Each year Thais and visiting foreigners celebrate Songkran from April 13 to April 15. This national holiday is marked by extended vacations, colorful flower decorations, and massive water fights.
Traditionally, water is a symbol of washing away the past before the new year. Pouring water on family members and friends is a way to celebrate the freshness of the coming year. Over time, the holiday celebrations have evolved to include super soakers.
In the tourist areas surrounding Khao San Road, Thais and thrilled visitors prepare in the days before April 13, buying water guns of all sizes and plastic pouches to protect ID cards and other non-waterproof items. By April 12 the holidays have already begun. Tuk-tuk drivers sit at the edge of the road, squirting passersby. Children run around with small buckets of water, dousing anyone within reach. Many stalls selling squirt guns also have buckets of water for refills. Some enterprising businesspeople charge five baht per refill while others sell bottles of tap water to fill guns on the go.
My friend and I geared up modestly with a small plastic water gun each. Within two minutes of leaving our hostel, I had a bucket of cold water dumped over my shoulders and was soaked through. My little water gun was ineffective in retaliation when pitted against such a volume of liquid. By the time I wiped my eyes to find my friend, he was at a stall buying a super soaker that came with its own shoulder strap.
I continued with my small gun as we made our way through the streets around Khao San Road. Along with shrieks from being hit with cold water, I could hear laughter everywhere. Part of the celebration includes smearing a wet chalky substance on faces of anyone you can reach, and by the time I had made it to a quieter area, my cheeks were gray.
With the saturation of water everywhere, there are few ways to avoid getting wet during Songkran. Shopkeepers and people working at street side food carts are generally protected from water, despite being just at the edge of the soaking mass of people. For those who want to stay dry, it is nearly impossible. While I was sitting in an open-air restaurant before joining the celebrations, a damp woman cut through the restaurant to avoid a man with a hose standing just outside. “I have a laptop!” she explained before sneaking out the side door.
While the water fights are not the only facet of Songkran celebrations, they are a joyful part of Thai New Year that allows anyone in Bangkok to join in.
It is extraordinary how a capital city characterized by the most horrific of traffic jams is also populated by the some of the world’s most charmingly warm and patient people. To see Bangkok beyond its urban walls, consider signing up for a Thai culinary class, quickly catching on as an institution of discovery for visitors. This time, we chose Baipai Culinary School’s half-day course held in the Lat Yao district, located minutes from the city’s famous Chatuchak market.
These classes typically begin with a visit to the local market- an experience in itself. After a 90 minute van ride from downtown Sathorn to Chatuchak, we were greeted at the bustling market by our morning guide. Energetic and animated, she guided the class through the maze of small local stalls to seek out the vegetables and ingredients for the course. We found ourselves picking up a selection of lemongrass and bell peppers, fresh coconut milk and a medley of local curry spices. Typical of impeccable Thai service, we were well taken care of, with ice water bottles being handed out swiftly through the walk to make sure we were always well hydrated!
We then arrived at the school- a quiet, modern suburban bungalow set amongst a luscious garden. At Baipai, like in most well-run Thai cooking classes, the participants get to prepare the ingredients- typically with some magic aid. What this means is that there is staff on hand to handle the difficult cuts and to help the squeamish- no fear if you have never de-veined a shrimp! Only the fun cutting and pounding of spices with pestle are left for the participants!
Perhaps the best part of such classes is that, generally, one is set up to succeed, regardless of cooking experience or flair. With observant chef-assistants on hand throughout the class, following the chef’s instructions is a breeze. Thai style cooking involves the Asian Wok and pots for curries. Controlling the flame and heat is probably the trickiest bit, but the chef assistants come in at the right moment to prevent any charred noodles or rice. In Baipai’s case, the assistants work so unobtrusively that one can experiment with the cooking, yet take comfort that main course for lunch is always under those caring, watchful eyes.
We conjured up a mouth-watering course of Phad Thai (traditional moist rice noodles with shrimp in a sweet-savory blend), Satay Chicken ( Skewered BBQ chicken with Thai marination) and Spicy Grilled Beef Salad. Not bad for first timers to Thai cuisine! Through the chef’s animated commentaries, it became a fascinating journey into Thai culture, customs, history and people- all while picking, shopping, chopping, barbecuing, stir-frying and enjoying the creation of a fulfilling meal.
For more information on Baipai Cooking school and class schedules, please see
8/91 Ngam Wongwan Road, Soi 54
Ladyao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900
Tel: 662 561 1404