Songkran Isaan

Thai New Year in Isaan Part 3: A Big Ass Parade In A Tiny Town

Expat Life, Photo Essay, Thailand

The grand finale of our Songkran experience started like the other days – we were promised afternoon sanook and told to wear nice clothes, but offered no further instructions (that we understood).

(Note: this is part three of a 3-part series. You can catch up by reading part one and part two.)

Around noon all the regular friends and family arrived at the house and everyone was drinking yet again. The women were clad in their finest dresses; the men wore their flowery Songkran shirts. In the driveway, a large money tree sat on a cart, and we were told that we’d be taking it to the temple. I felt bad because I’d already downed a few beers and had on shorts. I didn’t want to be out of place at this reverent ceremony when we took an offering to the temple. This is actually what I thought. I was so young back then. 

After we’d all been hanging out and partying for a while, a band with a dozen percussionists and two electric guitarists, whose instruments were plugged into a large battery-powered speaker on a cart, appeared in front of the house.

The band started playing psychedelic punk-rock songs which attracted the townspeople like moths to light, and an impromptu street party broke out in front of the house. I went from worrying about being too drunk to wondering if I had enough beer. After a critical mass of people arrived, the party flowed down the street, sweeping up the entire town the way a flooding river picks up debris. Eventually, all of Baan Du Laat was engaged in a raucous party fueled by pure, unfiltered joy – and lots of alcohol.

Songkran Band

The parade moved very deliberately with the band ripping off one song after another. In addition to the dancing, singing and drinking, the parade featured a full on water fight. Kids with buckets and super-soakers attacked partiers, and adults poured ice cold water down the backs of friends to symbolically wash away their sins. 

About an hour after we started, we arrived at the temple and instead of stopping for a ceremony, we kept on going. I thought we were going to drop off the money and the party would be over, but instead everyone stocked up on booze at the adjacent store. The shopkeeper was proactive – he had several large chests full of ice cold beer. He was, in that moment, a national hero. I bought a couple bottles of beer and we kept on going.

Many locals were not taking the risk of the stores being stocked with beer. People carried around large buckets of booze, some with dozens of straws poking out so revelers could get a sip on the fly. And of course the Booze-Pushers were out in force, pouring whisky down the gullets of all the revelers. 

Every time I saw Kristi, she was dancing with a different lady who was showing her the intricate hand movements of Thai dancing or posing for photos with assorted people. Everyone wanted to meet the blonde farang and she kept acquiring fresh drinks. She also managed to acquire a child. A little girl clung to her side during the entire parade. She was unshakable. In fact, she lives in our spare bedroom now. We don’t know who she belongs to. 

The parade arrived at the edge of town, and ran along the rural highway. A clean black car drove by slowly, and left with chalky wet handprints all over it. Another passerby drove by on a motorbike. He left town soaking wet.

Eventually, we circumnavigated the town and returned to the temple after dark. Instead of a ceremony to donate the money, the band played several songs and the partying reached its apex. Everyone, from teens to senior citizens, was sloppy drunk, disheveled, and soaking wet.

Mercifully, the band finally stopped playing and the party disbanded. We returned home exhausted but happy. I fell asleep with psychedelic Thai songs stuck in my head.

Day 5 – Travel to Krabi

During our stay the family took great care of us. Kristi is a pescatarian, so each morning they served us blah pow, just like they do at the restaurant in Bangkok. We slept in one of the only air-con rooms and they bought us gifts and made sure we had a great time.

Even so, being in Baan Du Laat was a challenge. Drinking alcohol all day wore out our livers and speaking Thai all day exhausted our brains. My back hurt from sleeping on thin mats and I was constantly dehydrated from the summer heat and alcohol. We were out of our comfort zone, which was fun, but we were tired. We needed some comforts. We left on day five to fly to Krabi for a few days of beach and sea.

All throughout our stay, Pat would say “bee na mai?” (You come back) next year? We’d always reply with an enthusiastic “Tuk-bee!” – every year! – in part because we were having so much fun, but also in part, because we were always drunk.

Pat and Krong drove us to the airport, and as we said our goodbyes she reiterated. “Bee Na?”

And we gave our standard and enthusiastic reply – “Tuk Bee!” ◊

Songkran Parade Photo Gallery


Links to Part 1 and 2

Thai New Year in Isaan Part 1: Concerts, Culture Shock and Booze-Pushers

Thai New Year in Isaan Part 2: Sanook, a Road Trip, and a Massive Water Fight

Stay tuned for Part 4 – Black and White Photos of the Songkran party after dark

Posted by

Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

19 thoughts on “Thai New Year in Isaan Part 3: A Big Ass Parade In A Tiny Town”

  1. What a celebration! I’m worn out just reading about it. At least if you go next year, you will have a \n idea what to expect and can start priming your liver in advance.

  2. I wish I were there to watch you guys because I wonder if there are some interesting details that you don’t remember because it seems like you had a lot of fun (and alcohol) 🙂 It must have been really cool to be the only foreigners in a local celebration like this. That noodles with what appears to be skewered meat look delicious!

    • Oh, I am sure there are lots of details I don’t remember from that week, especially the end of each day when we’d been forced to party all day. All the food there was really good. It didn’t hurt that almost everyone there works as restauranteurs in Bangkok!

  3. Marilyn says:

    Thanks Jeff, and Kristi too, for sharing your experience. Next year, and following years, should be fun too! At least you will know what to expect!

    • I think knowing what to expect will be nice for sure. We will at least be mentally prepared for the discomforts and excited for the fun we will be having.

  4. OMG I can’t even. Given my head for alcohol I’d not have lasted the first day let alone – what was it 4 days, 5 days? But God it sounds like so much fun! Though I get the part about finally enough of being outside of your comfort zone. What an experience! You carried a camera around during all that drunken revelling and water throwing?! Your photos are fabulous as usual. You really captured it.

    • I wrapped my camera in a plastic bag and was always on the lookout for a water gun and/or a booze-pusher! I drank more in that week than I normally drink in a month!

  5. I have been waiting for part three….Well, you guys are both real troopers that’s for sure! I don’t think I would have lasted on thin mattresses combined with constant booze and heat during waking hours ~ sounds pretty challenging for farangs. Troopers, as I said!

    It is pretty incredible how much alcohol is consumed ~ I wonder if this celebration always included so much alcohol, or whether its the type of thing that just gets worse (or better depending on your perspective) every year?

    Photos and story all terrific. Very entertaining!


    • I think the heavy drinking is in part due to the fact that it is a homecoming as well as a festival. I spoke to the family yesterday and they haven’t been back to Isan since. They likely haven’t seen their friends or family in a group for at least 6 months now.

      It was a challenge, but also very fun. Let’s just say that a few days in Krabi was a very nice break afterwards.

  6. Pingback: Thai New Year in Isaan Part 1: Culture Shock, Concerts, and Booze-Pushers | Planet Bell

  7. Pingback: Thai New Year in Isaan Part 2: Sanook, a Road Trip and a Massive Water Fight | Planet Bell

  8. Too funny! Sounds like you guys will need until next year to recover. I love the photos of Kristi in on the action and her little friend. I hope you had fun in Krabi…such a beautiful spot.

    • Krabi is great. I found a killer deal on a brand new hotel there and was able to get a room with a private pool for about $50 a night. I surprised Kristi with it. I think she deserved it after going on the adventure with me!

  9. Going Global: An International Adventure Series... says:

    Omg!! Small town celebrations put any Bangkok theme bar to shame! I’ve only participated in one And your story is very similar. Street dancing with way to much bad beer! I truly miss Thailand and love reading your blog. And as always….the pictures. You always capture the soul of the scene.

  10. Phew! I don’t know how you and Kristi managed to survive this after days of nonstop drinking and partying and ice-cold water fights (Kristi’s face in that first pic in the gallery tells us a lot!). What’s equally amazing is how you managed to take clear, focused shots even while inebriated – had it been me, I’m pretty sure at least 80% of the photos would have turned out blurry.

    • I have to confess – about 95% of my shots were blurry, I just didn’t post them! I think my liver still hurts from all the partying. I’m looking forward to going back but also a little nervous. Thanks for your comments.

  11. Pingback: Thai New Year in Isaan Year Two: The Triumphant Return | Planet Bell

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