Run the equator: No one stays dry in Chiang Mai

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No one stays dry in Chiang Mai

Click photo to see slideshow
or here for all Songkran photos

No one, really. Unless you lock yourself in your hotel room and order food delivery you will get wet sooner or later. During the three days of Songkran, the Thai new year festival, most of Thailand's population is locked in an extraordinary water-dousing fight match, which involves everyone who sets foot in the street, from children (the first to start, days ahead of the official festivities), to older people, to hapless - or willing - tourists. The only people who do not become targets for the buckets of water thrown at random all over town are the few brave street-food vendors who defy the flood hoping to make a penny - even wet people grow hungry sooner or later. In the general exhilaration, no one pours water on them on purpose, but bucket handles slip occasionally and aims are missed...

Caught in the act

The situation is especially intense in Chaing Mai, the second-largest city in Thailand, a town become famous precisely because of the madness that takes place on its streets each year between the 13th and 15th of April. The old part town is shaped like a perfect square with sides roughly one-kilometer long, and used to be surrounded by defensive walls and a wet moat. There aren't many bricks left standing from the old wall, but the moat is alive and doing very well these days. While the water-craze takes over the whole town, the streets that run along the four sides of the square are the epicenter of action and fun - that area sees more water per square inch in a day than the country sees in a week of monsoon rains. Pickup trucks jammed with wet people cruise along slowly, loaded with barrels full of water. Every now and then the merry passengers fetch a pail and throw it at the passersby. At the same time, in the snail-paced traffic, they are easy targets for the walking crowd. Once in a while everyone stops to refill their weapons of choice: buckets, pails or water-guns - from the moat, of course. The water is warm and brown, so you better keep your mouth closed when a pailful lands on your head. It may not be an easy resolution to keep, if you are stunned out of your senses by a sudden splash of icy water!

Hanging out at the moat
Click photo to see slideshow
or here for all Chiang Mai photos

I bought a big squirting water gun for the outrageous price of 200 Baht (which I managed to wrangle down from the original 300) - if you get caught in the middle of a war without a weapon, you pay dearly for the privilege of taking part in the hostilities. Half an hour later it broke and refused to squirt; after trying unsuccessfully to fix it for a few minutes I abandoned technology in favor of tradition and bought a small pail - it was easier to refill and inflicted greater damage - especially when I was able to sneak around the people who guarded their barrels of ice-water, steal a scoop and pour it on them. There's only one rule to the game - nobody gets upset.

Click photo to see slideshow
or here for all cooking school photos

The other highlight of our stay in Chiang Mai was the day-long cooking class on Thai food, which we took during the festival. After an entertaining visit to market, where we got acquainted with the various vegetables and spices, the following delicious dishes where cooked and subsequently devoured by each of us, seven farang eager to unlock the secrets of those exotic recipes:

  • Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts
  • Deep-fried fish cakes
  • Spicy Tom-yum soup with prawns
  • Chicken green curry over rice
  • Fish souffle in banana leaves
  • Pumpkin custard pie
  • Pad Thai noodles with pork and prawns
  • Fried spring rolls

On our way back to the hotel we got drenched, but we managed to save our self-cooked dinner, thanks to the magic superpower of multiple layers of plastic bags.

Posted in a hurry from Bangkok, our last stop on this trip. Home is almost in sight!


angeleek1 said...

ONE HUGE WATER FIGHT... Sounds like fun!!!

TwoTank said...

Awesome blog... awesome trip! Traci told me to check you guys out:)

She wrote all about your trip at

Steve Silvers said...

i have to say fritz, i am so proud of you for going that unshaven.

Anonymous said...

no fritzane ai invatat sa gatesti thai? cred ca e super misto mancarea pe acolo!