Songkran: Thailand’s Most Famous Holiday

Overview//

Alice, my best friend from France, and her host family invited me to stay with their family for Songkran, the most important Thai holiday. We went on a little road trip through provinces near Bangkok, going swimming often to lots of beaches or creeks. It was so much fun and I loved spending more time with Alice.

What is Songkran?//

Songkran, an annual holiday from April 13-15, is a celebration for the Thai Buddhist New Year. Foreigners know and love it for being “the world’s largest water fight.” Across the country, people throw buckets of water, carry water guns, and soak anyone and everyone in sight. This is well-timed and cold water is welcome, seeing as this week is usually the hottest in the year. Most Thai people return to their home province for this holiday to celebrate with their family and visit temples to pour water of Buddha images or the hands of Buddhist monks out of respect. It is common for people to wear floral clothing to celebrate.

Days in Bangkok//

Before our road trip, Alice and I stayed in Samut Prakan, Bangkok with her host family for about two days. It was really fun having sleepovers and interesting to see another way of host family life. In the daytime, we took the BTS train downtown to meet up with the others: Sydney, Chloe, Tyler, Mattes, Alice (from Germany), and Luke. We usually took the BTS and then a motorcycle taxi in the early evening to have dinner and stay the night with her host family. I looked forward to taking the BTS, as I love trains in general and I liked seeing the famous giant three-headed statue of the elephant god Erawan in Samut Prakan. Dinners with Alice were lovely, especially as there was no hassle about my vegetarianism. I got very close to Alice through our discussions at night and spending so much time with her.

One day, we went with Mattes and Tyler to Lumphini Park for a while, which I had never been to. It was peaceful and we sat under a shady spot to talk for a while.

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A photo Alice took of a bench nearby where we were sitting.
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Our view of the lake around Lumphini Park.

Later that day, we met up with Sydney, Chloe, Alice from Germany, and Luke. However, as it was ridiculously and unbearably hot to do anything around Songkran, Mattes offered that we go swimming at his host family’s hotel’s swimming pool. Not only was the water refreshingly cold, the pool was on the rooftop and gave us a beautiful and complete view of Bangkok. We swam all afternoon, watched the sunset, and then Alice and I took a BTS home.

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Tyler, Mattes, Alice from France, me, and Alice from Germany.

Here are some photos of the view from the rooftop pool:

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The next day, Alice and I were on the road! Now, you may ask, why would Alice and I leave the capital of Thailand during the most famous holiday?! Her host dad advised us, as young foreign girls, not to stay downtown during that time as a safety precaution. The holiday overwhelms the city so much sometimes that the police cannot possibly divide their attention to all crime activity while patrolling the city for accident prevention. We both did feel a bit left out, seeing as most of our friends were together downtown. However, we also were happy to be with each other and to spend time with her host family, which is a key part of this Thai holiday. Here are some photos Alice and I sent our friends of us in the car, still in the spirit of Songkran with our water bottles:

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On our first day, we stopped by the Maeklong Railway market nearby Alice’s home. She had been there once or twice before and had wanted to go again so this was a lovely surprise. This is a very unique market, famous for the train that passes through the market periodically. When we arrived, it was just as hectic as the typical Thai street markets but in a more confined space. The railway track was the main area for people to walk down which, as you can see in these photos, was pretty narrow. There were shady banners hanging over the stands and people sold everything imaginable, with a specialty of seafood. One of my favourite parts about Thai markets is that you are buying your food from the hands of the people who made it, whereas in America your food has passed through many different factors of production that you don’t even know about on the way to your plate. For example, the person selling your fruit usually just harvested it that morning and is preparing it right in front of you. There are no additional preservatives or anything added to street market food. With meat, the entire animal is sometimes displayed with no parts left unused. I have often seen fish being killed and produced in street markets right in front of me. There is also a level of freedom on the prices at street markets, making it easier for both consumers and producers to barter to what they feel is appropriate. Generally, these prices are surprisingly low to foreigners. A small packet of sticky rice would usually be around 10 baht, or $0.32 in USD, and a bag of som tam (ส้มตำ in Thai, a spicy unripened papaya salad) was around 25 baht, or $0.80 in USD. It is transformative to see the way your food is being made and who is producing it. This led me to reflect more on what I choose to eat and the process of my food being made that isn’t visible on the surface in America.

Here are some photos that Alice and her host father took of the market:a4f92ff5-d17e-4a46-8c7d-3d5d1ec0bcc1

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A vendor preparing spicy peppers.

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A vendor selling spicy peppers, fish, and other things.

A muffled voice rang out on a loudspeaker and, in an instant, the market stalls folded up before my eyes, clearing a pathway for the train. The entire market shifted a few feet backwards in seconds and we could see the clear blue sky once again.

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We waited on the sidelines for the train and I was a bit annoyed to see tourists standing right in the middle of the tracks waiting to take a photo. Yes, this is one of the slowest trains in the country, but a train nevertheless! When the train came, I was astonished to see its’ bright colours and how close it came to the sidelines of the market. We waved to the train passengers and waited for about five minutes for it to pass.

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A photo Alice took of the oncoming train.

As soon as the train passed by, the stalls all opened up again in a matter of seconds, transforming back into its natural state of rambunctious commerce. Just before everything opened up behind us, Alice’s host dad snapped a quick photo of us on the train tracks.

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Alice and I making mini hearts on the train tracks.
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(L to R:) Alice’s host father, Alice, and I in the market.

Our next stop was a boat tour to different wats (วัด, or temple in Thai), departing from the Amphawa Floating Market in the nearby province, Samut Songkhram.

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We visited at least five wats and did Buddhist prayers with incense at each. At one temple, we were receiving the blessings of a monk and he surprised Alice and I by putting some water on me. Somehow, in the midst of the laughter and surprise, Alice accidentally burned a hole in my shirt with incense, making me laugh even more.

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Alice and I in the temple, shortly after my shirt was burned. (Note: I would never wear shorts to a temple but this was an unexpected trip and many people were making exceptions for this rule because of the extremely hot temperatures. At other temples, there were shawls available for people who had worn shorter clothes so I was able to use those.)

At the temples, we did other Buddhist rituals too that I had never done or heard of before. We poured scented water over Buddha figures to wash away any bad things from the past year, a tradition of Songkran. We also had fun doing Siam Si (เซียมซี, or what some foreigners call Chinese Fortune Sticks). Flat bamboo sticks are stored in a bamboo tube, each having a number up to 100 and written in multiple different languages. After praying or being respectful, you hold the cup and tilt it slightly downward. Then, you shake it until just one stick drops on the floor, which can take a lot longer than you would expect. If multiple sticks fall out (as they often do), those fortunes don’t count and you try again. Once you have a stick, you pick out the corresponding number from a little filing system to receive your fortune, which has predictions about nearly every part of your life. Luckily, I only ever got good fortunes but Alice got some confusing ones too.

Our last site of the day was the temple Wat Bang Kung, a beautiful temple quite literally in a tree. After we made merit, our host dad gave us a few small sheets of paper, encasing extremely thin gold leaves to place on the Buddha figure for good luck and to make merit. There is a saying in Thai that translates to “put gold on the back of the Buddha,” meaning to do good and kind things without expectation of rewards or attention. At the wat, there was a small set of stairs that wrapped around the Buddha image specifically for people who want to stick their papers on the back of the Buddha to exemplify this saying. As it was getting into the evening, Alice, her host father, and I practically had the entire wat to ourselves. It took me a while to figure out how to stick the leaves onto the Buddha figure successfully and we were given quite a few papers. Alice, her host dad, and I all took our time placing them and walking around the Buddha. It was a perfect place to reflect, surrounded by the serene tree and the countless offerings in the wat. This environment definitely made me pause to appreciate this different religion and set of values.

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1e664d1d-e135-4646-a74c-f3772d1ea5d4Directly next to and around the wat, there were many painted statues of soldiers and Muay Thai (มวยไทย, or Thai boxing) fighters in action poses, including these little cut-outs for photo ops next to the temple.

 

Wat Bang Kung is also the location of an 18th-century battle between Thai and Burmese forces, legendary for being the place that General Taksin decided to lead his troops back to Ayutthaya (the former capital) and become King of Thailand. There is a memorial for the General here. The three of us walked a little further through the area to see a tiny zoo of camels, roosters, horses, and other animals. I had never seen a camel before and I definitely did not expect to run into one in the middle of a temple site! This was my favourite stop on our tour because of the interesting history, wonderful temple, and eclectic attractions.

When we docked back in the floating market, the sun had already started to set. The market was far more alive with a new influx of people searching for a delicious dinner and some nice live music playing in the background.

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We took some photos on the market’s overarching bridge before leaving. The view from the bridge was so spectacular that I was left staring alone before I realized that Alice and her father were already walking away. I quickly caught up and we hopped in the car to get dinner.

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We met with some of Alice’s host dad’s friends and family and had a lovely dinner at a pretty restaurant on top of a dock. This was as close as I could get to my dream Thai food meal: vegetarian Pad Thai, cooked vegetables, and som tam with salted egg.

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A photo Alice and I took at dinner.

We stayed with Alice’s host dad’s friends in their guest room, where their crazy little dog chased Alice and I around the room to play at any chance he got. Once we took showers, changed into our pajamas, and triple-checked that the dog was safely locked out of our room, Alice and I fell asleep so fast, exhausted from the long day of activities under the bright sun.

We woke up bright and early the next day to drive to our next stop. On the way, Alice and I played our favourite music and sang along. We also ate some Thai snacks, including a fruity snack Alice’s host father gave us that I had never tried before that is pictured between Alice and I in the photo below.

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Alice and I on the road, with the snacks.

We went to the beach and went swimming, which was so much fun. Alice and I swam out pretty far and just relaxed as the waves crashed around us. We did some more activities and had lunch before driving to the campsite that we stayed at one night.

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Alice and I hanging out at lunch.

The campsite was large and there were tons of kids and families barbecuing or playing in the river that surrounded the site. We put our suitcases away and then joined Alice’s host dad for a rafting adventure. A little earlier, we asked Alice’s host father if we could have a moment to take photos but he said we could later. However, he surprised us when he pulled out Alice’s phone from the raft, wrapped in a little plastic bag, to take photos on our journey. Alice freaked out a little bit and was nervous that her phone would fall in the water, which was a very real possibility. With a guide, we went down the length of the river, which had stretches of just wilderness, rough parts that were more thrilling, and parts passing by restaurants and other campsites. We had lots of fun getting splashed lightly by the water (as Alice clutched her phone for dear life) and watching the many sights along the river.

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After at least forty-five minutes, we arrived at the end point of our rafting tour. The tour guides pulled our raft out of the water and we got towels to dry off. They then loaded the raft on top of a songtaew (สองแถว, type of truck) and we all climbed underneath it to ride home. We drove past the fields that were beside the river and it was very calm, with not another person in sight. However, I was astonished at how polluted the air was and a fog blurred everything at one point. On our way, we saw trucks full of kids and adults that were blasting music and pouring both water and a clay mixture popular for Songkran on passerbys, including our group. It was fun and they only splashed us lightly. Alice and I were quite tired again from the long day and rested, watching as we came closer to the city area and then back up through the mountains where our campsite was. When we arrived, Alice noticed a wooden platform that was at least twenty feet high with a ladder along the side and a rope with a tire stretching across it. One or two boys went down it and jumped into the middle of the river. Alice started eyeing it with a look of delight and excitement and I immediately retreated, saying it was too dangerous. We walked over to that area and met a woman who presumably owned or frequently tended to the makeshift zip-line area. She explained to Alice how it worked and gave her a lifejacket, saying she would watch her for safety. I was still in complete shock by the whole situation. I was unsure of the risk to even climb up the beaten down wooden ladder to the platform, much less swing down the thin, wiry rope on the tire swing. The whole thing looked one ride away from shambles. Alice climbed up and was determined to go on it. I have to admit, it did look exciting and fun. I admire Alice very much for how she is able to throw caution to the wind and do what she wants to do. However, I am the type of person who, if put in a situation that could lead to injury, always does something clumsy and gets injured. I did not trust myself to jump off at the right time or even my swimming skills against the rapid river so I decided to sit this one out. I watched Alice in both horror and awe, as she ran up to the edge and then paused. I counted her off and she stopped herself again out of fear. One last time, with the help of the mother counting and more careful instructions, she ran along and flew down the rope with the tire, flying right in the middle of the river. She came up laughing and cheering, even considering going again. We both took quick showers and changed into new clothes. Then, we went on a walk through the campsite and saw a pathway that led up and outside of it. We followed that up and stumbled upon an incredible view of the mountains.

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Our view of the mountains in the evening.

We walked a little further down the road and sat under some palm trees, played music, and talked for a while until it started to get dark.

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Alice walking alongside the palm trees.

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We walked back to the cabin we were staying in and changed into other clothes for dinner at a small shop on the side of the road selling fried rice.

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A photo Alice took of my mismatched outfit.

The Italians, Alice, and later a lot of AFS-ers would often say, “Not at all…” when they didn’t want to do something or thought something was bad (though never around our host communities.) It was sort of an inside joke but I loved hearing everyone say it. Here is a video of Alice doing her best “not at all…” in the car ride back:

 

After dinner, we started to settle down and get ready for bed. We talked for a while and both confessed that we felt a little left out of the Songkran celebrations downtown, seeing all the exciting photos from our friends on social media. Alice’s host father said he planned to take us back to Bangkok the next day in the afternoon and Alice asked if we could go downtown in the evening. He said that if we had enough time to, we were free to go. We decided to stop feeling sad about it and appreciate our remaining time together on the trip. This new change of heart led to a spontaneous and exhilerating run down to the river, where we swam in the pitch black, lit up only by the gleaming moon. There were long mats on the water connected to ropes and we climbed on them, running across and jumping from one to another. We held hands, ran, and plunged into the water, laughing as we came up for air. The water was fairly frigid so we only stayed out for about half an hour. Alice and I laid down on the mats and just admired the moon and waves before jumping one last time into the river. We took showers, got into our pajamas, and fell asleep fast.

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Alice and I after our swim.

In the early morning, Alice managed to convince a half-asleep, grumpy me to go for a swim. The sun was only just rising and we ran into the water to bask in it. Alice and I swam all the way across the river on a completely different side we’d never been to. It was a heavenly environment, with complete silence except for the trickle of the stream and tropical birds and the vibrant green trees all around us shifting with the wind. We enjoyed swimming and relaxing for about half an hour before showering and preparing for the day.

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Alice and I on our last morning in the campsite.
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We left the campsite shortly after our swim and here is a picture we took of the location on our way out:

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We went to a small buffet style area for a quick breakfast of eggs, rice, and some vegetables.

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Me at the buffet with my Songkran outfit.
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Me smiling with Alice drinking water.

Our next stop was to Hua Hin to the Plearn Wan market area with a vintage American beach style. I had been here once before on a school trip and I was excited to go again, though mostly to show Alice. We walked along the boardwalks and Alice was delighted to see a beautifully painted van, as it is a dream of hers to one day own a van like that and travel to make art.

 

We stopped at a temple that had Japanese influences on its architecture. To see it, we had to hike up countless stairs and I was woefully unprepared. With extreme heat and no water, I started to feel light-headed and a little sick. The top of the temple had an amazing view of the mountains and there was a white spiral for worshippers to go inside, so we paused there. We also walked through another area inside where there were countless corridors with little windows to see the view. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this but I will explain why later. In retrospect, I wish I could have enjoyed seeing this temple a bit more but in all honesty, I couldn’t wait to go back down to sit and drink some water. We hiked back down and I found a stand selling water, causing me to immediately shell out money without thought to the high price. We walked back to the car and were about to get inside. I was talking about something and using my hands for emphasis when suddenly, I felt my water bottle snatched out of my hands from behind me. I turned back abruptly and found myself face to face with a monkey! He ran back into the trees with my water bottle, spraying water everywhere, and Alice and I couldn’t contain our laughter. I had heard of monkeys stealing before but I didn’t realize they could be so sneaky about it! We quickly got in the car and drove off, watching the monkeys behind us search for their next victim.

Our road trip was coming to a close as we headed back for Bangkok. At one point, Alice’s host dad stopped on the side of the highway to buy some fresh fruit, which is pretty standard practice in Thailand. We all got out of the car to see rows and rows of small orange-coloured pineapples for sale. Lucky for me, as pineapples and mangoes were by far my favourite fruits in Thailand. The man selling it to us offered for us to sample one and to my complete surprise, he just pulled a chunk off of the pineapple without cutting it, as the outside was so close to ripening but yet soft enough to peel. I had never seen anyone eat a pineapple that wasn’t cut up before and I was fascinated. Without a doubt, this pineapple was the most delicious fruit I’ve ever had. We bought several and in the car, Alice and I took a little plastic bag and peeled off little pieces for us to eat and discard the outside of the pineapple in, leaving my hands completely sticky and dripping with pineapple juice. It was completely worth it and I would love to buy fresh pineapple like this again.

 

Alice and I dropped off our suitcases at her host family’s house and took the BTS downtown to spend the last night of Songkran with our friends. Alice and I first went down Silom Road, the most chaotic walking street area of Bangkok for Songkran. We bought little plastic cases for our phones and jumped right into the fun, being splashed and squirted by water guns. By the time we finished walking down the street, we were completely soaked. Alice was ready to do it all again but I was excited to meet up with our friends, especially as the street was a little overwhelming. Everyone was at Mattes’ host family’s hotel again at the pool so we went and met up with Sydney, Chloe, Alice from Germany, Luke, Mattes, and Tyler. There we swam for a while and then went into a smaller side pool where we ate snacks and watched the sun set. We went to Mattes’ hotel room and dried off before making a plan for the rest of the night. Chloe, Sydney, Luke, and Alice from Germany had to meet their host families soon so we split up with them. Mattes, Tyler, Alice, and I went down Silom again, now dark and just as dynamic as before with people and water flooding the streets. Here is a video:

 

We took a BTS, which was also loaded with people and water that sloshed everywhere in the station and train. We went to a mall in Bangkok, though not one I was familiar with. Mattes decided to get his ears pierced, which was pretty random but fun to watch. Then, we went to a buffet area for dinner, splitting up to get different food. We met up at a table and talked for about an hour. Unfortunately, this was Mattes’ and Tyler’s last night in Bangkok and they had to take an overnight bus shortly after so we had to say quick goodbyes’ to them. It was especially sad for me because, thanks to our different departure dates, this was the last time I would see them in Thailand. I gave them big hugs and they went to take a songtaew back to their hotel while Alice and I took a BTS and then a bus to meet with our Italian friends.

Alice and I were not in a very good mood at all from the sad goodbyes and the feeling that we had missed out on a lot of Songkran. When we arrived on the street our friends were, we felt determined to have one super fun last night of the holiday. We went into a 7/11 to buy some snacks and on our way out, a ladyboy stopped us and was trying to ask where we were going. Alice dismissed them instantly and we kept walking for about a minute until Alice reached down into her pocket–without her phone. Alice screamed out that the ladyboy stole her phone and put her things in my hands. Before I could even realize what was happening, she ran off in the direction of the ladyboy. I stayed still for a moment, still in shock. Then, I explained what had happened in Thai to the nearby vendors and asked if anyone had seen which way the ladyboy went. Nobody had seen anything. I then started walking up and down the street, looking for Alice or the ladyboy. After about five minutes, I called the friends we were supposed to meet and told them what had happened, asking what to do. While I was on the phone with them and about to call the police, Alice ran to me with the police by her side. They asked that we go to the police station and file a report so we got in the back of the car. We tried tracking her phone’s location and or to see if we could lock it out ourselves, to no avail. Poor Alice started to cry and panic, which was totally understandable, especially as her phone also served as her camera for her exchange year. As the police car edged closer to the station, we became more hopeless that she would ever see her phone again considering the enormous sea of people in every direction blocking the streets. Anything could happen in this crowd. We learned the lesson Alice’s host father tried to impart upon us about Songkran in Bangkok the hard way. Every desk at the police station was full of people explaining cases and we waited for a few minutes for an officer to speak with us. We explained what had happened, though it proved to be complicated seeing as Alice and I remembered different descriptions of the ladyboy and we didn’t even know what the street name was called where the stealing had happened. We managed to figure it out using a map on his desk of Thai monuments. We completed the report to the best of our ability but we were certain that nothing would come of it. Alice borrowed my phone to call her host father and her father in France. Alice’s father managed to save most of Alice’s photos in some sort of backup but not many from our trip or the few weeks preceeding it (thus my lack of photos as I tend to avoid bringing my phone places if I can help it.) Alice’s host father was pretty upset about the situation too. We left the station and walked to our hostel where our Italian friends were, grumbling and falling into fits of anger about our horrible night as we walked. Once, as we were walking, a man with the worst timing ever sprayed our backs with ice cold water from a water gun and Alice started swearing in French, not thinking anything of it, only for the man to turn around and laughingly tell her to calm down in French! Another surprise from Bangkok. She started laughing too and apologized for her harsh words. That silly little moment lightened up our mood a bit until we got to our hostel. There, we hugged our friends tight and explained yet again what had happened. We played a few games and hung out for a while talking. I went to bed earlier than I had expected, ready for the day to be over.

The next day, we all showered and checked out because many of the Italians like Francesca, Gio, Bea, as well as Alice, were going to another event that night in a different province. They invited me to go as well but I realized I had been away from home for over a month! I thought it would be better for me to spend more time in my host community, especially so close to the end of the year. The plan for that day was to take a bus to the mall area of Bangkok and then go to the overnight bus station in the evening. We were waiting at the bus stop when, in true Thai fashion, the bus we were supposed to take sped right past us. We all did a mad chase, running for blocks at high speed while carrying our heavy luggage. The bus stopped briefly for a red light, swung its doors open, and we charged on, thoroughly exhausted. We rode along until we reached the comfort of the mall and spent the rest of the day there.

I expected to take a bus to Kamphaengphet that night but, to my horror, I found out that all the buses were booked up, seeing as the day after Songkran is when people usually return to their home provinces from Bangkok and vice versa. I was a bit nervous because I effectively had nowhere to stay that night. Luckily, AFS kids are very welcoming and kind to one another. Alice asked her Italian friends to look out for me and they told me to meet them back at the hostel I had stayed the night before. I knew most of them as acquaintances and some a bit better, like Giulia and Claudia. Though this situation was far better than being completely stranded in Bangkok for the night, I was still nervous about the social aspect of the night or if there was even space in the hostel. In the evening, I said goodbye to Alice, Bea, Fra, Gio, and the others, though this was not too difficult as I was confident that I would see all of them again in Bangkok towards the end of my exchange year. Alice gave me instructions for how to take the bus back to the hostel and I followed them. However, after my bus ride finished, I still had to navigate some of the busiest streets in Bangkok alone to reach the hostel. I had walked down these roads many times before with my friends but I had never paid such close attention before. I was relying on my Google Maps to guide me. I tightly gripped my suitcase for dear life and did not talk to any vendor or person who approached me, advertising some attraction or food. I passed by some streets as quickly as possible and I finally had to stop for a traffic light. I looked behind me and around me, for the first time able to appreciate the city with its colourful lights and nightlife. Moreover, I was proud of my independence, that I was able to hold my own in one of the biggest and busiest cities halfway around the world. The traffic light turned green and I powered through the rest of my trip. I came so close to the hostel but, of course, then my Google Maps stopped working and my phone battery was a mere 10%. I racked my brain for any recollection of the area and kept walking straight past a gas station until I saw that the rest of the street was pitch black and seemed like a dead-end. Upon turning around, I saw a man watching me from the distance, causing me to internally panic. I stayed under the light, looked right at him, and pretended to be  on the phone with someone, saying things like, “I’m almost there, a few minutes away now,” to show that people were expecting me. I thought this might give him pause or would make him stop staring at me. To my surprise, he started walking right towards me. My heart beat quickened as I pulled up the phone number for the police. He called out to me, “Are you looking for the hostel? It is right down the street here, follow those green lights.” And the green lights did look familiar. I walked closer that way and he told me he had just left the hostel to go get something from a 7/11. I thanked him for his help and went down the street. Sure enough, the hostel and my friends were just outside. I ran to them, despite not even knowing most of them well, and was met with hugs. Finally, comfort at last. Every girl knows the fear of walking streets at night and this feeling intensifies in a different country. While I will always exercise the same caution and awareness, this experience also showed me that people don’t always have the bad intentions you may expect. I was lucky to get those directions and it felt like a small miracle from a stranger in Bangkok in contrast to the horrible stealing of the night before. I remembered the possibility that I wouldn’t have a room but the Italians told me instantly that they already took care of it for me. Thank goodness. I ran up the hostel stairs and took what felt like one of the best showers I’d ever had, as I desperately wanted to wash off the sweat that came from running through the city at record speed. I eagerly got in bed and texted my friends and host family that I had made it to the hostel safely. A part of me just wanted to fall asleep right then and there and put an end to yet another stressful evening. However, the outgoing, exchange-student part of me wanted to get to know these kind people who had gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable despite not knowing me well. I went downstairs to find everyone sitting around and talking so I took a seat too. While being a little awkward for me at first, I ended up talking to a lot of new people and getting even closer to the ones I already knew. I went to bed about an hour later anyways but I was happy about trying something new and making some new friends.

In the morning, I triple-checked that tickets for the bus would be available and checked in with my host family and advisor. I had breakfast at a street food stand with the Italians and checked out of the hostel, saying goodbye to everyone and thanking them for their help. I called myself a Grab, or Thailand’s version of Uber, which was another first for me. I made the arrangements to be picked up and held a steady conversation about my life all in Thai, making myself proud again. The driver was nice and forgiving with my mistakes. Whenever I am learning a new language, I always love practicing in one-off encounters, meaning with taxi-drivers or food vendors or just people I wouldn’t usually see again. The self-imposed pressure of speaking perfectly just melts away, leaving me relaxed and focused. The best part about these interactions is that they often lead to small relationships in a community in time or, at the very least, an interesting conversation. I gained the most confidence in speaking Thai at my school store, the bubble tea stand, a coffee-shop, and a roti-stand. There, vendors taught me how to count, helped me with a new word, and talked to me about my day and vice versa. By the end of the year, many of these people knew me well and they always brightened my day. Though it seemed small, I left the taxi feeling empowered and ready to take on any new challenges. I found my bus easily and only had to wait about half an hour before going. It was a rough seven-hour bus ride back with only my music to keep me company and exhaustion settling in my eyes. Every time the bus stopped to let us get food, I always felt anxious that I would somehow get left behind and stranded in the middle of nowhere with no phone. I ran out quickly to grab a snack and returned as soon as possible. By the time I got home, I was incredibly hungry. It was raining buckets (as if Thailand hadn’t had enough water the past few days) and my host father picked me up from the station where I suspect he had been waiting for a while. I was very grateful to him for coming out in the rain and excited to hear about what had happened while I was gone. When we arrived home, I saw a small box of my favourite pizza on the table that my host family bought me. They often did this upon my return from a trip if I wouldn’t be there in time for dinner. This kind and considerate gesture made me feel welcome to be there. I ate dinner, quickly took a shower, and had that incredible feeling that comes with sleeping in your own bed after a long day. My amazing, but tiring days of travelling out of a suitcase were over.

2 thoughts on “Songkran: Thailand’s Most Famous Holiday

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  1. Kenna, Thank you for sharing!  What wonderful experiences you have had!    Kenna, you could write a book with thehelp of your journal!   Or, publish the journal for other potential exchange students.     Lovely pictures~ Love, Audrey Muschler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading it! I hope to one day make my blog into a book, either ones for my family and friends or maybe even for others. I am glad you enjoyed it. ~ Love, Kenna Howorth

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