Getting lost and found in Bangkok
Songkran, the Thai New Year, was in full swing and nothing could prepare me for what was in store. Roads were closed off, filled to the brim with revellers and my cab driver even refused to take me anywhere near my hotel. Gradually it dawned on me how huge Songkran was. On every street corner were gaggles of children armed to the teeth with water cannons and buckets of ice cold water.
The only logical solution was to leave my bag at the nearest hotel and attempt to find the hotel I had pre-booked by foot. I noticed after a while that the locals vastly outnumbered the tourists, it seemed like everyone in Bangkok had been herded into narrow, waterlogged streets. I was soaked to the bone in seconds after a smiling vendor dumped a pail of water over my head. Along Khao San the congestion was so bad that people could only wiggle their shoulders to the pounding music as the crowd swept them onward.
Songkran is traditionally a time to visit relatives, pay respects to your elders, friends, relatives and especially monks. Thought to originate from an Indian festival the Thai New Year is steeped in meaning. Traditionally Buddha statues in both the home and the Wat are cleaned with water. The symbolism behind this is to cleanse the soul by washing away the bad, to bring good luck in the New Year. The festival has evolved somewhat with people now more likely to dump a bucket of water down your neck and then rub beige coloured perfumed talc into your face as a blessing.
A brief suggestion for anyone going to Songkran; sunglasses are a must, the bigger the gun the less likely they are to attack and cold water trumps any weapon.
When I waded through the entrance to my hotel they asked for my passport which I remembered I had left in my bag, which I had dumped in a hotel on the outer streets of the festival. I unravelled the receipt they had given me for the bag to find it was marked simply with a number. There was no phone number, no address and, worst of all, no hotel name. I couldn’t remember the way back, or the name of the hotel. My flight was the next day, and the bag containing my passport was lost among the Bangkok streets in a random hotel during the biggest festival of the Thai year.
I followed the flow of the crowd, nipping down alleys on the search for the elusive hotel and staring hopelessly at street signs written in Thai. Everywhere I went people were laughing and enjoying the experience, sharing drinks, playfully shooting each other in the back of the head and ducking down, it was like being transported back to childhood.
I kept following the route I thought I had taken, but everything looked the same. Each alleyway was filled with water pistol armed tourists and locals that made sure ever passer-by was thoroughly doused with water. Every now and then someone would lay a wet clay filled hand on my face to bless me. The search was never ending.
To save you the torture, I did find my hotel. In a dark alleyway with buildings each side that hid the entrance from view, I found it. I could have nearly cried I was so happy.
Looking back, the impossible quest to find the passport, in the bag, in the lost hotel had actually been enjoyable. I had met so many people who helped me in my mission as I roamed the street that if I had the choice, I have no doubt I would do it all over again.