We left Baan Tha Klang early this morning to make our way back to Bangkok. The program is over for me. The week is up. Oddly, it feels like culture shock to return to the city during Songkran. The festivities continue. Today is the last day. The way the holiday plays out in the tiny village compared to Bangkok is worlds apart. Streets are closed. The Black Eyed Peas are blaring from every amp stack on every corner.
Khao San Road is Thai’s Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. There is no way to move forward. You are a sitting target for sprays of water and clay smeared on your face. My hotel is right in the middle of the action (that’s good and bad). It was a struggle to get to the hotel with the bag and not get a little pissy when people are dumping water on you and everything you possess for the trip. I got there without any damage and so now I’m enjoying the party a bit more.
I settled into the room and said goodbye to a fellow volunteer. So sad. I decided to try to relax some after the eight hour bus ride to the city and the stressful drenching I received trying to get to the hotel by scheduling a Thai massage. Well that did the trick! I still have one problem. I’m hungry. Do I dare enter the mayhem again? The crowds seem to be growing as the night rolls in. How is that even possible?! I have a feeling I’ll venture out. And once I’m in it, all will be good.
We are here for Songkran entirely by accident. It’s the Thai New Year April 13-15. The holiday is a water festival celebrated as the dry, hot season is ending and the rainy season will begin. It’s ritually a time for cleaning and renewal. Thais will bathe images of Buddha and give the house a good cleansing. Water is meant to ‘wash the bad away’.
So, what does this mean for the westerner… It means you get drenched… Everyday, wherever you go. People stand on the side of the road as if waiting for a parade to start. Thai children have barrels of water with bowls for throwing it like American children set up lemonade stands. The vehicle is stopped in the street and not allowed to pass until there’s been a proper soaking. The only way for us to participate is to fight back, so armed with the water guns purchased at the Big C at the beginning of the week and an arsenal of drums filled with water, we started out. Basically, you drive around and try to fire before fired upon. No one wins. Or maybe everyone wins, but no one is dry. That’s for sure.
We transferred to the project sight today – a five hour bus ride, followed by a two hour ride in a smaller van. During the second leg of the trip we made a stop at Big C, a Walmart-like plaza, to pick up anything we may have felt we were missing. The common purchase for the group was water guns. I’ll get more into this later, but we will be celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year at the end of the week. The water gun will prove to be extremely essential.
This program is much different than the reserve in Chiang Mai. We are in a village, staying with a mahout family in their ‘guest houses’. All the elephants here (and there are over 200) are privately owned. The main objective of the Surin Project is to end the domestication of Asian elephants. To do that one must understand why these people have them in the first place. It’s centuries old traditions and a very delicate situation for Alex, the project founder and coordinator. These animals are kept mainly on chains on the property of the mahout. My mahout family has two, a male and a female. They’re out back.
It bothered me to see these animals chained to a cement post. But, I understand they HAVE to be on chains. If you were to let 200 elephants free to roam in such a small area there would be twenty dead elephants the first day (not to mention the damage or destruction that could be caused to the village). I think it’s safe to say nobody wants that.
We were given our housing assignments and attended a welcoming ceremony headed by one of the mahout elders. In essence we were being prayed for and wished good luck. It was a wonderfully moving ceremony with ritual I can’t even begin to explain.
Tomorrow is a mystery so far. All I know at this point is breakfast is at 7.