all the potential for fun out of the day. We decided to forego the festivities and try again the next day.
As we walked back, we stuck to mostly side streets, but for the most part weren’t trying to avoid getting wet like we had earlier. Most people saw the disappointment on my face and passed us without notice, or at the very least would stop spraying us if we asked.
But as we passed one group of young, drunk, tourists, they locked their hose on us and did not stop. Even when we asked nicely “please, stop, please” they said “sorry, we have to” and kept spraying us. I was livid. I finally shouted “Stop it, you do not have to, you’re just being an asshole!” Not my best moment.
As soon as we got back to the hostel, Jeff and I turned to each other and asked “do we really want to do two more days of this?”
Granted we could have definitely done a second day differently. We could have bought water guns, stayed closer to our hostel, added a few beers, and would have likely had a good time. But at the moment the idea of joining in a group of young, western travelers to have a drunk water fight for 48 hours just didn’t sound appealing anymore.
I have to admit there was a part of me that felt like I was giving up. There was a part of me that believed that if so many people had told me about this incredibly fun holiday that there must be something wrong with me for deciding it wasn’t for me or for having a bad experience in the first place.
But I am learning. I am learning to see these kinds of situations as a possibility to try something new rather than yet another opportunity to critique myself. I am learning not to compare my experience, worries, or desires to someone else’s. I am learning to be okay with disappointment when my expectations don’t match reality. And I am learning to, decidedly, not do things just because someone else said it was fun.
So we asked ourselves, what’s the point of living without a job, without commitments, without anything to do, if we don’t let ourselves act on an impulse when the opportunity presents itself?
So instead of doing the responsible thing of sticking it out or even moving to a different hotel in the Chiang Mai area, we decided to cut our losses and get out of there completely. We immediately booked a flight from Chiang Mai for 7am the next morning and by 3pm the next day we had landed on Koh Phangan, an island we’d heard basically nothing about.
Booking that flight was one of the most impulsive things we’ve done on this trip and it turned out to be one of the best choices we’ve ever made. By not giving into that voice that tried to dictate what we should be doing, we ended up having an incredible week on one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever been to.
But more importantly, I learned that it is possible to overcome my instinct to follow the crowd, even when I know its not the best option for me, and that make it all worth it. A week on an island paradise was just icing on the cake.