My expat Thai friends told me the best place to experience Songkran, Thailand’s annual water festival, was the old city of Chiang Mai. Since I was touring with the very flexible Stray Travel company and happened to be there just in time for the kickoff, I had the option to hop off the schedule there for a few days to experience the throes of the partying and then pick up with a new group later in the week. Co-traveler Amber and I were torn – should we stay and play in the midst of Chiang Mai’s old walls and dozens of wats, or continue on to Laos to see New Year elsewhere?
We tutted around Chiang Mai for two nights pondering our options. I was still jet-lagged, so I followed Amber & Anna like a puppy injected with NyQuil. I’m so happy they were there to motivate me, otherwise I would’ve stayed in bed all day at the Manee Guest House with the shades drawn.
Instead, I wandered markets (sometimes half-asleep), had two glorious Thai massages, devoured mango fruit shakes, tried coconut and chicken Tom Kah soup (which became a staple for me when I got sick a few weeks later in Koh Yao) and somehow managed to stay awake long enough one night to dance at a reggae bar with a couple of cute Norwegian guys.
You may have heard that I have a bit of a phobia. Ok, a huge, debilitating, paralyzing phobia. There are certain, gulp, creatures that cause me physical and emotional distress when I see them or even just suspect them. My eye is starting to twitch again just remembering the horrors I am about to convey. One night while following the gals through a narrow section of crowded market, surrounded on the left and right by vendors and their wares, and flanked in the front and back by slow walking tourists and locals, I saw three, extra large you-know-whats out of the corner of my eye about 10 feet away. As I have since I was a kid, I flipped the flip out and my flight instinct kicked in, and I had to get out of there. Unfortunately, all the slow walkers of Thailand were having a convention right in front of me, moseying along without a care in the world, like there weren’t a multitude of hideous and frightening creatures coming to attack me at that very moment. I had to explain my shrieking and shoving and breakneck escaping to the gals once they caught up with me, and from then on, Amber was my creature protector… always stomping in hotel rooms and bungalows before I went in to make sure I’d be ok. (I know it’s irrational to be afraid of them and not sharks, but no one ever said phobias are rational!)
Must-have gear for the Songkran festivities in Chiang Mai
Anyhow, I was less enchanted by Chiang Mai after that terrifying (and mortifying) experience and the subsequent critter-enhanced walk home (there must be millions), so I was onboard with Amber when she said she wanted to move on to the next stop – the Thailand/Laos border. The next morning before we departed, Amber took me to the Blind School of Massage, where blind folks are trained in Thai massage technique, which includes lots of stretching and pulling and bending and stepping on you. Post-beating, I mean, massage, as we were preparing to leave, we had our first run-in with watergun-toting tots. We found ourselves trapped inside the spa because a full-sized troupe of elementary school-aged kids set up a bunker just outside the door. Though we were able to divert the kids long enough to run screaming down the street and escape a soaking, a little old lady with a hose and a handful of American guys did us in on the way back to the guesthouse anyway.
And so we ran for the border!
Up next… Laos!