Happy Songkran!

On April 10th, Emilia and I headed to the northern province of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The trip did not get off to a great start. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the coming week (the 13th through the 15th) was the Thai New Year, also called Songkran. Songkran is a countrywide water festival, where the entire population of Thailand shuts down to run through the streets with water guns, super soakers, buckets, hoses and the like to soak others and bring them good luck in the new year. The 13th through the 17th was our school's spring break. Chiang Mai happens to be one of the most popular destinations to spend Songkran in Thailand. I went to the train station on Thursday (the day before we were supposed to leave) and before I entered the station a lady, sporting an official-looking Thai Tourism badge, approached me and asked me where I was headed. I explained that I was headed to Chiang Mai and that I needed two tickets. She told me that I could go try to get tickets, but that likely everything would be booked, and in that case, she suggested I come back and find her so that she could help me get a bus. I thanked her, but told her I would try my luck with the train tickets, and walked into the train station. When I finally got up to the counter the lady behind the window bluntly said that every train was booked, every day, at every time. She told me that the only chance I would have at getting transportation to Chiang Mai would be to try to find a bus that wasn't full yet. I was so nervous that Emilia and I would have no luck finding transportation! On my way out of the train station, the Thai Tourism woman flagged me down and asked if I was able to find tickets. I told her that I wasn't, and she said to follow her to a tour station where I could get tickets. I entered the tour building and was sat in front of a very nice young woman who spoke perfect English. She explained that finding a bus would be difficult at such late notice, but that she would make a few calls and see what she could do. After about 15 minutes, she came back over to where I was sitting and said that she found two roundtrip tickets to Chiang Mai, but the best price she could get was ฿5,580. I didn't know what to do; I had to leave the next day. That was slightly more than what I was going to pay for roundtrip 1st class train tickets, but the 1st class train is LOADS better than any bus. In retrospect, I should have consulted Emilia first. However, I was feeling extremely desperate at the time, and so of course, after a short self-deliberation, I decided I would just buy the tickets for the peace of mind. That was ฿2,790/person a total of around $86 roundtrip to Chiang Mai. We got on the very crowded bus the next night and headed up north. Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we found out that roundtrip bus tickets were going for ฿1200, even if you booked day of. DANG IT! I was completely scammed by those women, who very clearly preyed on me as a young white girl obviously not aware of how easy it could of been to find tickets anywhere else for a much better price. If there is one thing that I have still not gotten very used to in Thailand, it is the fact that no one is actually trying to help you find a good deal. You have to know what a good deal is and you have to fight and barter until you get it. Water under the bridge now, and lesson well learned. We got there, and from then on, we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Starting on Saturday, Emilia and I took it slow. We went to lunch at Feung Fah (our soon-to-be favorite breakfast spot in Chiang Mai) and eventually headed to the Thai Silk village. On our way back, we realized the water wars were warming up. People had already started lining the streets with hoses, buckets, and water guns. We got sprayed a few times while in the back of our tuk-tuk traveling to and from the Thai Silk village, and began to get really excited about the festival to come. On Sunday, we decided we wanted to rent motorbikes and head up to Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple up in the "mountains" near Chiang Mai (I put mountains in quotations to emphasize that their more like very ambitious hills). I had been there the previous weekend with my parents; however, Emilia really wanted to visit for sentimental reasons since her mother had been there about 25 years prior. We went to the motorbike rental, and I was pumped. Round two with motorbikes! Unfortunately, Emilia was not as stoked. She is not as comfortable on bikes and was a little scared, but definitely willing to try. The lady renting the bikes out explained that we needed to be extra careful: the traffic would be really hectic this weekend, and people will throw water at you while you are driving. No matter. Honestly, the prospect of having people shoot me occasionally with those little water guns, like what had happened yesterday in the tuk-tuk, excited me. We handed over the money for the bikes, and pulled over to the side to do a little practice. Emilia felt ready to leave, and we headed off down the street. About 10m down the street as we approached a stoplight, I hear Emilia crash behind me. The woman came running down, and was very worried. Emilia was shaken by it, but got right back up and steadied her bike. Emilia was fine, expect her knee was scraped pretty badly. We gave that motorbike back, and Emilia agreed just to be on the back of mine. We headed up to Doi Suthep. On our way back, we had just reached the edge of the Old City when I began to fully understand the immensity of what the rental lady was trying to explain to us about the traffic and the water. Unlike the prior day, now the streets were completely lined with people throwing water, the traffic was bumper to bumper, and there were even people in the back of the truck beds dumping water on passerby's as they were stuck in traffic. After what had happened to Emilia in the morning, I didn't want to admit that I was a little nervous about trying to negotiate the traffic. It was only the second time I had ever driven a motorbike, and this time, not only did I have another person on the back of my bike, which makes balancing a little trickier, I also was facing people who were actively trying to distract and disorient me. We passed in between cars and mostly just followed other Thais (Rule #1: When in doubt, follow the Thais). We made it safely back through the traffic, but were absolutely DRENCHED by the time we reached our street. As we turned onto small street close to our hostel, two gentlemen walked directly in front of our path, and told us, "Stop, stop, stop." They proceeded to dump three ice cold buckets over our heads and sent us on our way with a cheery, "Happy Songkran!" Despite the slight terror I had experienced just prior, we did make it back to our hostel alive and well.

The next few days, we just walked around the city with water guns, getting soaked, soaking others and shouting, "Sawadee Phi Mai!" (Happy New Year). AirAsia, CocaCola, and few other big businesses sponsored huge stages that were decked out with hoses and freebees that they threw out into the crowd. By our last day, my birthday, we were kind of over we soaked every time we tried to walk down the street. But we still had a great time overall. Shout out to Feung Fah for being the best breakfast spot in all of Chiang Mai, and serving us avocado, which I had been missing dearly.


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