Songkran (Thai: สงกรานต์) is the traditional Thai new year. It is typically starts on April 13 and continues to April 15. During this time many people go back home to visit their families and participate in Buddhist rituals. Here are some of the more enjoyable aspects of the holiday that I observed and participated in.
Rinsing images of Buddha
Images of Buddha are rinsed with scented water called nam-op (Thai: น้ำอบ). It is symbolic of washing away sins and is supposed to bring good luck. The afternoon of the first day we went to a small local wat (Thai: วัด) for a ceremony in which some monks chanted and splashed water on everyone. Afterwards we went outside and poured water on the images of Buddha. When that was done some of the older ladies also poured water on me! I was slightly annoyed because by this time it was starting to get cool and I was mostly dry. Hopefully I did not show it. But after thinking about it I realize in a way they were comparing me to Buddha and did it because they thought it would bring them good luck.
Flowers for making nam-op
Rinsing images of Buddha with nam-op at วัดถำกลองเพล (Wat Tam Glawng Pean)
Spending time with family
People travel home to their families for a family reunion. It is also a time to pay respect to and remember deceased family members. Here are a couple pictures from a ceremony for Anong’s mother. Several family members gathered around the gravesite while a couple monks chanted and gave some kind of blessing. A few small bones from the deceased are placed inside the yellow monument. I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing other than it is very different from western culture and it was interesting to be a part of it.
Worlds biggest water fight
April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand with temperatures regularly around 40C (104F). Getting wet during the hottest part of the day feels nice. It’s the few mean spirited people who ruin the holiday but most people “play water” (Thai: เล่นน้ำ) respectfully. Then there are the little kids on the side of the road with squirt guns. They are really cute! It is also tradition to smear white chalk on peoples faces to help keep cool.
Here I am, wet with some chalk on my face at วัดหนองปลาขาว (Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow).
At Wat Phu Noi (Thai: วัดภูน้อย) a monk recently passed away. There was an interesting ceremony in which people lined up and poured nam-op over some flowers placed on the monk.
At Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว) we got to feed some fish and see some animals.
At Wat Tam Glawng Pean (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว):
Thailand, the country in which nice, generous, easy going people turn into suicidal maniacs when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. It is well known that Thailand has some of the most dangerous roads in the world with 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people per year. Compare to 11.6 per 100,000 for the United States and much lower for several European countries. For Songkran, the Thai government has a road safety campaign called the “7 Deadly Days” in which they release accident statistics every day and the media loves reporting on them. The numbers change a little every year but average around 340 deaths over 7 days or 49 per day.
Every year there are about 25,500 deaths on the Thai roads or 70 per day. So perhaps the safety campaign is working. But it’s also widely suspected that accidents and deaths are under reported presumably to save face and the statistics do not include people who might die in the hospital a few days later. The main cause of these accidents is drunk driving and speeding. Most accidents are involving a motorcycle. I still struggle to understand why this behavior is tolerated by the population. I also do not understand the lack of enforcement of the laws here. To be clear, by lack of enforcement I mean zero enforcement. The government and police don’t seem to actually care but don’t they know they could make a lot of money by ticketing speeders and people not wearing helmets?
So, there’s a lot of people dying and getting hurt during Songkran which makes it not a lot of fun. There is also extremely rude inconsiderate and dangerous behavior by a good portion of the population. People will throw water on you when you ask them not to. People like to throw ice water and throw water after the sun sets. If you’re on the motorcycle people will drench the rider with 2 or 3 gallons of water and when throwing these large buckets of water they aim for your face. It seems like they are actually trying to cause an accident. Having a picnic lunch? You and your food will get drenched. I asked some Thai people if they enjoy being on the receiving end of this. Everybody said no. But nobody does anything about it. Again I am left struggling to understand why this sort of behavior is tolerated.
I haven’t decided yet if I will come home when my year is up or stay for a second year. One thing is for sure, if I am still here next year I will not be leaving my room during Songkran.
Stay tuned. Songkran wasn’t all misery. In a day or two I will write a post on the things I enjoyed about it.
Yesterday was Anong’s birthday so we went out and did a few fun non-climbing things. We slept in then went to the Catfish Farm. It’s sort of like a zoo. They have lots of catfish obviously and a few other animals. It costs ฿50 to get in and they also give you some food for feeding the fish. It was fun throwing the fish food in the lake and watching the fish try to be the first one to eat it.
Next we went to lunch. I don’t remember the name of the place but it was on the way back from the catfish farm. The food was pretty good but the best part was it was next to a creek and under a canopy of trees so it was relatively cool. The weather has been quite hot this week. Getting up to around 37C.
After lunch we went back to the room to relax for a bit then went out and got massages. There are dozens of places to get a massage in Ao Nang and most of them are pretty cheap with an hour long massage costing ฿200 to ฿300. Quality of the massage is hit or miss but it’s usually not bad. When paying for the massages I was reminded that not every Thai person is out to scam the tourists. I accidently gave a ฿1000 note instead of ฿100 note and the lady let me know I gave her too much.
After the massages we went back to the room again to get cleaned up for dinner at Lae Lay Grill. The food is pretty good but the view is amazing.
I just got back from spending a few days on Ton Sai and Railay. Here’s what went down.
Ton Sai – March 5 Arrived at Ton Sai around 9am. Ate breakfast on the beach then walked over to Ton Sai Wall to try Cowabungalow 6b. I had climbed this on top rope about a week ago and I felt good about leading it today. I was feeling a little pumped before the anchor but luckily there is a super good rest spot. I was able to fully recover and send! When I got down, there were a couple german guys that wanted to try it and one of them had never climbed outdoors before so I also helped keep an eye on him while he belayed to make sure he did not drop is partner. I was a little surprised the climber was willing to get on a climb at his limit with someone who had never belayed before. I guess it’s a different mindset Europeans have from Americans. He got up and down safely. Then we decided to climb together the rest of the day. We headed over to Eagle Wall. I got on Dead Spanish Bolts 5c+ while the Germans did Spiderman 6a. I remember climbing Dead Spanish Bolts 5c+ last time I came to Thailand but am pretty sure I did not do Spiderman 6a. I sent both routes and both of them were a lot of fun to climb. I would have been happy stopping here for the day but another party was climbing Made in Spain 6b and the Germans wanted to try it. The experienced German climber got up with a couple rests so I figured I should be able to do it too. I started up the route and made it to the crux without much trouble. Going through the crux, I thought I was going to fall off but somehow I made it through and sent the climb. I was feeling pretty good because I redpoinged Cowabungalow 6b earlier in the day and Made in Spain 6b was my first onsight of that grade.
We walked back to the beach to find a room. We stayed at Dream Valley Resort and got a pretty good deal on the room at 800 THB per night. The best part was the rooms had hot water and I got to take a hot shower for the first time in a couple months. After getting cleaned up we ate dinner then had some drinks at Chill Out Bar and saw a fire show.
This is what happens to stainless steel in Thailand.
View from the top of a climb.
Railay – March 6 Not quite as good as the day before. We got a bit of a late start then went over to Thaiwand Wall. I futzed around on Primal Scream 6a+ and couldn’t even get to the anchor so rappelled off a bolt. A little sketchy but I’m still alive… I didn’t want to give up completely on the wall. Circus Oz / Lord Of The Thais 6a+ was open so tried that. I onsighted it so I was feeling better about myself. By now it was about 2pm and we were hungry so ate lunch at the same place we always do in Railay then made the long walk over to Escher Wall on Pranang Beach. We did Short and Easy 5 then called it a day. After getting cleaned up, we got much needed massages then ate dinner.
View from the top.
Pranang Princess Cave
Railay – March 7 Back to Railay for the last day because it’s easier to get a boat to Ao Nang. Climbing on familiar territory at Wee’s Present Wall. We did the following:
- I Don’t Know 6a – Sharp rock, awkward start. Not my favorite climb here.
- Roi-Et 6a – Still sharp rock but better climbing.
- Way To The Top 5 – Onsighted this one and I also thought a really fun climb.
- A Man Can Tell A 1000 Lies 6a – Another slightly awkward start but really fun climbing between tufas.
These cats don’t give a fuck.
A few days ago I rode to the Natin Spicy Garden. It’s a nice garden with lots of Thai herbs, plants, and trees. Admission is free which is nice.
Well, I finally got a bicycle. It’s not the Fuji Feather I was lusting after but it is a Fuji and it is a fixed gear. The seat hurts a lot, and I want to put bullhorn handlebars on it. I also need to add a front brake. But so far I like it. Though I have not felt the “mystical connection between a fixed-gear cyclist and bicycle” or some other bs fixed gear fanatics like to talk about.
Yesterday I went to Ao Nam Mao. It’s about a 15 minute drive from Ao Nang. There was some place called “Heaven-7”. It was really weird. It almost looks like an unfinished amusement park. They were playing what I think the kids these days call EDM (Electronic Dance Music) really loud. They also charge ฿50 to get in. Not sure why. There’s nothing to do except walk around. But it’s on a big hill and at the top of the hill is a nice view of the Andaman Sea.
View from the top. Not sure if it was worth ฿50.
Next I decided to walk along the beach. It was free and lots of fun. There were all sorts of crazy rock formations. I kept thinking there should be rock climbing here. It would be lots of fun but people probably don’t climb here because access is dependent on the tide and the beach is very rocky. But it was still fun to look at all the rocks. Lots of stalactites, stalagmites, and this one section had a super huge roof section.
Though I am not good enough now, this looks like a lot of fun to climb.
A little cave I wedged myself into.
Definitely not Railay beach but the rocks are cool!
How could I forget Tiger!? It’s “World Acclaimed” according to the label and has a picture of a badass looking tiger with a palm tree in the background. I picked up a couple bottles of this at 7-11 after dinner. It’s a little expensive at around 58 Baht for a big bottle. I think LEO is 53 and Chang is 50. It tastes pretty good though.
There are several beers available in Thailand. Most of them are also brewed in Thailand. They are all some variation on a light lager, pilsner-like beer. The ones I’ve seen so far are:
- Singha, Note: The transliteration of Thai to English is very weird. Thai people pronounce it “Sing”. Not sure why the ‘a’ or “ha” was added.
- Chang, I drank a lot of this in San Francisco.
- Archa, Cheap!
- LEO, My go to beer here.
- Federbräu, Sounds German but it’s Thai!
- Heineken, Presumably brewed in Holland but I haven’t actually bought or looked close enough at a bottle to verify.
- Cheers, The inspiration for this post.
I’ve tasted most of the beers above and all of them rate ok to good. In fact, I had Cheers before and thought it was decent. Not sure what is going on tonight but definitely developed a solid dislike for the beer. It had a weird metallic taste on the finish. One of these days I’ll do a proper tasting and comparison of the Thai beers. But for now, avoid Cheers.