RTW Post #40: Chiang Mai, Oh My!

4/12/14 4/14/14: Chiang Mai, Thailand

I didn’t know what Chiang Mai would be like, but I can tell you I never imagined walking its streets soaked from head to toe. But when you arrive during Songkran, Thailand’s New Year’s festival, it’s bound to happen, so it’s best to embrace the onslaught of water being thrown in your face.

Our Balcony View

Wat Chedi Luang

Chiang Mai translates to “new city,” which it was back when it was established in 1296. We, however, stayed in the oxymoronic “old city” of Chiang Mai. From a bird’s-eye view, this 1.5 square kilometer floating within an ancient moat projects a sense of peace and perseverance. We gratefully arrived in its calming cradle after the sensory overload of Bangkok.

Our digs were nicer than anywhere else we stayed in South East Asia. Phoothawee House Hotel offered comfort with a touch of class and a second story balcony view of Wat Chedi Luang. Each night this time-worn Buddhist temple glowed golden under the soft pink sunset hovering overhead. When we walked around its eroding stupa we felt more spiritual than anywhere else we’d visited in Thailand. Little did we know our newfound tranquility was about to be blown away.

The next day marked the start of Songkran. That morning we encountered some playful squirts as we walked to a wonderful restaurant called Cooking Love for breakfast. From that moment on we were drowning in one large Songkran celebration. The waterworks of Thai New Year are a spin on the tradition of pouring water over Buddha as a sign of cleansing. It’s now become a raucous street party, with singers, performers, and water flying in all directions.

Songkran Splash!

Our first sprinkles quickly became a deluge. Feet squished in sandals, rivulets poured down our legs, and clothes clung to our bodies. We were drinking in the revelry and loving every second of it. Because, make no mistake, it was damned hot! You welcomed every cooling ambush coming at you from all sides. No one was safe. We watched pedestrians, cyclists, and even cars full of people fall prey to buckets of water blasting them as they came around the bend. I’d describe it as a city-wide water fight, but fight isn’t the right word. It’s more a water party; a liquid handshake connecting young and old, friend and stranger, local and tourist.

The fun continued after sunset as we walked through the maze of Chiang Mai’s evening street market. From our balcony we could see the booths, hear the music, smell the food, and we weren’t about to ignore the invitation. We ate fresh dumplings, crepes, coconut water and mouth watering coconut ice cream. We also had our first mango sticky rice, which blew our minds with its melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. We even tried some fried insects (crickets, I believe). They tasted like fried crunchy bits. Not much to them, as you can imagine. We also dropped some baht on crazy pants.

Wait, you don’t know what I mean by “crazy pants”? Well then, enjoy a heavily researched, highly informative video to help further your understanding:

All this fun and food was recharging our batteries for our next great adventure – volunteering at Elephant Nature Park. We had no idea what was in store for us, but we knew it was going to be big.

No, I mean BIG

No, I mean literally BIG!!!

Now you’re catching my drift…