Shot in the eye by a three year old: Songkran Festival, Thailand.

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To peruse more photos of the madness just pop into the photo gallery on your way out!

The wounded are carried off in droves, cupping their eyes, under the arms of consoling boyfriends; most wearing only one shoe as the other has been lost on the dicey surface of the battlefield.

 

An old Thai woman sprinkles water on the shoulders of passers-by – traditionally a gesture of good fortune at this time of year - until a merciless attack from a topless tattooed man hiding behind a truck shoots her eyeball out with a super soaker 5000.

 

Another raggedy old Thai lady bears a cheeky grin as she snipers unexpected victims from the shadows of her shop of tacky t-shirts and cheap DVD’s.

 

Ladyboys wearing hot pants and high heels are screaming as they become the target while they gyrate on tables and chairs.

 

Not even innocent, unarmed civilians are spared as they come out the other end of water gauntlets lining the streets as if they have been spat out of the dishwasher half done. Men resort to running through using children as shields.

 

Thais and tourists alike cradle heavy artillery under their arm, looking left and right, patrolling the crowded streets of Bangkok like soldiers, on alert for the next ambush of icy cold buckets of water or a piercing shot to the crutch from a super soaker.

 

When I find myself in the cross hairs of a toddler’s SpongeBob Square Pants pistol, I giggle like a child as I return fire with a gun like a riot water canon that sends him running and screaming.

 

Downtown Bangkok looks like downtown Baghdad.

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There is religious significance to this madness. Don’t act surprised; it is not the first war to be fought in the name of religion.

 

But this is no war – it’s Songkran, Thailand’s centuries-old festival marking the beginning of their traditional New Year.

 

Once upon a time, this festival was more a family affair when elders were honoured and the local Buddhist monastery was visited for prayer, giving offerings to monks and merits were made in pursuit of a Buddha-endorsed insurance ensuring good fortune for the year ahead.

 

While now the festival revolves around the water fights erupting like in old downtown Bangkok where the backpacker’s belly button in this city - Khao San road - is at the centre of it, I was told the more traditional face could still be seen in the suburbs of Bangkok.

 

So on one of three days this festival played out I jumped on a boat, purposely heading in the opposite direction to everybody else.

 

The city is deserted and not a foreigner is to be seen as I sneak out in the early morning of hung-over downtown Bangkok, making it a strange experience for anybody familiar with Bangkok’s constant comings and goings.

 

A short boat ride brings me to what is known as Bangkok’s green lung – a mangroved forest that is one of the few pockets of this city still untouched by developers and where the Mon community live in clusters of riverside stilted houses.

 

I hire a bike from a man who’s surprised to see me at the pier. “Why you not doing Songkran?”

 

 He asks me. I shrug.

 

“Wanted to have the whole city to myself.”

 

“Why are you working today?” I ask.

 

“I am from the north east where my family lives - I could not afford to go there this year.”

 

One of those moments of helpless empathy passes between us, but only briefly as his immense Thai smile remedies all. 

 

He asks me to wait while he fetches something from inside his bamboo shanty.

 

“Happy Songkran,” he says groping my face, smearing a white paste on my cheeks. He tells me it’s for protection and keeping away evil spirits. I tell him I’ll see how effective it is when I return to the mayhem of downtown Bangkok tonight.

 

It’s not long before a distant nasally chant of a Buddhist monastery, the church bells of South East Asia, has me seeking it out like a dog who has picked up a scent. It’s coming from a small monastery where inside a shaman is chanting to cross-legged worshippers.

 

He flicks water on them from a flower and ties white cotton string to their wrists. People are using silver bowls to pour fragrant water over a small golden Buddha statue, instructing their children to do the same.

 

“Why do you pour water on each other,” I ask a man who has shown interest in where I come from and what I’m doing here.

 

“It cleanses you from the bad things of the past year and prepares you for the next.”

 

A queue is forming by a Buddhist statue where families bow three times together with incense sticks pressed between their hands clasped in a gesture of prayer against their heads.

 

It’s as if the sky is stuffed full with the plumes of incense smoke.

 

Everybody smiles and follows me with their glances as if I’m the bearded lady at the circus - a travellers confirmation that they are out of place, and therefore in the right place.

 

I cycle on.

 

A small family sitting at the front of their stilted house look up from a meal their sharing to look at me suspiciously, murmur comments in Thai to each other before hoisting a flurry of waves. Two plump boys go back to throwing water on each other while the haggard looking grandmother fusses about.

 

She reminds me of the old lady who had, had her eye shot out the day before.

 

As I continue on, witnessing more of the same, I realise how far the traditions of this festival have evolved. This is indicative of how the Thai people have evolved.

 

Returning in the late afternoon, thousands of reinforcements pour out of Phra Ahtit Pier into the madness of downtown Bangkok.

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The streets are smattered with white and awash with a milky river from the same white paste that was smeared on my face to ward off evil. Young, sweaty Thais and backpackers are packed into streets like sticky rice, jumping and convulsing to indie rock and Thai pop.

 

In the typical religious holiday spirit, the excesses and pleasures that the religion preaches to refrain from are lavishly being indulged in.

 

I don’t realise the true nature of this festival until I accidentally catch a passing monk in my crossfire. I apologise emphatically until from under his saffron robes he draws a small water gun and shoots me back.

 

Bars are bursting out on to the streets where drive-bys are committed by people in the back of tuk tuks or on scooters. However, they come off second best as they’re doused with water by roadside attacks.

 

No wonder the road death toll of the five day event rose to over 250 victims this year.

 

When 1 am arrives- the official curfew for Bangkok’s bars- the police call for order and quiet from the back of a police ute covered in white hand prints. This only brings a brief hush before a rebellious cheer erupts from the crowd and a small boy shoots his Mickey Mouse pistol at the starched, skin tight uniform of the shocked policeman. If convicted I’m sure he can plead the defence that it was way past his bed time.

 

An Australian man gets in my ear and shouts above the music coming from all directions from oversized speakers - “How shit is our New Year!”

 

Looking out over the sea of bobbing black heads and noting that everybody is smiling, I can’t help but agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is UPickAPath?...

This is no ordinary travel blog and I am travelling in no ordinary fashion.

I am a journalist who made one final decision before boarding a plane in Australia destined for South East Asia - that I would surrender all decision-making on my travels and hand it over to others- including your most capable hands.

The choices I make and the path I take is determined by you. From what I eat, where I sleep, how I experience situations, the decisions I take whenever faced with the glorious conundrums of travel.

Consider me a traveling puppet on strings and you are the puppetours.

 

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