30 April 2013

Bangkok - Songkran Survival Guide

Date of Exploration : 12 - 15 Apr 2013

"Suk san wan pi mai!" a teenage boy hollered as he stretched forth his hand and smeared my face with talcum powder. And just like that, I lost my Songkran virginity to him in under 2 seconds.

Love it or hate it, the whole of Thailand is transformed into an aqua playground from 13 - 15 April annually to celebrate the Thai New Year. Known as Songkran (derived from the Sanskrit word 'Sankranti' which means 'a move or change'), the water festival is the biggest event on the Thai calendar and the best time for any tourist hoping to soak in the kingdom's fascinating culture. Literally!

Splish splash at Chatuchak Weekend Market. With water squirting everywhere, it's as if Thailand has turned into one huge outdoor fountain!
Songkran is celebrated over all the 4 administrative regions of Thailand with slight variants in observances, religious rites and scale, but water is central to the festivities. Water symbolizes the cleansing of the old self to reveal the new, and splashing someone with water is actually an act of blessing! Songkran is the only time where you actually thank someone for drenching and making a mess of you. Starting with my teenage 'assailant', I lost count of the number of "kup koon krups" (thank yous) I said throughout the trip.

In the Southern region, Songkran is considered to be a time where the guardian angels of the Thais are renewed. The first day (13 Apr) is treated as a 'Farewell to the Old Angels' where the Southerners send off existing guardians. On the second day (14 Apr), alms are given to monks and prayers offered to Buddha and on the third, the Southerners 'Welcome New Guardian Angels' from heaven to take care of the Thai people for a year.

For Thais in the Central region, the first day is called 'Maha Songkran Day', the second day is known as 'Wan Klang or Wan Nao' (Middle Day), and the last day named 'Wan Talerng Sok' (New Year Day). Religious ceremonies, alms giving, paying respect to ancestors, prayers and good deeds are performed throughout these 3 days.

Songkran of the Northern Region is celebrated with a thorough cleaning of the home on the first day to welcome the new year. The second day is considered sacred and the Northerners are mindful not to speak bad words or ill of anybody, else the whole year will be cursed. On the third day, Northern Thais wake early to give alms and perform water-pouring ceremonies while receiving blessings from respected elders.

The simplest celebration of Songkran is at the Northeastern region. Festivities start exactly at 3pm in the middle of the fifth lunar month. Hence, Songkran is also called 'Boon Duen Ha' (fifth month merit) in this region. Monks will hit drums to signal the start of the new year and villagers will pay respect to Buddha by offering perfume, incense, candles and flowers. After receiving blessings for the new year, the Northerners will pour water on elders and teachers before engaging in water splashing.

Foreigners and locals become one. Songkran opens the floodgates to a holiday experience like no other.
Although I've heard about the Water Festival, I was turned off by the prospect of being wet all day. But most of my friends who'd experienced the festival said it is really fun so I decided to stop being a wuss and attended Songkran in Bangkok for the first time... AND I LOVE IT!

I loved it because everyone's wearing a smile and out for a good time. Fun is in the air. And a squirt of the water gun was all it took to cross the barrier from being strangers to friends. Words were not necessary. Our hellos were delivered in a shocking spray and an invitation to play.

However, while it's all fun and games, there are a couple of things to be conscious of when attending Songkran. So here's my list of do's and don'ts, tips, observations and notes to milk the Water Festival for an enjoyable and memorable experience.


If you chose to come to Thailand during Songkran, you must already be prepared that there's a chance of getting wet anytime, anywhere. So don't be angry or flustered if someone jets a stream your way or douse you with an icy bucket of water. 入乡随俗嘛。。。

A friend of mine got so pissed with a little girl who poured water on him that he smacked her hands. Her empty bucket fell to the floor and bounced onto an open road. That's really uncool. So sabai sabai, leave the attitude at home/hotel. Expect to get wet, expect to get others wet, and have a ball of a good time!

Kuah si mi (are you staring at us)?! Small water pistols are useless in the epic street water battles so go Schwarzenegger instead of Lara Croft.


During Songkran, Silom Road (a nightlife district famous for male and female go-go bars) and Khao San Road (backpackers enclave) in Bangkok are closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles for 2 days so these places are your best bet for a splashing good time. That's provided you love squeezing amongst crowds.

Songkran attracts a lot of visitors into Thailand so expect popular restaurants and massage parlours to be full. Some of my friends wanted to go for a massage but appointments were all booked full for 2 days.

View of the crowd on Silom Road from a bridge that links to Sala Daeng BTS Station.

Depending on which parts of the roads you are on and what time you visit, they can be so jam-packed with people that you don't even have the space to raise your hands. Instead of walking, you just allow yourself to be pushed along by the crowd. It can feel rather claustrophobic and one of my friends said he feared for his life as he felt a stampede could happen any minute.

To avoid over-crowdedness, go to these 2 designated water playgrounds at night when the crowd thins. We went to Silom Road at about 8pm and the crowd was of a comfortable mass and mess.


Big guns rule! Full-stop.

Water guns were sold everywhere during Songkran so there's no need to worry about getting one but which one to get? Get the big ones that can pump out a powerful jet with a range of up to 2 metres. Prices range from 199bht to 500bht.

When buying along Silom Road, always bargain. I wanted to get a Tweety Bird backpack soaker which costs 295bht at 7-Eleven but was quoted 500bht along Silom Road.

Water guns and waterproof pouches are on sale everywhere. A waterproof pouch costs between 10 - 30bht each.

Juliana got this really cute ladybug backpack shooter for 250bht (S$10.50). This look is called Pest on Pest. Hahaha...

Love this Angry Bird waterpack blaster. I almost bought it too.

This guy had the best choice! Totally hilarious to see a grown man with a teeny-weeny pink Minnie waterpack!


Some places such as Khao San Road has banned the use of talcum powder after men allegedly used the smearing of powdery blessings as an excuse to molest ladies. Powder or no powder, just be careful when in the crowd as molesters are lurking in the sea of people.

Juliana and I stumbled onto a short street off Silom Road where loud music was blaring and decided to check out the alley party. Almost as soon as we entered the street, I felt someone giving my goreng pisang a squeeze. A couple of guys and a girl cupped my breasts chest and someone took a bite of my left triceps. Were they checking if I'm a ladyboy?

The shock of being groped was rather unpleasant but the cheery atmosphere and water battles quickly replaced the irritation with elation. I console myself with the thought that I'm considered molest-worthy! LOL.


The top tip to enjoy Songkran is really to not be an outsider or observer and join in the water party. Just let go of inhibitions, wear a smile, waterproof valuables, load the soakers, and spray away! It didn't matter what's our skin colour, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age and gender, Songkran has a power that unifies the human spirit. I felt like I was part of a great big Thai family!

Nathan and Chee Hong doing SAF proud by deploying tactical moves to counterattack another group of shooters. I was shooting too... with a camera.

No mercy! This boy kept shooting me while I shot his photos.

Check out the water pistol this guy is holding! ROFL!

To take photos of the waterplay, I encased my Casio Exilim ZR1000 in a waterproof pouch for compact cameras.

Slippers are quintessential during Songkran but wear a pair with good traction as floors get slippery with all that water.

Best time to clown around!

Best time to monkey around too!

Songkran is totally awesome! If I can, I'll come back again next year.

Juliana with her see-through pink plastic skirt was a head turner on the streets. Don't play play!

I survived Songkran!
After experiencing my first Songkran, I'm now a convert. From someone who consciously avert crowds and dislike getting wet, I now can't wait for the next Songkran to happen and let loose my inner child during fountain season!

21 April 2013

Bangkok - Mansion 7 at Huai Khwang District

Date of Exploration : 13 Apr 2013

With the shopping gene missing from my tourist DNA, I rarely plan mall visits into my travel itineraries except when I'm in Bangkok. The Thai capital is ever brimming with creative products, fashion designers and concept malls that are as fascinating as the merchandise they retail so I make it a point to sniff out new shopping joints on each visit.

This my umpteenth trip to Bangkok, I paid legwork to Mansion 7, a horror themed mall-cum-entertainment outfit replete with a haunted house and promises to make the night come alive!

Don't I look like a suitable prop?
Making customers change their underpants since November 2010, I can't believe it took me almost 3 years to learn of Mansion 7's existence. My delayed discovery of this place is kinda unforgiveable because my obsession with horror movies is as legendary as my penchant for tom yum goong so it came as a surprise that this mall of terrors escaped my travel radar.

If you are up for something unusual to check out in Bangkok and brought extra inner wear, read on...

Getting There

Mansion 7 is located in the nightlife district of Huai Khwang. As it is just a few MRT stops from Chatuchak Weekend Market, a possible itinerary could be to visit the market in the afternoon and then dropping in at Mansion 7 in the evening. Mansion 7 is open from 6pm onwards.

To get to Mansion 7, take the MRT to Huai Khwang (also spelt Huay Kwang) station and take Exit 1.

Turn right upon coming out from Exit 1 and walk in the direction of Sutthisan Police Area. The main road in this photo is Ratchadapisek Road which Mansion 7 is located on.

The walk from Huai Khwang MRT station to Mansion 7 is under 5 minutes.

After a short walk, the shock of purple marks the spot.
The Trouble with Purple

The first thought that ran through my head when we reached Mansion 7 was that it has gone out of business. The façade looked rather rundown in daylight and I wasn't sure if the venue was in the process of being taken apart or already abandoned.

Even the official website of this amusement mall seemed uncompleted and severely starved of details to entice a visit. And other links I consulted were dated mostly in 2010 so I wasn't sure if the mall is still around. But despite the operational ambiguity of Mansion 7, Juliana and I decided to try our luck and drop by anyway. We heaved a sigh of relief when we confirmed that Mansion 7 is still open for business. Phew!

Mansion 7 extends a hand of welcome at its entrance with ghoulish digits ready to claw visitors in. 

View of Ratchadapisek Road from under the massive zombie hand. 

We arrived at 5:15pm so Mansion 7 was still asleep. The amusement mall wakes up for business from 6pm onwards but the retail section was in permanent coma. All the shops, except for the Mansion 7 gift shop, were hoarded up and closed for business.

Mansion 7 in daylight. To the right are the shops; ahead is the Haunted Hotel flanked by a cocktail bar (right) and beer bar (left). The extreme left houses a wine bar and what looks like a F&B outlet but they were closed.

With the shops closed indefinitely, the main draw at Mansion 7 would be its Haunted Hotel. The elaborate staging was intriguing and looked creepy good, which gave the feel of a movie set rather than an entertainment haunt. It's Halloween here everyday!

The Haunted Hotel is built around a fictitious legend of an unscrupulous owner who erected the hotel for profit despite paranormal warnings. As a result, many people died and the hotel became home to restless souls waiting to claim their next victim.

An assortment of sitting huddles, pool tables and arcade games sparsely littered Mansion 7's huge hall space. It felt rather empty and a whole lot of nothing if not for the club music that filled the void.

Storefront of Mansion 7's Gift Shop. Love the dilapidated visage that forebode of eerie endeavours.

Having a child ghost beneath the table was a nice touch!

We had fun posing with this Toshio lookalike from the Ju-On horror trilogy.

The gift shop sold an artistic collection of knick-knacks and Mansion 7 branded merchandise.

Beer Mansion is a beer retailer that serves brews from all over the world. Wanted to check it out but it was locked.

The other drinking hole at Mansion 7 is Cocktail which serves up, according to its namesake, a wide selection of cocktails. Happy hour is 1-for-1 from 6 - 9pm.

The interior of Cocktail sports an underground industrial chic lined with as many gnomes as there are booze.

Upper deck of Cocktail bar.

The staff were friendly and the bartender had some really smooth moves in mixing our cocktails. He was really entertaining to watch.

I ordered Creepy that tasted like Mojito with beer and Juliana got Shy (beer with Crème de Cacao White and strawberry concentrate). Price of each drink was 280bht (S$11.50) but since it was Happy Hour, we got both drinks for the price of one. The cocktails were pretty good.

The bartender introduced us to a small list of cocktails in their Halloween menu and we decided to try out this drink called Suicide. Each shot costs 250bht (S$10.50). I ordered one but we were served 3 and cost 750bht.

Suicide was basically a strong Vodka concoction served in a water pistol. Juliana and I turned frenemies trying to knock each other out with the stiff shots.

It was fun for the novelty but a tad too pricey.

After loosening our nerves with a few drinks at Cocktail, it was time to test our lungs at the Haunted Hotel. An entry fee of 320bht (S$13.50) applies and tickets can be bought at the car-shaped counter.

No retail therapy so we checked ourselves in for some shock therapy.

I wasn't expecting much but the haunted house set-up was pretty good. No photography is allowed inside the Haunted Mansion but shots were taken at designated spots and sold as souvenir photos (270bht for 2 shots) at the end of the walk.

I shan't divulge too my much about what to expect so as not to spoil the suspense but I would say that the experience was pretty good. We were told the walk lasts 20 minutes but I think we completed it in 10 minutes.

Mansion 7 looked so much better at night when the lights came on but pity that patronage was low. With the music and huge space, this place has the potential to be a great chill-out club. Perhaps adding more horror sculptures for photo opportunities, face-painting services, horror-themed food menus, staff in costumes and bringing down the prices could draw in more local crowd and tourists.

I came face-to-face with fear and it ran away! Tee hee...
In retrospect of my Mansion 7 experience, I felt the amusement mall had an interesting theme but the horror concept remained only on its purple surface and didn't burrow deep enough to milk the horror genre for all that it's worth. And since the mall component of Mansion 7 is missing, the venue has relegated to a mere haunted house attraction with a couple of drinking holes. No puns intended but the place felt rather dead.

However, I think Mansion 7 is still worth checking out for some scares and the great tasting cocktails during Happy Hour. Perhaps Mansion 7's developers can consider morphing it into a horror museum since the Thais has a rich subculture of the paranormal and occult. Or perhaps even organizing a horror convention for fans of the genre to meat and grit!

Address : 244/7 Ratchadapisek Soi 14, Ratchadapisek Rd., Huai Khwang, 02-692-631

Opening Hours : 6pm - 2am daily
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