I flew to Chiang Mai on the Monday and almost instantly remembered what I preferred about Thailand, but what I also disliked about it. I had a 6 hour layover in Bangkok and didn't feel like checking my bags and making my way into town for such a short time, so I just hung out at the airport, reading and watching movies. Even in the airport I was quickly reminded of just how prevalent prostitution is here. There were plenty of older western (that's the backpacker's official pc way of saying white) men with young girls who were either going on trips together or saying goodbye. I hate to assume it's all prostitution because I have met some lovely and legit western/thai couples, but sometimes when's there's such an age difference, it's hard not to assume. Anyways, I killed 6 long and expensive hours in the airport without much event. I ate at the mcdonald's there, which is the first time I've had rotten ronnies since getting to Asia. I had the samurai pork burger just to make it a little more authentic.
I finally arrived in Chiang Mai in the evening and went to my guesthouse. I had to argue with them to get a room because I had booked online last minute, and I guess they hadn't received the reservation yet. But I had an email confirmation from the booking website, and when I started demanding my deposit back, a room magically became available. Crisis averted, I unloaded my bags and went and explored a bit of the town, stopping at one of the many roadside massage places to work some of the travel stress out.
The main reason I was in Chiang Mai was for Songkran, the Thai new year. In theory it was supposed to start on Wednesday, but the festivities kicked off early as I learned the hard way on my way to meet up with Kim and Carissa at their guesthouse. Songkran is a water festival, and I believe the symbology is that the water is meant to wash away all the bad from the previous year and leave people with a clean start. I'm not sure how the festival looked when it was first celebrated, but now this pretty much means it's one big city-wide water fight for 4 days straight. So I was caught a little off guard on my walk when I got sprayed and splashed. The girls and I quickly bought some waterguns and decided to join the festivities. Songkran is such amazing fun. I felt like a kid again, spraying anybody and everybody with water as they passed by. That's the tricky part about Songkran – nobody is immune, so if you're outside, you're getting wet. It was such good stress relief too. As you could probably tell from recent posts, my nerves had been worked pretty thin in Vietnam. So spending 4 days blasting people in the face with a supersoaker was very therapeutic, and re-energizing. The second day was grey and rainy, but that didn't stop everybody from lining the streets once more and dousing eachother. I think I overdid it a bit because the following day I could feel my cold flaring back up, so I decided to lay low in order to not make it worse. Unfortunately this also meant I couldn't leave my room until after dark as to not get drenched again. So I went out on the last day and made the most of it, my clothes saturated within minutes. Chiang Mai has a big moat that runs in a big square around the old town. This is where the majority of the water ammunition comes from since they're not about to waste that much clean water. The downside to this is that the moat water in Chiang Mai makes the Rideau Canal water look potable. I bought a drink at one point during one day and within 1 minute of leaving the 7-11 I got sprayed, and undoubtedly got some water in my drink to. I chucked it and learned my lesson... only eat/drink indoors during songkran.
Once the sun went down though, the waterfights stopped and there was lots of celebrating... long streets were lined with vendor stalls selling food, clothes, and anything else you might need. The food in the street markets is the cheapest around, and often the tastiest, so we would go there as often as possible. Once the festival ended I spent the next few days just hanging out in Chiang Mai, exploring what the town had to offer. I also met back up with Gabriel, one of the two Americans I met when I had landed in Bangkok in January, and travelled to Phuket with. So we had a couple good nights out as well, catching eachother up on our travel stories. Unfortunately for him, he was at the end of his trip, so he had to head down to bangkok a couple days ago to fly home. He was kind enough to give me his thai cell phone, which has come in handy. I've been perfectly content without having a cell for the last 7 months, but it has definitely proved useful, trying to set up meeting times with friends I've made.
I finally said goodbye to Kim, Carissa, and Joanna (also from the volunteer program in Cambodia who met us in Chiang Mai). They were headed down to Bangkok as well to move on to other places, and I headed north on my own again. I haven't travelled on my own without friends being in the same city for more than a day or two since Cambodia, so it's a nice feeling.
I arrived in Pai two days ago and already love it here. It is a very small, laid back town. There aren't many attractions here, just a quiet respite from the hectic pace down south. Since being here I have not been offered a tuk tuk ride, drugs, or souvenirs once... you have no idea how nice of a break this is. I'm staying in a little bamboo hut, so I was surprised on my first morning to be woken up early, not by drunks, but by roosters crowing and birds chirping. It's messing with my head man! It's very much a hippie town, and it turns out you need to be careful. Not in the sense that you might get mugged, because I've never felt safer on this continent. Let's just say you have to be very cautious when ordering food with mushrooms in the ingredients. That aside, everybody here is very friendly and introduces themselves quickly. People actually smile here because they're happy, not because it will help their bottom line! So today's my third day here and I don't plan on leaving for a few more days yet. I'll be taking lots of pictures in the next few days hopefully, so check out my album a little later and there should be some new pics. I couldn't really get any photos of the craziness from Songkran due to the inherent danger of getting the camera soaked. Then how would I be able to take all these pictures, right? Here's a random video of it I found on Youtube if you want an idea of what it's like. Until next time, have a happy Easter!