Race Against Thai New Year

Songkran

Although its hippie vibe felt a little contrived, Tonsai was a welcome change of pace from Phi Phi. Following the recommendation of a guy on our boat, Katie and I found a really nice bungalow for the low price of $15. It was hands down the nicest accommodation I’d ever stayed in as a backpacker.

I would have been content just relaxing on our balcony but we also explored nearby Railay and spent a night hanging out in a couple of rasta bars.

As luck would have it, it was someone’s birthday that night and to celebrate, the bar provided free happy pancakes. Going against my better judgement, I ate a piece, thinking I’d stop at one, but I couldn’t help myself and scoffed down a few more.

I’m not sure why but I felt pleasantly high for the rest of the night. This was a first. On previous occasions, I’d become acutely paranoid on marijuana but maybe it helped that I felt comfortable around Katie.

We then moved on to a different bar where some rock climbers had congregated and even though there wasn’t anything funny about them, we started convulsing with laughter. It was fortunate the rock climbers didn’t notice because there wasn’t anything I could do to make myself stop.

After Tonsai, we travelled onwards to Koh Tao. Of all the places I’ve visited in Thailand, Koh Tao is probably my favourite. I liked its chilled out vibe and went snorkelling every second day.

I could have easily spent another week in Koh Tao but running out of time, I booked a flight to Chiang Mai. The New Year festival, Songkran, was fast approaching and very few buses ran during this period, meaning I had to be quick if I wanted to see the north.

Chiang Mai is reputed to hold one of the best celebrations for Songkran but my plan was to spend the festival in Pai, a small town north of the city. I did consider remaining in Chiang Mai; I’m sure I would have found accommodation if I looked hard enough, but the idea of crowds wasn’t very appealing to me.

I spent a few days in Chiang Mai, before catching the bus to Pai. Arriving a couple of days before Songkran, I discovered that most people at my hostel were about to travel in the opposite direction. This didn’t surprise me but I’d underestimated the pull of Chiang Mai and hadn’t expected the exodus to occur on such a grand scale.

But I didn’t regret my decision to spend Songkran in a less popular place. The water festival was a lot of fun but it was also low key enough that you could avoid it if you didn’t want to participate.

Coinciding with the hottest temperatures of the year, Songkran is classically Thai in its lack of regard for safety. People throw water at other pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles; anyone is fair game. Unsurprisingly, fatalities are quite common in the larger cities.

It’s not the sort of thing I could have done for days on end but I bought buckets and water guns with some people from my hostel and got really into it for a couple of days. There was something deeply satisfying about ducking behind cars and getting people when they least expected it.

It was almost like a street party. Undeterred by the water assault, people set up sound systems in the street and stood around drinking beer. Best of all was the infectious energy of the kids; it was hard not to feel cheerful watching them have so much fun.

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