Songkran (Thai New Year) and Chiang Mai

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April 20th 2009
Published: April 20th 2009
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Water fights and wucking bankers

From Wikipedia
The Thai New Year (Thai: สงกรานต์ Songkran, from Sanskrit sankrānti "astrological passage"; Chinese: 潑水節) is celebrated every year from April 13 to April 15. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, in the middle of a massive traffic jam with the ancient city’s walls and moat acting as a water well. But instead of irate drivers hooting their horns, there was just a water fight between vehicles and their occupants - and we were stuck in the middle of it all. People then noticed us farang and began throwing ice cold water into our open pick-up truck and people sat in the backs of trucks shooting water guns at us. Terrific fun it has to be said, and Myself, Eric and Kristen just soaked it all up. The best thing about the trek with Nice Place Guest House was the fact that they gave you a free night’s accommodation with them. I had two more nights with KS House but everyone from the trek was there so I looked forward to taking up that offer. Only thing is,
KS House didn’t really keep to the agreement and moved me to a room across the road, the same place I’d lost my wallet from. Jacky Guest House wasn’t as nice to be sure and they didn’t have a swimming pool either, moreover I didn’t get a choice in the matter. Oh, well I thought to myself at least I’m not having to hang around the place anymore and their internet was much cheaper, 30 Baht an hour.

Back in my latest room I wanted to plug in my note book for charging and despite it being purchased in Bangkok it had a thin three pronged plug, which was not compatible with the two pronged everywhere in Thailand. So, having come across this before there was an adaptor that was needed and so I asked at the desk, nothing, tried giving me a UK three pronged adaptor. Then went across to the KS House who had lent me one previously and after some frustrating exchanges involving the same UK adaptor offering (why couldn’t people understand that this was bought in Thailand?) it was illustrated to me through gormless expressions that they didn’t have one anymore, or that it was being used, or whatever. Add complication number 2: who comes up to me during all this? Yep, Danielle’s, her and her buddies have arrived from Bangkok and coincidentally are eating at the guest house. It’s true to say I was taken by surprise as well as somewhat distracted but getting nowhere with the adaptor (go buy one - the inner voices told me - but I shouted back - why didn’t the bloody store IT City include one or at least sell me one!?) I begrudgingly approach their table. Then I have to be nice ‘n’ polite John because the children she’s travelling are there - and clearly trying their best to be pleasant when the youngest clearly doesn’t want to even look at me (good, the orange bloated skin is not easy on my eye anyway I’ve decided). One good thing is they regale me with a travel horror story in which they try to leave Bangkok for Songkran the day before Songkran starts, so it includes arguments, switched seats, wrong tickets; claims of racism from the youngest (how can you be racist towards Canadians? I laughed to myself) but it was good to know misfortune isn’t a one-way street called John Close.

So by this time I was still busy sorting out cards, cancelling them via long distance telephone calls etcetera, and emailing the travel insurance people as well as looking up the British Consulate in Chiang Mai itself. Busy, busy, busy, when you’ve had your wallet taken for the third time, oh and stressful.
The rest of the time I just ended up ignoring Danielle and her posse and just hung out with Eric, Kristen and the two English guys. This wasn’t deliberate as it sounds, she doesn’t have a mobile phone and she is meant to be with her friends who just don’t get along with me in their presence (and vice versa) They were all incredibly pleasant, pretty taciturn but just really what I needed after the stress of all previous words written. First, we went to what we thought was the “famous” Night Bazaar but what was in fact Chinatown’s night market, pretty cool place it has to be said, loads of food stalls and knick-knacks. Much better than the Night Bazaar which was merely a load of farang pubs and t-shirt stalls, unimpressed? We followed that up with a bar called Rooftop bar, but again it was a bit rubbish as it was a climb up 3 flights of stairs, very loud techno music and then you had to sit on the floor around tables and attempt conversation with others. We walked back through the city gates along the Th Ratchadamnoen where we encountered yet another market, this one considerably different with quality goods on sale, mainly for affluent Thais and Westerners. It was pretty good I have to say, lots of atmosphere, and quality goods like trainers, clothes, beads, homemade stuff; but my mind was elsewhere and didn’t even think about buying something.

The next day was Songkran day proper so Kristen and I decided to actually do the religious stuff at the Wat Phra Singha - try and give the festival context or maybe even some meaning. But, we didn’t get to meet up in the end as I wasn’t receiving her text messages so I enjoyed the temple’s activities and processions along Th Ratchadamnoen alone. I then got caught up in water fights along the Th Moon Maung, which is along the eastern moat which is probably why I wasn’t receiving text messages. I’d brought along my sipper plastic bag and stuffed my camera, mobile phone and money into it and because it wasn’t big enough for my pocket, stuffed it down my front, creating a nice bulge. Mayhem was had that day with groups walking up and down along the moat firing water at each other indiscriminately and also gathering water from the moat to chuck at everyone using beach buckets. I staked out a place once I saw this retired Westerner with great glee retrieving water from the moat with his string and like a naughty schoolboy throwing me much glee. It was pretty infectious stuff it has to be said, so I stood next to him and joined in, he happened to be French and a lot of what he said was cheery French and lots of laughter. Despite the precautions I took my plastic bag developed a tear and subsequently water got into it, especially my mobile phone which is probably why I wasn’t receiving text messages from Kristen.

The next couple of days were pretty difficult to avoid the mass water fights that went on everywhere. I took a day off from it all but then ended up spending a troubled evening
ON the way back from Wat Phra That SuthepON the way back from Wat Phra That SuthepON the way back from Wat Phra That Suthep

Pre ice water being thrown in at us....
trying to sort out a bank transfer to Danielle’s account in Canada; had taken my money but Danielle hadn’t received the verification code that was needed to retrieve the money). So, I was pressured into abandoning this and to wait for the money to be returned to me once Dan had got her credit cards in Aus sorted out and thus would permit this to happen. (Yeh, what a complete waste of time this site is) So I again tried to do an online international bank transfer with Halifax and again I get booted out of my online account for the third time in two months!

Distraught, criminally angry and ready to hit somebody I immediately left the internet café and got on a pay phone; thus followed a tortuous process - standing on a street corner and pick-up trucks with marauding pissed up locals wailing at every passing vehicle (I came very close to losing patience with Songkran that evening) Halifax Bank couldn’t hear me properly. Dan was taciturn, emotional and looking like a pissed off teenager (again) and then my phone cards kept running out as well. Anyone for stress? I tried explaining what I
On way back from waterfallOn way back from waterfallOn way back from waterfall

Incredibly pissed geezer!
was trying to carry out an online transfer, that I’d gotten booted, then being told that I couldn’t do anything via telephone without it my telephone PIN, which of course I didn’t have. So…you still with me? I had to reset my telephone PIN and I apparently had a secret password which I had to recollect somehow from the depths of my memory - and of course got some gruff Iain Paisley fella on the phone being very strict with me warning me that I would be blocked out after the third wrong go. Amazingly, from the depths of despair after the second try I recalled the password and escaped the clutches of the Reverend. Phew!

So onwards with the resetting PIN, getting told I’d be put back online after 24 hours (how nice of them!) and finally that international transfer over the phone. More heaps of stress…Dan didn’t have her correct bank account details after all of that and nor could she obtain it via her own online account (!?), moreover they wanted the SWIFT and IBIC bank codes for her bank which again were not at hand. So, till tomorrow, but I think one of the most stressful evenings of my life and I think I’m allergic to online banking now, remarkably they blame it all on you if it goes wrong because they told me customers are meant to tell them you are going abroad. Seems daft to me.

Later that evening Eric and I went for my first Thai massage, which considering the amount of stress I’ve had and the time I’ve spent in Thailand is incredibly really. Anyway, of course I go out in long trousers and long sleeves to prevent the mosquitoes getting to me and the Westerners are still at it throwing water at everyone, they even got me completely soaked, and after the day I’d had - I was not happy and nearly had a scrap at the beady git! The massage was a full body oil job, sounds dirty doesn’t it? It was okay, my neck and shoulders were nice but too short a time spent on it - I need a full on de-stresser me thinks, I wander how I find one?

Kristin, Eric and myself the next day went to a temple on a hilltop above Chiang Mai called Wat Phra That Suthep. On the way up we had to get a tuk tuk to the university of Chiang Mai and then a red pick up called a sawbgthaew (tow benches literally), but the tuk tuk driver did his best to get us all soaked in the morning by driving around the moat inexplicably and then slowing down at corners where groups of water gagsters congregated. Kristin found an ice cube in her lap, that’s what they were chucking at us, ice cold water! So up at the temple, we’re at a genuine Thai Buddhist wat - site of a revered Buddhist relic and so lots of holiday visitors and offerings in the form of pouring water over the Buddha and monks giving out blessings with amulets (done that in Burma already). We then took a side trip to a waterfall which was pretty arduous after walking about 2 miles up some hills. There were quite a few families having a picnic up there and one lot had a pissed up grandfather who was trying to walk whilst flat out on the floor. Pretty bizarre it has to be said, but I figured the Thais work their arses off and this is their one time off and let them get rat-arsed, and all ages too! On the way down the hill we got picked up by this very same family who clearly took sympathy on us, or a drunken liking to us. And so took place a terrifically fun ride back to Chiang Mai, sat in that end of a pick up truck with the pissed up locals and being offered their local moonshine. We of course got soaked on the way, but we got some good pictures too, a very nice way to end our time in Chiang Mai!

Eventually that night with Dan sorting out her details I got the transfer done by an excruciatingly long process of security questions and yet another mind bleep - they wanted a contact number to confirm as a final security check. Now, that’s a massive presumption to make that you have a phone and that the number you provide will work or not just in order to move your own money somewhere else. Amazing. Exhausted and relieved, Danielle and I went for a few drinks so we could de-stress and thinking about it I certainly hadn’t been able to do that since this trip had begun, crazy really. Alas, her plan was to go onwards to Laos in a few days time - which was in fact my plan until the passport went walkies. So, now my plan was to head southwards to Sukhothai in order to wait for my passport to come through in Bangkok.

Additional photos below
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24th April 2009

Where am I?
Hi Eric, hope you're enjoying Laos! Jumping off cliffs is the way to go fun-wise me thinks. Glad you're finding the time to read the blog!. I'm currently in Kanchangaburi, soaking up WW2 stories of the death railway. I'm going to Bangkok tomorrow to meet up with Kristen at The View bar - atop a skyscraper, so you should try and meet up with us for some drinks! I am gonna be around for a while, waiting for my UK passport - still. I could be here all bloody week. Hope to meet up.

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