Chapter 35: Soaked for Songkran
Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
56Trip End Nov 2004
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Where I stayed
Around this time things started to get weird in the Khao San area, due to the annual Songkran (Lunar New Year) Festival, which usually takes place for three days every April
On Saturday morning the sidewalks of Khao San Road were lined with huge buckets of water & ice and bottles of water and small pails, and water guns were available for sale every few feet. Coca-Cola banners were hanging from every available inch of wire above the street, and tents and loudspeakers were set up gradually during the day. Around noon you could walk down the street and maybe only get blasted by a few kids with water pistols, but by 4pm the street was mobbed with throngs of people (half Thai / half backpackers) throwing and spraying water everywhere. It didn't matter if you were wearing an Armani suit and carrying an open laptop computer... you would get drenched in a matter of steps. The only alternatives are resigning yourself to getting wet and putting everything of value (camera, notebooks, etc) into plastic bags, or sitting in your hotel room. Oh, the pool was safe too (hence my weekend of tanning)
I decided on Monday that I'd leave Bangkok on Tuesday, so I spent Monday away from the chaos of the Khao San Songkran. I took a cab to the Northern Bus Station, stood around looking stupid for a few minutes, and then found the booth selling tickets north to Chiang Mai. I wasn't sure if that was a super-smart next destination, as Chiang Mai has the reputation for the craziest Songkran in the country, but nevertheless I bought one of the special 24-seat VIP bus seats for 9am the next morning. Not wanting to go back to Khao San just yet, I got on the Skytrain (above-ground subway) and rode down to the Sukhumvit street district, which has lots of shopping opportunities. I meandered around Bangkok for the rest of the day by foot, train, and ferry, and finally played "dodge the flying water" around Khao San and made it back to the hotel with a few dry spots left on my shirt.
Tuesday was a relatively comfortable bus day
Chiang Mai is a walled city surrounded by a moat, and during the day the streets along the moat are the scene of the Songkran frenzy. At night during the holiday, the area around the main gate and the major street leading into the city (Ratchadamnoen?) are pedestrian-only; the street is lined with vendors offering everything from massages to clothes to food, and the main plaza by the gate has a big stage set up. It reminded me of the WBRU Summer Concert Series, except there was a Thai cover band playing Linkin Park songs. Thankfully in Chiang Mai the water-throwing stops at sunset (unlike Khao San, where the insanity goes well into the night)
I had some books to trade, so I walked around on Tuesday morning looking for a used bookshop, but they were of course all closed for Songkran. So I just got wet. The scene by the moat was insane: streets gridlocked with pick-up trucks full of Thais sitting in the back hurling buckets of water on other trucks and any pedestrians. Most of the internet places were closed also, so I decided to try the mall just outside the northwestern corner of the wall. The walk took about a half hour, and on the way I was joined by a 23 year old Thai guy named Pan who was home for the holiday visiting his parents. We walked and talked (as best we could, given his limited English and my utter lack of Thai) and got wetter, and eventually we found refuge in the mall.
Pan was obviously lonely and bored, and he asked if he could hang out with me all afternoon. I had no problem with that unless I could get online, in which case I explained that I needed to catch up and be alone
I stayed at the mall until closing, and then walked back to the big street party near my guesthouse. I had a delicious spicy green papaya salad made right in front of me at one food stall, and then tried durian ice cream. It was surprisingly good, given the horror stories I'd heard about how bad durian fruit smells. Maybe it's just the real fruit that reeks
Thursday I equipped my waterproof camera case and set out for the road along the moat around the outside of the city walls. I walked for hours between the pick-ups and in front of the shop vendors armed with hoses, all the while snapping photos and taking videos. The Thais were psyched at the opportunity to pose for shots and douse me with water... I'd often hear a shout of "farang!" one half-second before a bucketful of icy water landed on my back. It was a hot day, though, so I treated Chiang Mai like a giant water park and had a blast. Eventually I found the mall again, spent some more time online, bought some OTC valium for kicks, and picked up "Harry Potter 4." That night was pretty quiet; I bought a ticket for a minibus to the mountain town of Pai that would leave the next morning, so I checked out the street scene for a while and then crashed out.
P.S. - My next few entries should be rather exciting... I've been out trekking in the hills of Thailand, and I'm in Laos at the moment. The downside is that internet access has been hard to find (and awfully slow). I'm already a month-plus behind with e-mails, thanks to Myanmar, and it's not going to get better here... so if you're feeling generous with your online time and want to send some updates from home (even if I still haven't responded to your last e-mail yet) I'd be really grateful. Thanks, and I hope you're doing well wherever you are!