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Published: April 23rd 2012
Coming back to Bangkok feels almost like returning home. A familiar city with favorite food joints established during our previous visits and what's more we know the lay of the land and find it easy to navigate in the sprawling metropolis of ten million people. What makes it even more enjoyable, is that this time we can stay a few days at a friend's house, taking advantage of the comfort Bangkok has to offer to privileged ones. A concierge at the entrance, a swift ascend to 25th floor for a bird-eye view over the city from a modern 2 level condominium. We also have an acces to a recreation floor with an open air swimming pool, a squash court, a gym and a library, and we do have time to use them all since we are on vacation!
We notice one day that the 24h shops, pharmacies and Internet cafes have their door locked ... a sign that Thais are leaving to their home villages for the biggest holiday of the year, Songkran. For about 10 days the country is going to be playing with water, as it is the water festival also known as the Buddhist New Year. We
decide to go for this celebration to the famous town on the north of the country, Chiang Mai. Bummer, we wanted to take a night train, 1st class, we could have easily afforded it in Thailand, but the availability chart shows no places available for next 8 days in all 6 daily trains from Bangkok to Chaing Mai. So a plane it is. Chiang Mai greets us with heat, and a line of red songthaews which are the main mode of local public transport. Chiang Mai is an old city surrounded by a moat and crowded with wats. We say thanks to our intuition for choosing a hotel with a garden and a swimming pool! It must be Nastya's tireless yoga exercises that have honed up her psychic resources.
To start we visit a few wats, the choices are plenty! One of the wonders we saw is a crystall Buddha statue in Wat Chiang Man. The Wat is as old as the city itself and the Buddha statue is believed to be almost 2000 years old. It took us a good half a day to visit not even one forth of the Chiang Mai wats. Wat-fatigued we are now
ready to join the party. The festivities were opened by the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, like many Thais she as well came to her home Town for holidays. The main happening is along the moat where hundred pick-ups loaded with revelers equipped with barrels and buckets of water are circling looking for people to be drenched. There is no way to go through this war zone without being completely soaked by the trigger happy militias. Getting drenched feels actually more like a blessing in 40C heat, but some add ice in their buckets, which makes it almost a Finnish sauna experience ! On the streets around the moat the celebration has a high pitch with lots of wet people with water guns, even more with buckets, walking or dancing on loud pop music, and trying to hit with water jets as many passersby as possible. Inside the old city we find a less excited crowd that watches the new year parade, and throws scented water over the Buddha statue in the yard of Wat Phra Singh. The party wears out by the sunset, but only to resume the next day with an even higher enthusiasm. This goes on for about
a week, although those armed with water are getting more and more shy towards the foreigners or at least us.
For the holidays some streets of Chian Mai are blocked from the circulation to give space to foods and goods markets. Following our Bangkok street food experiences, we gladly join the locals in their feasts to taste a few versions of the northern specialities. Khao soi made with yellow wheat noodles in curry broth traditionally with chicken or beef, and seasoned with pickles is a dish that Kalle's brother reckons is the best Thai food, and he might not be too wrong. Given its regionality, unfortunately Khai soi is not usually found in Thai restaurants around the world. You just have to get yourselves to Northern Thailand to experience this divine conjuration. Equally worth tasting are the fierce herb stuffed sausages tasting of lemongrass and chili. They should start exporting this stuff!
Another local curiosity is that Chiang Mai hosts a women prison, which in turn hosts a massage parlor run by inmates soon to be released. The earnings will be given to the women when they get out of the prison, giving them thus better chance coping
with the life outside of the prison walls. Kalle reckons this might well be the one prison where it is safe to drop a soap bar. We did not go to the prison itself to find that out, but by a chance happen to choose a massage parlor that employs ex-prisoners, which we learned it after leaving the place. We get such a good treatment that we return there a few times during our stay. Prisoners do dispose enough time to learn proper massage techniques, if you think about it.
While the celebrations are still on we get on a local bus, ridiculously cheap, but on time and not so crowded, head further north, towards the infamous Golden Triangle.
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