Songkran to Siem Reap: Happy New Year!

April 17th, 2015 - Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Last week my friend Yousef stepped on a plane in San Francisco bound for Thailand; after 5 months of traveling, I was reunited with a friend on the other side of the world. It's been a crazy week since he touched down in Bangkok and we began exploring Thailand and Cambodia. 

To start things off on the right foot, Yousef and I rented an AirBnb in Bangkok with two friends I met while working in Koh Lanta. Over the course of our first 24 hours in the city, we experienced the wide range of highs and lows Bangkok has to offer: street food, rooftop restaurants, dive bars, and top flight clubs.

On our second day in the city we were exposed to Songkran, Thailand's New Years celebration. Imagine a July fourth supersoaker war mixed with a music festival, multiplied by the novelty of being surrounding by a foreign country's most boisterous city and you can just begin to scratch the surface of Songkran. 

Although the 3 day celebration didn't technically start until the 13th, we wandered toward the party's epicenter on the 12th and already began to see signs of the debauchery. Everyone walking away from the surrounding radius of the party's epicenter, Khao San Road, was completely soaked. Locals from the age of 6 to 60 were armed with industrial size supersoakers and shooting everything that moved. We quickly armed ourselves for the battle, stocked up on water, and dove straight into the fray. It was only a few moments until we were completely soaked and immersed in the massive street party.

We walked up and down Khao San Road, enjoying the developing scene and getting ourselves properly soaked by starting water wars with both locals and fellow travelers alike. 

Despite all the fun we had walking the streets and blasting everyone in sight, the cab ride back to our apartment was definitely the most enjoyable. Armed with ice cold water, we sprayed unsuspecting pedestrians, egged on by our accomplice of a driver, who would slow down and shout "Songkran, Songkran!" to alert us to ripe targets. 

After another full day of exploring Bangkok during the New Year's celebration, Yousef and I packed our bags with our sights set on Cambodia and boarded a flight for Siem Reap. At this point, we were under the impression that we would be leaving the carnage of Songkran behind, but we were rudely introduced to Cambodia with a swift slap of baby powder across the face. 

Just an hour after leaving the airport, we strolled into the streets of Siem Reap at night and immediately stumbled into a full-fledged party for Khmer of all ages on the streets of downtown Siem Reap. The only difference was the weapon of choice: here they substituted super soakers for baby powder, and the shops were full of young children stocking up to douse their friends. 

The next day we awoke after far too little sleep to see the legendary sunrise view at the temples of Angkor, followed by a full morning exploring the massive ancient city. After almost a thousand years many of the temples have significantly deteriorated, but those that remain standing are a true testament to the strength of the Khmer empire's construction prowess. 

After a few hours exploring the ruins in the increasingly hot Cambodian sun, the influx of the crowd started to become overwhelming and all around us yet another New Year's celebration began to unfold. We were surrounded by a carnival-like atmosphere, replete with a massive outdoor school assembly, a festival grounds, and a sprawling stretch of families setting up picnic areas to celebrate one of the largest parties of the year. 

We couldn't help but notice how the local scene was strikingly juxtaposed by entire cities of temples and a massive horde of tourists flowing in through the one lane entrance to the compound. Even though we left before noon, traffic ensured it took over an hour just to navigate out of the surround area. 

The following afternoon we departed from Siem Reap to the tiny beach town of Sihanoukville on Cambodia's southern coast. For the third time in three days we unexpectedly found ourselves surrounded by a Khmer New Year's party, this time with Cambodian families throwing a massive party on Serendipity beach while the sun set right behind us. We paraded up and down the sand and boardwalk, soaking in the last light of the sun's rays, the fresh breeze coming up off the ocean, and the party vibes of locals ushering in the New Year again. 

Tomorrow Yousef and I set off for the island of Koh Rong, where we'll spend a few days relaxing on an island devoid of roads, ATMs, and 24 hour electricity before returning back to reality.