Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pad Thai and Songkran in Bangkok

Eric and I arrived in Bangkok a few nights ago, just before the Thai New Year.  So far this massive city has been full of good food and surprises.  After the ten hour bus trip from Siem Reap, I was worn out and ready for some food that didn't come from a gas station 7-11.  Pad Thai from a street vendor was the perfect dinner and a tasty introduction to Bangkok.  Delicious!

Pad Thai with chicken and egg cost 40 baht, about $1.30.
We had our pick of noodles as we watched her cook the egg and veggies in the wok.
We're staying near Khao San Road, a busy backpacker area filled with bars, restaurants, clubs and shops.  There are lots of carts selling street food: Pad Thai, Mango sticky rice, grilled meat on skewers... Everything looks and smells delicious.  If for some reason a foreigner finds herself missing western fast food, though, there is a Burger King and a KFC. 

Khao San Road, brought to you by Coca Cola.
One of the many food carts all over Bangkok
I've been lucky that my first visit to Thailand falls during the country's new year.  Thai New Year, or Songkran, is celebrated between April 13 and April 15 with a huge festival.  One of the major symbols of the holiday is water; pouring water on family and friends washes away any bad fortune from the previous year, leading to a fresh start for the new one.  While this may have been a tamer practice traditionally, today the holiday has become a multi-day water fight.  The events got started on April 12 and somehow will continue through the weekend.

There's no way to get out dry!
Eric and I dove into the fray with squirt guns that could maybe hold a personal water bottle-sized amount of water.  Within seconds I had a bucket of frigid water poured over my shoulders and was hit in the stomach by a blast from a super soaker.  By the time I managed to get to relatively dry ground, Eric had bought himself a much bigger water gun.

Eric, reloaded.
In addition to being soaked with hoses, buckets, and squirt guns, many people cavort through the streets with containers of wet chalk, smearing it on everyone's cheeks.  By the time we decided to call it a night, my clothes were soaked and my face was gray.  

Chalk and water everywhere!
Above all else, I'm amazed by the pure joy of this holiday.  Everyone is participating, from little children to older people.  Aside from the occasional person who has filled their squirt gun with ice water, there's nothing even remotely malicious about the day.  I would be surprised if something like this could happen in a US city.  People would start filling their water guns with dye or sticky soda.  Parents of young children would complain about bikini-clad twenty-somethings joining in on an innocent game.  The festival would probably be relegated to certain cordoned-off blocks rather than spread across an entire city.  Maybe I have too negative an outlook of American festivals, but it's refreshing to see such unmitigated and unregulated cheer all over Bangkok.  It reminds me of the water fights I've had with my uncles, aunts and siblings during our family reunions — everyone gets to be a drenched little kid.

1960s style for the Hippie Bus Bar
At the end of our first day of celebrations, Eric and I grabbed a drink at a bar that's operated out of a VW Bus.  We sipped our mojitos and watched revelers wander past in various states of wetness.  I'm still not sure how the city can keep this up for so many days, but I'm excited to watch and participate.  Happy New Year!

Have you run into unusual new years celebrations?
Do you have a favorite type of street food from anywhere?
Check out my article on Songkran for Untapped Cities next week!


  1. Aunt Beth and Uncle BeauApril 14, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    Happy Thai New Year! Sounds like great fun. And yes, I still have some great pictures of our family water fight in Montana.
    What a marvelous time you two must be having, wish we were there to enjoy it with you!

    1. I wish you were, too! I can't wait for the next reunion!

  2. Sounds fun! I am in Paris now and there are street vendors selling crepes, which are pretty good :).

    1. Delicious! Try the waffles, too, they're great with Nutella. I think the French word is "une gaufre."

    2. You are right about that. We had waffles in Belgium instead, though :P.