Songkran in Chiang Mai on only US$500/day
The Greatest Spectacle in Squirt Gun Fighting
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of lustral water on other people’s hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs.- Wikipedia
Saturday 10 April, 6:30 a.m. No driver. This trip had been planned for weeks and our driver was one-half hour late. Which is unheard of. It made us feel helpless until I realized we’ve done without a driver most of our lives so when Al said, “Let’s just go.” I said, “Ok.” As we were pulling out of the driveway the maid said, “telephone”. In Thai. So we fired up the mobile and dialed Su, our truant driver. Al didn’t quite understand him but after a very looong story it seemed he’d panicked after having motorcycle trouble.
So we headed off in the direction of where we THINK he lives. Notes: neither of us have ever actually been to Su’s house. We passed lots and lots of monks out on their alms rounds. This we’ve never seen before so close to our home. Either we are never up this early or take a different route. We pass Su going the other way on the back of a motorcycle taxi. Su sullenly crawls into the back seat…because Al refuses to return to our house for Su’s sitting cushion and squirt gun.
We stop twice at truck stops to refuel the car and eat during our leisurely +/-9 hour drive. Let me tell you squat toilets when you are 7 months pregnant are quite an adventure! Al drove the whole way. Su slept. We drove through a small city on the way and began to get into the dousing spirit. Buckets of water are thrown at our car. Then it rain. Maybe there is something to this sympathetic magic?
The hotel where I have told Al to make the reservations is not the one I thought it was. Mai Pen Rai (never mind). It is nice anyway. We find all the requirements; bungalows, gardens, running water-in and outside. PLUS a pool! Mai Sa valley is only 1 kilometer down the road from the place where I meant for us to stay (Pong Yang resort, but they don’t advertise in the tourist guide so I couldn’t find their phone number). Mai Sai valley resort is set among 18 acres of gardens on the side of a hill. The hot water to our thatched roof cabin is warmed by a medium sized propane tank attached to the outside of one wall. We locate the fire extinguisher. Walking up and down the paths of our resort reminds me of when we stayed in Zermatt. The resort even has a rope and pulley system to bring in supplies-just like the milk transport ones you see in the Swiss mountains.
I chose a ‘splurge’ restaurant. ‘The Gallery’ out of the Lonely Planet Guide and we set off. Su got to drive.
Please note, Allan’s pillow has been safely carried to our room while mine is still in the car sitting on the front seat. Al gets his super-duper squirt gun out and points the tip out of the window. I guess this gives new meaning to the term ‘riding shotgun’. I guess you could say he was riding ‘squirt gun’. He co-ordinates a routine where Su quickly opens the electric passenger window for him so Al can concentrate on aiming. All I can think about is the bad karma that Al must be accumulating by stalking unwary pedestrians to spray from the comfy protection of our car. It didn’t seem like a fair fight to me.
The restaurant is extremely nice. The road front is an antique shop and the back is an open air riverfront dining area. We ordered too much food — which is basically the story of our lives in Thailand.
Last we went shopping in the night market. Everything is easier this time since we don’t have to get our bearings. Allan reminds me over and over not to hold back on my purchases since this is probably our last trip to Chiang Mai. So I pick up an XL t-shirt decorated with Japanese brush stroke bamboo leaves and birds to sleep in. For the first time I see a triangle pillow in NICE colors, so we get it. We buy 2 sets of wind chimes and Al gets a golf watch.
Back in our room we got acquainted with the resident tching-tchok (gecko) and find out that the water heater does not work. There is no fan or airco in the room and it is very warm so washing in cold water before retiring helps to cool us down. We fell asleep to the sound of the babbling brook outside our window. The jungle night noises wake us now and again — probably just tamarind pods falling on our roof, right?
We woke to a glorious cool morning. Al went early to play golf. I went to breakfast late. I tried to inspect the water heater but there were signs everywhere that said not to adjust it. 2 or 3 people ask me if I had hot water, so I guess they saw me. Spies! I hand my room key over to a man who goes to check out the problem.
On the walk up to breakfast I saw an overgrown pergola that I had not noticed the day before — which is not surprising considering the spectacular flowerbeds EVERYWHERE. The resort is snuggled among mountains in every direction. Someone is obviously a passionate gardener. The resort achieved a harmonic mixture of English cottage garden and Thai. The result is…Biarritz. Who says you can’t mix orange and pink? If you are Thai you can with complete confidence.
My morning swim was bracing. The only other person at the pool was a very nice French lady. She was a friend of the owner’s wife. The wife was the gardener and she spends a lot of time in England and France. So that explained it. Al appeared at the pool around lunch time. After a dip we decide to grab a quick bite at the shack across the road from the resort. This will leave us more time to shop Sankampaeng Road which we have affectionately dubbed ‘factory row’.
It’s uncomfortably warm but we still managed to do some damage at a pottery shop (two vases and a cream colored porcelain elephant). The girls took for ever to pack everything in acres of bubble wrap, shredded newspaper, and fragile stickers. Reminded me of how Amy (my sister who works at UPS) packs. I also bought some Thai silk from an old lady street vendor. My technique was to pick something out and then have Al bargain and pay for it. But after looking at the lady’s face he didn’t have the heart to dicker her down. We’re talking an asking price of US$2.50 per yard anyway. Al ordered a hope chest from a teak shop. It would have to be delivered later as the factory was closed for the holiday.
Our last stop was an absolutely HUGE jewelry store. At the entrance they ask us what languages we speak in order that a personal shopper could be assigned to us. Inside were enormous fish tanks-I guess to calm husbands down. I make a bee-line for the ruby rings, which is my sole objective. I am surprised by how small the stones are. We looked at ones set in 18 karat gold, ones in 14 karat gold but I just didn’t find ‘it’. We ambled by the loose stone cases and I saw lots and lots of tiny square cut rubies. So we made our way over to the multiple stone ruby ring case and our shopper offered to get more out of the safe. I found a ring that appealed to me, we got it sized then it was put away for my post-partum blues day. At our last prenatal class the midwife said on the third day I should be given some jewelry to cheer me up — something shiny and expensive to counteract the loss of pregnancy hormones.
I was exhausted by this point. Al was ready to do watery battle from the dry protection of our vehicle. Several buckets of water landed in the car. Of course. Al and Su had a ways to go before perfecting their window down/take aim routine.
That night we dined at the resort we MEANT to stay in. It is quite nice but the gardens were not as extensive as where we WERE staying. We dined with a lit waterfall behind us. Way cool. We ordered 9 dishes and end the meal with freshpineapple and cantaloupe.
A million stars were visible on our walk back to our room. Some kind of creature shouted, “How, How!” outside our window in the early morning.
Again Al rose early to play golf and I slept to my heart’s content before waddling my way uphill to breakfast. In the morning I took pictures of the gardens and enjoy some ‘Chiang Mai apples’ that the driver had given me. I share my extra fruit with the French lady from the pool. After a morning nap and a swim I went to meet Al for lunch at the golf course. The course had the most bee-you-ti-full ladies lounge I had ever seen. Imagine the nicest Nordstroms ladies lounge you have ever been in, add a sauna/steam room and a glassed in area full of couches and you will get the idea. But all I had to do was use the bathroom.
After lunch we went to a wood carving village (Baan Tawai) we visited on our last trip to Chaing Mai. I can’t even remember what all Al picked up. But I stayed in the car while he decided what he wanted to show me in various shops. Some of it would be shipped and some of it was immediately arranged in various areas of our house as soon as we got home. Next we revisited a quilt store we’d found before. Unfortunately the restaurant I picked for the night only had good Tex-Mex food. My tacos and nachos were outstanding but Al’s pizza was obviously well acquainted with the deep freeze. So definitely visit “The American Restaurant” but order from the Tex-Mex stuff. We earned 39 free minutes of internet time with our meal but were too impatient to use it.
We happened upon a street that was blocked off for what looked like a food fair. So we strolled along trying to figure out what the heck everyone was serving/eating.
We got back very late. Driving around in the dark we could be anywhere. I wondered, ‘what I am doing crawling around here, on the underbelly of the world?’ On the way to the room we saw a forest fire opposite our resort. I thought of our propane tank and thatch roof. Al checked the fire extinguisher again. At breakfast the next day the owner assured me that the resort had a double fire break. I checked it out. He was right.
Tuesday was the actual start of Songkran so we drove as far as we could down a main street. I was really worried about getting the inside of the car wet. Our trip home would be miserable enough with my big belly but on a wet seat it would be unbearable. So we parked the car, grabbed our squirt guns and ventured forth. We were basically soaked immediately. The people were very sweet and asked first if they could pour a small bowl of water on my neck, shoulder or …BELLY! Yes, Andy received many, many good luck wishes for the new year. The foreigners were more aggressive.
Chaing Mai city is blessed with an outdoor café called JJ’s. We were lucky enough to find a table there and try to dry off a little. A procession started in the late afternoon. I managed to find a folding chair where I could enjoy the whole thing sitting down. Buddha statues from the local temples were brought out and paraded around on floats. I guess you could call it sympathetic magic? People would spray a little water on Buddha and then later when the rice is planted Buddha would rain LOTS of water down for the rice to grow.
When the day was over I changed into dry clothes behind the car. Al just managed to get dry shorts on before two girls walked by. We liked the riverside restaurant from the first night so much that we decided to try another, ‘The Good View’. It was complete gamble and the best meal we had.
One last stroll though the night market ended out trip. I found some tumbling bronze angles and a green lacquered box. Al finally found a stall to make us a gong stand. And many other items too numerous to list.
I nagged Al all the way home to lay down his squirt gun. He simply was unable to take his finger off of the trigger. I felt surrounded by males. Aggressive males.
• One kicking me in the stomach. Yes, the baby could sense the excitement/agitation and would really make a ruckus as Su and Allan tried to locate targets.
• One by my side with a ‘weapon’.
• And one up front driving and abetting my husband.
I told Al that each bucket of water that fell on me through the window would cost him 1 karat in diamonds. Only three buckets of water landed on me on the way home. Once I am rested I will go to a jewelry store in Bangkok. Just kidding. -Nancy