We left Chiang Mai yesterday and made our way up the steep and windy mountain roads to Pai – a quiet, hippie town in the northwest of Thailand. Rumor has it there are 762 curves on the road from Chiang Mai to Pai and we rounded every single one of them (twice!). Definitely not a road for the faint of heart. The surrounding mountains, dense forest and valley views were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in Thailand. Mountain peaks nestled in low-laying fog, dense green vegetation, clean air and blue skies! We stopped only to buy coffee and throw water on passerbys. The Thai New Year is celebrated as Songkran – a three day holiday of wild abandon. Better known as a nationwide water war for three to seven days depending on where you are where no one can stay dry. The only members of society exempt from getting water thrown at them are monks. Everyone else is fair game including police. I find myself behaving like a child, running through the streets like a maniac and relishing in the mayhem! Sanuk mak mak!
We arrived in Pai, got set up in a charming river side bungalow and made our way around the town which is easy to walk and navigate (population 2,000). We visited an elephant “sanctuary” (more like an elephant refugee camp, definitely do not recommend), toured the night market, and somehow landed in a massage parlor run by Thai women who welcomed us in. Songkran was in full effect albeit a day early. The music was pumping and the whiskey was flowing generously. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in a Thai karaoke bar on stage singing the Beatles (not many English options). The booze kept coming and we became instant friends with our group of ten Pai natives. How we ended up steering clear of foreigners in Pai is beyond me but we were the only farang in that bar and nothing beats hanging with the locals in an authentic Thai way.
A bit hung over the next morning, we refueled, and headed into the streets for the first official day of Songkran. There was no use in staying dry so we set up with some friendly Thais who had the best music on the block. A full-on, five-hour water war ensued. Mayhem in the streets, whiskey flowing, trucks rolling by with groups of people, barrels of water and supersoakers – everyone, young and old, Thai and farang, enjoying the delight of the festival. Thai passerbys giving a warm, “Sawaadee pii mai!” Happy New Year. “Chok dee!” Good luck! I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I won’t go into the environmental water waste of Songkran. As the sun set, the water warring calmed to a halt. Unfortunately a street fight broke out and numerous Thai guys started beating the shit out of each other, some breaking beer bottles over heads. One guy pulled down his pants, spread his ass cheeks and bid a warm farewell with his chocolate starfish before zooming off. Charming. Thai women and children started screaming in panic – losing face is frowned upon in Thai culture and all face had been lost. I immediately called the police who responded quite quickly. I reported the license plate number of the thugs who sped off. Whatever came of it, I will never know. But way to run the mood, assholes!
Pai is rumored to be a peaceful place to wind down and chill out. Unfortunately this has not been my experience. I’ve seen a nasty street fight, and a few other incidences of women crying and drunken screaming in the neighborhood. It’s hard not to intervene especially where violence ensues but my Thai is not so great so it’s hard to understand exactly what’s going on. There was another incident involving a farang who came at me quite aggressively. I told him to take his bullshit elsewhere. This is Thailand – aggressive, violent, and rude behavior is not a norm. In fact, it’s socially unacceptable – something I’ve grown to love about Thailand. Were these isolated events? Perhaps it’s Pai. Perhaps it’s Songkran. Perhaps a little bit little of both. Either way, it’s time for us to roll out. So we’re heading back to Chiang Mai where Songkran is at it’s most insane. Apparently I can’t get enough! Day two of Songkran continues…stay tuned!