Sunday, 29 December 2013

Letters from Thailand, part six

Part one here.
Part two here.
Part three here.
Part four here.
Part five here.

Songkran in Chiang Mai

19 April 2013 at 03:04
When I booked this trip I had no idea that Thai new year fell into when I was going so this was a lovely surprise! Thai new year is called songkran and it is just one huge, ridiculous water fight. For days leading up to the weekend even in the remote villages, locals had been chucking buckets of water over us as we drove by, bearing in mind we were all sat in the back of a pickup truck and so got absolutely drenched. Once we were in Chiang Mai the festivities had really begun. Little stalls open up all along the canal selling water guns, little waterproof bags and buckets with strings attached so that you can chuck them in the canal to fill them up. Friday after getting our eyelashes done me and Georgie realised we really needed to defend ourselves and so bought two massive water guns. Down in the town square big stages had been set up with sponsors from cocacola and Asia Airways and there were huge speakers blasting out music. A lot of the people here were tourists and backpackers so the music was very western so it really felt like being in some crazy party. Not a drop of rain had fallen yet the streets were 2 inches deep in dirty water that everyone was jumping around in whilst spraying water. Everyone was dancing out in the middle of the road, you'd completely forget it was a road until suddenly a motorbike very slowly drives into you. Some people wear crazy masks or fancy dress and it is the one time in your life you can spray water directly in someones face and they're not allowed to get mad at you. Some of the Thai women come round and gently pour rose water over you, which is probably more traditional than spraying water out of an Angry Birds backpack water gun. It's also part of the tradition to spread this weird clay stuff over peoples faces but of course it all goes in your mouth and tasted really weird. I made the mistake of trying to take my camera and of course it got wet so I went into Mcdonalds to dry it off and the whole place was drenched, with soggy people shoving soggy chips in their mouths. We walked back to the hotel at around 5 when it started to feel a bit chilly and even walking back everyone chucks water all over you.

The next day a bigger group of us ventured out and Meaw told us about something going on near the shopping mall where there was like a concert so we piled in a tuktuk and set off. The traffic was crazy and everything throws water at you in the tuktuk. We had noticed the night before people driving round with huge blocks of ice in their trucks and sure enough on the Saturday everyone took it up a notch by using ice water. Once we got to the concert this seemed to be where the Thai people went more than the tourists and was absolutely packed. Once again there was crazy music and water everywhere. A few of us decided to walk back and got completely lost and so we just followed the canal round the city which meant we got to see how all the different people were celebrating, some were even swimming in the canal. We could feel the weather turning and the skies looked greyer than usual so it was a relief to finally find the hotel as not long after out of nowhere a massive storm arrived. It was like the sky was trying to compete with the people as huge, heavy drops of rain drummed down relentlessly. There was thunder and lightening and such strong wind. Seeing rain again felt peculiar. As quick as it started it was over and the sun appeared again and so we all went out again to the bars and clubs. The drinks here are insanely strong as they don't measure the quantities of alcohol and by the end of the night I was determined it would be hilarious to jump in the canal. Luckily my friends wouldn't let me but a flipflop was sacrificed in the process so I walked home in one flip and no flop.

Sunday we chilled by the pool and finally got a bit of a tan before getting another horrific night bus back down south. I prepared well this time and brought a blanket and jumper and arrived feeling fresh as a daisy, sort of.

That's all for Chiang Mai, but I would definitely go back again for Songkran. Now to write about the orphange, which of course completely contrasted with this mad weekend.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Letters from Thailand, part five

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here

Chiang Mai City

19 April 2013 at 02:38

Wednesday evening we arrived in Chiang Mai. Being back in a city immediately you feel the dense, humid heat resting on your shoulders and the sudden sight of shops and Mcdonalds contrasted drastically with the wooden jungle retreat we'd just left. So being typical young English people we took advantage of the cosmopolitan environment and went out and got drunk. Meaw took us to a rooftop bar very popular with boho back packers. You climb up a winding staircase, the walls covered in colourful graffiti covering fluorescent painted walls with mad designs. The roof was low and you had to take your shoes off, I felt like a child in a 'house of fun' at a fair, only one that reeks of weed. Once you reached the bar it was definitely worth the climb. Everyone sat on cushions and rugs on the floor with lanterns hanging off the ceiling and mad ultraviolet lighting making everything look strange. A mist filled the air, a mixture of smoke and water mist being sprayed from the ceiling. The drinks were cheap and Meaw taught us a new drinking game and then I don't remember much else.

Thursday morning we somehow got up bright and early to visit another temple up in the hills on the outskirts. We even climbed the 300 steps to the top rather than taking the tram, which was worth it as the whole staircase had banisters which were magnificent, golden dragons. The temple of course was stunning. I love the little traditions they have, like pouring rose water over some of the statues and lighting candles and they dip these big flowers in water and then shake them to spray water. It's definitely very peaceful. I ate some fresh strawberries and took photos of all the dozy dogs then soon enough we were back in the crazy tuktuk on our way to visit tigers!

This was technically our free time but Meaw had recommended seeing the tigers and I just love cats so much I couldn't really say no. I paid to see the baby tigers which is more expensive but they're just so adorable! Unfortunately everyone else in my group wanted to get lunch first but I wasn't hungry so I set off to meet the babies by myself. There an American man in his 50's, covered in traditional tribe tattoos, decided to befriend me. I didn't really mind because I needed someone to take a photo of me with the tiger but then whenever he did this he kept shouting 'SMILE, why aren't you smiling?!' and I was! I was grinning my head off but then when someone tells you to smile and you smile harder it looks so cheesy and fake and this started to get on my nerves. In the end I just asked why he kept doing it and he said because it was funny winding me up. Needless to say I won't keep in touch with this stranger.

The tigers were so beautiful and fluffy. It was a bit peculiar being so close to them and some of the group were a bit dubious as we have heard about places where they drug them. We asked for more information and the reason they are so comfortable with humans is because it is all they have ever known. The keepers kept comparing them to domestic dogs - they've been brought up by humans and so don't mind being stroked and patted, in fact they like it, and just like the dogs you see everywhere round here, the tigers are sleepy in the hot weather and they are naturally nocturnal. For me they were more like cats. I stroked one and it started flicking its tail just like Sooty when she's in a mood then it got up and walked away. One of the tigers was called Nancy and it was dead cheeky. This stupid American family were determined to get a picture of their tiny baby sat on a tiger, Nancy spotted this and came leaping over like a big kitten and tried to 'play' with the baby by batting it with its paw. The baby was fine in the end so I didn't feel awful for finding it hilarious.

In the evening we went to a tapas restaurant for tea that was completely useless at bringing out food at the same time. Me and Georgie were waiting for mozzarella sticks for over an hour for them to eventually come out and say they'd ran out of mozzarella. But we shared some patatas bravas which was just as delicious as ever! After tea Meaw took us to a beauty salon round the corner as some of us had said we wanted to try a thai massage. In the salon it looked perfectly normal, but once we were taken for our massage it was very odd. We were led up a dark wooden staircase into a dark room with a few dim lights and blankets strung up from the ceiling trying to section out the room. You could here music blasting from an open mic night over the road and there was thin mattress type things on the floor. We had to change into these pajama style clothes but then the massage itself was great once you got over the fact that its painful, if that makes sense? But I didn't feel any benefit the next day so I think it's a onetime experience. Then a couple of us got manicures and pedicures which felt great and there was a cute little kid running around that kept pouring nail polish remover on a cut on his leg. We left the salon at midnight feeling pretty and went to bed.

The next morning Meaw took three of us to another salon where we got eyelash extensions. Everything is just so much cheaper here it felt crazy not to take advantage of it. The woman doing them didn't speak any English and so I didn't have a clue what was going on and I opened my eyes too soon and felt a burning sensation. This also meant she couldn't tell us that you're not supposed to get them wet for a few hours, which is impossible when everyone is chucking buckets of water over you as you walk down the street... but I'll write about songkran in another note because this looks like a short story now.

Love xx