Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai
Curious eyes followed my footsteps as I navigated the local market with growing confidence, although I still felt very much alone in such an unfamiliar setting. After a few rounds I was prepared to make Pad Thai. To the surprise of locals, I’d actually bought something instead of just browsing and taking pictures like most tourists do; a satisfying upgrade I must say. I rode back to my new home on a borrowed motorbike wearing a helmet that made me look like I’d come straight out of World War Two. Tanapon’s family home was situated just outside of Chiang Mai, a grand house with an open second floor overlooking a lake slowly being overcome by shrubs and weeds. A rustic kitchen sat in the corner of the room awaiting my arrival. We didn’t take long to get acquainted and I don’t think the flame stopped burning for the whole time I was there as I worked on various Thai dishes with the help of Tanapon’s mum, On.
I spent a lot of my time in the first week just relaxing, browsing the virtual world, and helping out with things around the house. After two months on the road it was nice to wind down and ponder new ideas. One such idea involved the removal of all the farang (foreigner) boys from the city who slob about the streets with no shoes or shirt on thinking they’re hippy; the upcoming Songkran festival provided a great opportunity for this, all I needed to buy was an extremely powerful water gun. As the city prepared itself for celebrations, myself and Tanapon sneaked off on a day trip to Doi Inathon National Park, escaping with merely a wet face as excitement built on the side of the road with sporadic spurts of water from locals and their hosepipes.
The national park rises above the whole country and contains its highest peak. Tanapon gave me a piggy back next to the sign, making me the highest person in Thailand. The park’s nature trail took us on a beautiful path through the forest which contains over 360 bird species, attracting visitors from near and far equipped with binoculars and a whole lot of patience. The air quality in the park was so pure and fresh it made me realise how suffocating it was to live down in the city with the scorching heat and daily pollution. We visited a pretty flower garden and an impressive waterfall that further enhanced the all-round beauty of the national park, alluring in so many ways.
The actual water throwing started the day before the official date. I found this out when Tanapon’s little cousin shot me in the crotch with his water gun when I left my room in the morning. I beckoned him for more, hoping to expand a trickle of water which could easily be mistaken for something else, but the offender was soon apprehended by his brother and tickled to death on the floor. We spent the day on the back of a pickup truck getting pummelled by waves of water as our driver drove around the outskirts of the city, a great way to prepare ourselves for what was to come.
The next day was the official start of Songkran. We got a lift into the city and dismounted in the center to join a water fight like never seen before. With no weapon, I went for a medium sized bucket which came pre-attached to a length of rope for dipping. Ammunition came from the moat which bordered the city walls and huge barrels which lined the road, endlessly being filled by huge hose pipes. The beat thumped out of massive speakers, pumping bass into the soul of the party. The fight was clearly being led by the farangs, yet the Thais proved to be a worthy addition to the team. The victims?… Passing vehicles who were either stupid enough to leave their windows open, or who embraced the water like the religious significance of a holy communion. Streets slowly turned to rivers, and the smile on people’s faces showed the little kid in everyone, happy to come out to play.
The next day was a little less crazy, and this is the day I decided to have a “tipple” which basically meant tipping a small bottle of rum into a bottle of coke and hitting the hard stuff. I had a good laugh with some Thai guys on the side of the road, drinking beer, dancing to music, and drowning unsuspecting passers-by who were unfortunate enough to think they had escaped the madness of the city. The alcohol soon took its toll and I ended up losing things. First my alcohol which was obviously my primary concern; then my t-shirt, which I later found floating in the river, once known as the street; then my wallet which fortunately didn’t contain much, but opened up an opportunity to hitchhike home which I did with great success. My ride home was by motorbike and my helmet consisted of a bucket turned upside down on my head with the handle as a chin strap – the locals sure found it amusing.
Chiang Mai had certainly lived up to its hype in being the place to be for Songkran and I could only look back on good times as I waved goodbye to Tanapon to continue north. Originally unsure as whether to skip Chiang Rai altogether, it was a good job I went as it turned out to be one of the best experiences so far on my trip around Thailand. In my next post, you’ll find out about my off-road adventures through Thailand’s most exquisite landscape.
Until then, stay safe and take care.