Songkran in Chiang Mai

Sean, Lynne and Neil survived Songkran 2014.

Well, this is our last few days in Chiang Mai before we head off home via Bangkok. It’s Songkran festival which means it’s party time in Chiang Mai. The water fights are actually just one aspect of the Songkran Festival. It actually has a deeper meaning and that is to ask for blessings and to enrich religious intentions. As everyone wishes for good vibes, housewives clean their houses and remove all junk. That’s for the Thais. For westerners it’s all about the water fights and having a great time.

Day one:  We ventured out dry and un-armed and prepared to get wet. Phones, camera, wallets all secured in a sturdy waterproof bag. The temperature was a balmy 35c so getting wet would be a pleasant experience. We must have walked for 20 minutes before we encountered the first serious water revellers who took great joy in throwing, squirting and pouring water over us.  Some of the water was warm, some was ice cold and was quite a shock to the system. By the time we arrived at the centre of the celebrations (Tha Phae Gate) the road was 6 inches deep in water and hundreds of people either side of the road battling it out with buckets, hose pipes and water pistols. Tuk tuks and pick-up trucks filled with people and water butts with ice cold water spraying everyone. We decided we needed to be equipped so we bought what I can only describe as a three litre capacity water canon, that was capable of shooting a high powered jet of water over 4 metres. It was time to seek revenge!

Day two:  This was the official start for Songkran; day one was just a practice day. Today there would be processions and floats and many more Thais on the street.  This time we were fully prepared, water pistols filled we hit the streets.  We managed to arrive at the local ice cream shop quite dry and shared large passion fruit frozen yogurt and listened to a local Punk band that were performing. We then ventured into Loi Kroh.  We knew that this would be a very water hostile territory and we were right, it was like Custer’s Last Stand only shooting ice cold water but no scalping. We exited Loi Kroh colder and wetter then we arrived and manage to fill our own water pistols before crossing the main road, Moon Muang, by the moat. This was the most hazardous part of the day, the water from the Moat is not the cleanest and it’s best avoided if possible.

We arrived at base camp zero, We’s restaurant, wet but not yet traumatised. This would be our base for a couple of hours, offering plenty of water, cold beer and ambushing unsuspecting tourists. One very dry Chinese tourist took exception when I gave her a good squirt by shouting “fook off”, so I squirted her again. The final sorte of the day was Tha Phae Gate, the centre of celebrations. It was chaotic: thousands of Thais and westerners all dispensing gallons and gallons of water on to the procession. We had a great time but after fours hours of water fights it was time to retire and shower for Seans last dinner in Chiang Mai.

Today Monday: Sean is on his way back to the UK. Songkran goes on for another two days, we’ve decided to have a day out today. We are leaving Chiang Mai early Wednesday (Bangkok bound). We’ll be sorry to leave Chiang Mai but looking forward to getting home.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching”

Hope you like the photographs. It was quite difficult getting them without getting the camera soaked.

 

 

 

 

Muang Mai Market – Chiang Mai

The Muang Mai Market is the main wholesale area for fresh produce in Chiang Mai and for anyone interested in food it’s a great place to visit. The market runs along the west side of the Ping River. It’s a maze of streets and lanes, bustling with pickup trucks, people walking and on scooters.

Muang Mai market is a mix of small stalls, warehouses, permanent shops and pick up trucks. Much of the food has come straight from the farm and in some parts of the market the farmers sell their wares direct from the back of their vehicles. You will be amazed at how much garlic, cabbages or other vegetables can be piled in the back of one of these vehicles. Most of the vendors specialise in one or two items of produce so buying a basket of food will mean working your way around the market. The majority of the market is made up of an enormous range of locally grown fruits and vegetables – one stall will sell watermelons, another pineapple, another lettuce and so on. The variety and freshness is astonishing to those used to buying from a western supermarket.

A section of the market is for fresh meat serving mainly pork and chicken but with some beef. We’re used to buying meat cling wrapped on polystyrene plate, here some of the hygiene standards may not be to western supermarket standards.

In another lane there are stalls selling fresh seafood laid on ice. There are not only fish (live) but a huge variety of shellfish, prawns, squid and crab much of it heading for Chiang Mai’s many restaurants.

Turn a corner and you find stalls that specialise solely in curry pastes.

Compared to our usual market (Somphet) the prices at Muang Mai market are much cheaper. We were absolutely astonished at some of the prices compared with the high prices in UK supermarkets. Although Muang Mai is mainly a wholesale market selling in bulk, all the stalls will sell smaller amounts and shopping for fresh food will save on the weekly budget!

Chiang Mai Flower Festival 2014

The Flower Festival in Chiang Mai is an annual event.  It’s another excuse for closing the roads and setting up stalls and walking streets that sell food and souvenirs. That’s the cynical view!

Plant vendors position their stands on the roadsides around the moat for three days and city’s large east entrance, Tha Pae Gate, is overrun with hundreds of tourists and locals, a large stage, food stalls, flower showcases, beauty pageants and people.

In fact, it’s truly a spectacular three day event, the orchids and other flora displays mixed in with food, drink, clothes craft stalls are colourful and imaginative. At 4:00pm on day two the main road from Narawat Bridge leading to Tha Pae Gate is closed for the extravagantly decorated floral floats, marching bands, drummers, traditional Thai dancing girls and Hill Tribe people in traditional outfits. We watched for a hour or so and took numerous photographs. We then went and had some dinner, two hours later the floats etc were still parading into Tha Pae Gate. Over four and a half hours of floats

Chinese New Year – Wararot Market, Chiang Mai

Today, being Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse), we walked to China Town (Wararot Market). The roads around Wararot are normally nose to tail with songtaews and tuk tuks but today the roads were closed to traffic and turned into a walking street, full of Thai people who have Chinese origins, dressed in tradition outfits together with the thousands of Chinese tourists who now choose to take their holidays in Chiang Mai due to amongst other things, direct flights.  Being a day of celebration is another opportunity to earn some extra money with stalls set up along the road selling all kinds of food and drink. You could buy sausages, fish, quail, chicken, fruit, fried rice, noodles and unrecognisable foodstuffs that aren’t even translated into English! They catered for every taste, a stall selling deep fried bugs: small, medium and gigantic. What a great afternoon in the sunshine. Sorry you can’t be here to share it but here are some of the photographs.

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Border crossing Burma – Visa Run

Our visa expires in 7 days which requires a trip to Myanmar border (via Chiang Rai) to renew it, or pay a 500 Baht (£10) per day fine.

Chiang Rai is further north than Chiang Mai and considerably colder (officially it’s winter there). The day time temperature may only reach 22c and the night time could go as low as 14c.  So we packed our British summer clothes: socks, long trousers, scarf, gloves and cardigan/hoodie (no room for wellies)!

On Monday morning we went to Chiang Mai bus station and boarded the 10:30am Green Bus company(VIP seat). The journey was scheduled to take three hours. The bus/coach is a normal sized, yet fitted out with only 24 seats, individual TVs with films and games – a bit like business class of the road. We even had a stewardess/steward, not sure this is the correct term for a lady boy, perhaps stewardesssyboy would be a more appropriate name. We were served with a bottle of water and a cake. The cost of a one way ticket was 288 Baht (£5.76) After a pretty uneventful journey we arrived in Chiang Rai on time and made our way to our hotel.

Tuesday:  Early breakfast and make our way back to the bus station. We arrived just in time to catch the 10:00am Chiang Rai – Mae Sai Mini Van. The distance to the Mae Sai is 63 KM and expected arrival time 11:00am, cost per person one way – 45 Baht (90 pence) Not VIP travel but for less than a quid, you can’t complain.  It was a bit of a white knuckle ride, the driver was hell bent on getting there in record time, he overtook and undertook everything on the road and arrived nearly ten minutes early.

Mini VanMini Van – Chiang Rai bus station

Mae Sai is not a pretty place, the main road up to the border crossing is flanked both sides with street stalls selling trinkets, cheap electronic goods, toys, umbrellas, knives, knuckle dusters and the least thing you would have expected – roasted chestnuts. We made our way to the Myanmar immigration office and presented our passports and the 500 Baht fee (£10). The fee should be $10,(£6.25)  The Dollar note must be new and have no blemishes, this is just an excuse for them to demand Thai Baht and pocket the difference. Perhaps this is why Myanmar came 157 out of 177 corrupt countries. I will say; they were  friendly, courteous and smiled all the time we were being ripped off. We entered the city of Tachilek Myanmar and were surrounded by locals trying to sell us trips and city tours. We were also offered a 200 pack of ‘Marlboro’ cigarettes for 40 baht (80 pence) and when we declined his very generous offer he then produced some Viagra at the bargain price of 70 Baht. Must be hard times in Myanmar. We did find a duty free shop that was selling branded spirits, a bottle of Smirnoff was a very reasonable 250 Baht (£5).  Not tried it yet, hopefully it’s the real deal and not a very expensive toilet cleaner.

Our  return journey from Mae Sai to Chiang Rai wasn’t a white knuckle ride, we had a different driver who didn’t have a death wish. This area of Thai/Myanmar is known as the “Golden Triangle” and is notorious for illegal immigrants and smuggling drugs over the border, the current fashionable drug is Yabba and is a form of crystal meth.  Weekly there are reports of arrests and confiscation of millions Yabba tablets so it wasn’t a great surprise when the mini van we were travelling in was stopped and searched by the Thai police.  Thankfully our 250 Baht of vodka wasn’t confiscated…

Our passport is now stamped and we can officially stay for another 3 months. Unfortunately we will be making the same trip again. Let’s hope the Smirnoff is legit, next time we’ll buy more……

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Immigration office Myanmar

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Green Bus – VIP seat

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