Grapevine – APRIL 3 – APRIL 16, 2020


A potted history of Pattaya water hurling

What no Songkran?

By no means everybody is disappointed by the prospect of this year’s holiday and watery Songkran being postponed. The obvious justification, of course, is the spread of the Corona virus although the water shortage may have played a minor role in the unfolding drama. Many spoil-sport expats here are likely quite happy about the City Hall abolition decision which is in line with all other local authorities in Thailand that we know of.

Ancient history

Over the years, many have campaigned for Songkran’s suspension or abolition. As early as 1997 Pattaya Mail carried a reader’s letter arguing that throwing buckets of water on passing motor bike riders merely created extra business for local mortuaries. He added that if this practice was allowed to continue, Pattaya’s tourist market would be doomed forever. Yes, so many seers have prophesied that scenario.

Medieval history

In 2005 there was much talk about zoning. This would mean that people could throw water to their hearts’ content in specially-reserved areas (Buddha Hill was one proposal and another was the then-deserted Jomtien 2 Road) whilst the residual population continued peacefully and dryly in the rest of the city. The matter was even scheduled to come up at a Council meeting before, sad to relate, a military coup in September of that year sank all such debates for the foreseeable future.

Early modern times

In 2010 another letter appeared in the local press demanding that Songkran be abolished on the grounds that mobile phones were very expensive commodities and not at all happy to be dripping wet. In 2012 a speaker at an expat club demanded action on the grounds that he had heard from a confidential source that the white powder might contain arsenic whilst the ice water might have been drawn from dirty sources too shameful to mention.

The changing scene

In spite of the failure of these campaigns, Pattaya Songkran is not what it was once. In recent years, the whole thing has been toned down. Ten years ago, the April water gun bandits were lined up on Pattaya’s Second Road as early as 8 a.m. These days, nothing much happens before lunchtime because the will to squirt has obviously declined. The reasons are likely linked to the decline of youngish western tourists and the advent of the imperious Chinese who don’t appreciate street warfare of the liquid kind.

One day wonder

Indeed, by 2019, Pattaya Songkran was more or less restricted to the single day of mayhem which is invariably April 19. But even that solitary day seems to have lost momentum. Last year, the 19th was more or less an ordinary day for business at the immigration bureau, whereas in the past very few visa extenders dared to venture into Jomtien. Contrary to popular belief, the 19th has never been a public holiday. But it used to seemed like one. No longer.

But watch out!

When we say that Songkran has been postponed this year, what exactly does that mean? Nobody knows for sure. Official celebrations certainly won’t be held, not even the gentle and historic blessings of pouring water over the hands. But the government has made it crystal clear that the whole holiday period has been postponed. One assumes that there won’t be a trace of what used to happen on splash days.

Silly Moo

If Songkran really is missing a beat, sadly some of the humour will be missed. Last year, an elderly farang was walking towards Jomtien’s beach road when an old lady drenched him with a small bucket of ice water. “You stupid cow,” he yelled. “Excuse me,” replied the lady, “I know the word ‘stupid’ but what is ‘cow’? Sadly, the historical record does not reveal what was his reply, if anything. Learning new language skills has never been part of the Songkran tradition.

Other cultures

Believe it or not, water hurling goes back a long way. Apparently, the ancient Carthaginians threw water on their elephants just before a battle both to refresh the pachyderms and to alert them to prepare to charge the enemy. Unfortunately, the Romans soon learned what to do in response. They banged their spears on their shields, made a terrible noise which caused the terrified elephants to turn round and mow down their own side.

Off to Cambodia

But if you really want to ensure a wet Songkran this year, there is always the option of Cambodia where the water hurling has got wetter as Pattaya has grown dryer. The best bet over there is Siem Reap. But nothing happens in the daytime. Drenching time starts as the skies darken. Note: The Cambodian authorities have since cancelled this year’s April festivities.