Splash and grab

Sally Piper joins in the world’s big­gest wa­ter fight to cel­e­brate the Thai New Year The turn-down ser­vice at our re­sort in­cludes a wa­ter pis­tol on our pil­lows in­stead of the usual dainty or­chid

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

ED up with short, wa­ter-sav­ing show­ers and cob­webs gath­er­ing at the end of your gar­den hose? Some days I want to rebel, fill the bath to the brim, blast the bugs from the de­funct wa­ter­ing sys­tem and let the kids run amok un­der a sprin­kler. But I don’t be­cause I’m pro­grammed not to waste a drop. So when my fam­ily and I find our­selves caught in the world’s big­gest wa­ter fight in Thai­land, we feel blessed by Po­sei­don.

Songkran Day, or Thai New Year, is cel­e­brated on April 13. On the eve of the fes­ti­val, the turn-down ser­vice at our Koh Sa­mui re­sort in­cludes a wa­ter pis­tol on our pil­lows in­stead of the usual dainty or­chid. I sleep well, drunk on dreams about wa­ter.

Songkran in­volves many re­li­gious cus­toms and much re­spect for el­ders. Our day starts dry and pi­ous at 6.30am. Monks from the nearby Kiri­won Tem­ple ar­rive to re­ceive gifts of food, can­dles, matches and soap from re­sort staff and guests.

When they’ve gone, we fol­low the lo­cals’ lead by trick­ling wa­ter over the shoul­ders of the ho­tel’s golden Bud­dhas, mak­ing a wish for the new year.

Our faces are painted with a paste made from tal­cum pow­der, wa­ter and fra­grant oils ac­com­pa­nied by wishes of a happy Songkran Day. The man­ager of the re­sort, as the elder, re­ceives his staff one by one as they bathe his hands with wa­ter as a mark of re­spect.

Wa­ter plays a lead­ing role in th­ese cer­e­monies of re­spect, cleans­ing and re­newal, but once the re­li­gious as­pects of the day have been ob­served, it seems there is no bet­ter cleans­ing agent than a swim­ming pool. As the man­ager’s shoes dis­ap­pear un­der the sur­face of the in­fin­ity pool (cour­tesy of his gig­gling staff), the wa­ter war be­gins.

In the re­sort’s open-air re­cep­tion there is a mu­tual soak­ing of us and other guests with whom we’ve pre­vi­ously ex­changed only po­lite nods over break­fast. The fun po­lice are ab­sent, no­body waves a pub­lic li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance pol­icy, and there is no drama about the fur­ni­ture get­ting wet or wa­ter pis­tols be­ing re­filled from the fish pond.

Later, we feel like vig­i­lantes as we

Friendly fire: A mo­tor­cy­cle passenger throws wa­ter at a pedes­trian head into the nearby vil­lage of Nathon in the back of a gar­den­ing truck; 20 of us are armed with wa­ter pis­tols but our weapons are small fry.

Away from the re­sort, wa­ter pis­tols are for wa­ter ba­bies. We come up against heavy ar­tillery: hoses, buck­ets and wa­ter­filled pots and pans. The ef­fects of large blocks of melted ice pro­duce the first breath­tak­ingly cold mo­ments we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in Thai­land.

There is no age bar­rier to the fun. Small chil­dren stand along­side their par­ents, tak­ing turns to aim hoses. Util­i­ties and trucks are packed so full with peo­ple and wa­ter that back axles look at risk. Mo­tor­cy­clists are as abun­dant on the roads, as is usual in Thai­land; ex­cept that when it’s Songkran, the child wedged be­tween rider and back pil­lion holds a wa­ter pis­tol.

To break the rules on wa­ter use seems naughty at best, taboo at worst. But if get­ting wet isn’t your thing and you hap­pen to be in Thai­land on April 13, I sug­gest you turn up your air­con­di­tion­ing and take your Singha beers in­doors. You’ll be drier.

Songkran is cel­e­brated for three days. This year, Mon­day, April 13 is the wa­ter fes­ti­val; April 14 and 15 are also pub­lic hol­i­days. More: www.thai­land.net.au.

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