Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

The date I left India was no accident – I wanted to be back in Thailand for Songkran. Songkran is Thai New Year’s Day from April 13 -15. Traditionally people throw water to cleanse away the old and welcome the new. People also visit Buddhist temples, and their families. Throughout the country Songkran becomes an at least 3-day long water throwing festival, and it is difficult to go anywhere without getting wet. Chiang Mai is the center of the biggest Songkran celebration and I’ve enjoyed the past two years of the festival in the city where I live. This year it was time to try somewhere new – Phayao.

I arrived back from India on the night of April 11th, and the next morning was on a bus headed to Phayao. My friend and colleague Mark had reserved me a bus ticket, and in my travel weary state, I took the journey to Phayao to meet him and his girlfriend there. When I arrived, it was already a raging water party.

Taking photos is a tricky thing to do during Songkran because everything gets wet. Bangkok Airways even handed out plastic protection purses to keep valuables from getting soaked. All of these Songkran photos and video were taken through that very plastic purse, please forgive blurriness.

Armed and ready for Songkran in Phayao

Bucket in hand and ready for Songkran

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

In front of the lake in Phayao

In front of the lake in Phayao

 

Splashing water everywhere

Splashing water everywhere

Armed for fun

Armed for fun

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people's faces. This doesn't happen in Chiang Mai.  Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people’s faces. This doesn’t happen in Chiang Mai, so I was kind of surprised. Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

I took this video as an attempt to show the huge amounts of water. While walking through the crowd, I couldn’t see what I was filming. Water was continually being thrown at me and paste was being put on my face…

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After all the splashing, we enjoyed snacks by the lake at sunset

Mark came back to the table and said to the group of us, “I ordered something that I love, but Elizabeth will hate.” It was dancing shrimp. I’d heard of these before, but never seen or eaten them. They are small shrimp that are still alive, but are then ‘cooked’ in the spicy sauce put on them. Here’s what they looked like:

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp…

I surprised everyone, including myself, when I tried one. I couldn’t handle eating it while it was still moving, so I waited until they stopped. It was actually really tasty. I had a few more with some sticky rice.

...but I tried them anyway

…but I tried them anyway. They were much better than my pre-tasting face shows

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

At Cupcake coffee shop

Next morning at Cupcake Coffee shop – a dog shaped cake? Why not!

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place and left it there for the day. Thankfully Mark had his camera and gave me some of the following shots of the day.

More funny food - Period

More funny food – Period

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met that day

...the nicest biker gang you'll ever meet - Grandiose

…the nicest biker gang you’ll ever meet – Grandiose

I wanted to join them

I wanted to join them

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

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Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, we took a trip to some temples

Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, on the third day we took a trip to some temples to make merit

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I rode on the back of Mark's motorbike and we still got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo

I rode on the back of Mark’s motorbike and we got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo – what a stunning wat in the forest on a hill

Putting coins on the year of one's birth animal

Putting coins on the year of one’s birth animal

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Scaffolding Buddha

Scaffolding Buddha with protective nagas

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That was one huge Buddha

A huge Buddha

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

Nagas were a theme of the day...

Nagas were a theme of the day…

 

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…then we saw a snake in a tree.

We ended the day at a waterfall.

Boombin looking lovely at the waterfall

Phayao, I will be back. Thanks for your wonderful wats and Songkran splashes. So happy to be back in Thailand!

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Reasons I love Chiang Mai

Top 10 Reasons I Love Chiang Mai

It's true, I love Chiang Mai

It’s true, I love Chiang Mai

Now that I have lived in Chiang Mai for over two years, it’s nice to look back and realize that I still love it here. Although the chaos, smells, heat and traffic may not appeal to everyone, here are just a few of the reasons I love it here. This list is in no particular order.

1. Beauty is everywhere – both in nature and human made

Just a bunch of gorgeous orchids hanging in a parking lot.

Just a bunch of elegant orchids hanging in a parking lot.

An organic farm - part of The Royal Project - right in the middle of the city.

An organic farm – part of The Royal Project – right in the middle of the city.

A view of Panyaden School through rice fields.

A view of Panyaden School, where I work, through rice fields.

View from Panyaden School

View from Panyaden School

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Infinity pools in the mountains - here at Verandah

Infinity pools in the mountains – here at Verandah

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

Also, it has a warm tropical climate year-round.

2. Massage and other types of wellness at an affordable price. Thai massage is available just about everywhere you look. It can cost as little as $5 per hour. You can upgrade a little, or a lot.

Pre-massage foot wash. This started off what a $6.00 an hour massage.

Pre-massage foot wash. This was the beginning of a 180 baht ($6.00) an hour massage.

3. Yoga

There are so many places to do yoga in Chiang Mai and loads of fantastic teachers. The three places I tend to go to regularly are Namo, Yoga Tree, and my favorite Wild Rose.

Yoga at Wild Rose

Yoga at Wild Rose

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Acro yoga at the park

Acro yoga at the park

 4. Delicious food

In Chiang Mai I regularly get my dinner from street vendors for around 30 baht (this is about $1 USD). There is Thai food everywhere, of course, but there is also cuisine from around the globe… it will cost a bit more than 30 baht. It’s super easy to be a vegetarian here.

Grtting gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate.

Getting late night gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate…

...after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

…after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

And thankfully there is gorgeous sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I've been.

And thankfully there is outstanding sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I’ve been.

5. Easy to be a farang here

It’s pretty easy to be a foreigner in Chiang Mai – there are oodles of foreigners here and plenty of things to do.

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

climb up the 'sticky waterfalls'

climb up the ‘sticky waterfalls’

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park for a hike in the mountains

6. People are friendly

The way to react is with a smile.

Kru Neung and me planting rice

Kru Neung and me planting rice

7. There is always something new and happening in this ancient city

Galley openings - Lili Tan's work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Galley openings – Lili Tan’s work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Ceramics classes

Ceramics classes

Cute and functional art

Cute and functional art

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

You can see elephants in many places

You can see elephants in many places…hopefully they are being treated well

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang while on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

8. Big city culture and small town safety and community

It’s nice to have something to do, but it’s also nice to go out and see people you know.

Especially if those people make you laugh

Especially if those people make you laugh

9. Buddhism and meditation

Buddhism is alive, well, and omnipresent in Chiang Mai.

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

The monk on his alms round right outside my house - excuse the screen

A monk on his alms round right outside my house – excuse the window screen

Even children know how to meditate

Even children know how to meditate

The Silver Wat off Wualai

The Silver Wat off Wualai St.

Wat Nantaram

Detail from Wat Nantaram

Make an offering at a wat

Making an offering at a Wat Jed Yot

10. Festivals

Thailand has some amazing festivals that are both fun and beautiful.

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Loy Krathong dancers

Loy Krathong dancers

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong at Panyaden

splashing water at Songkran

splashing water at Songkran

Sure there are more cosmopolitan cities with more to do, but for me Chiang Mai is just right.

Mae Hong Son – Views-o-Plenty

Mae Hong Son – Views-o-plenty

The picturesque lakeside wats (temples) of set against the backdrop of misty mountains give Mae Hong Son แม่ฮ่องสอน a ‘Northern-Thailand-as-done-by-Walt-Disney’ look. It appeared to be so quaint, that I wanted to see it for myself. I’d been wanting to go there for years, so for my 4-day weekend, I thought I’d go.

Mae Hong Son วัด Chong Kham

Mae Hong Son is a province and a town in the most northwestern part of Thailand that borders Burma (Myanmar). It is home to many hill tribes: Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Yao, Karen (including the long neck Karen – the women who wear the rings around their necks), Shan people from Burma, and more. Twelve years ago people liked going to the town of Mae Hong Son to do treks. Now most people go to Pai. Mae Hong Son town kind of feels like the place that time forgot. The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son apparently has 1864 curves. It is a windy windy mountainous road that motorcyclists love. By bus it takes 8 hours to get there. By tiny prop plane it takes 35 minutes. I opted to spend the extra baht and fly, which offered fantastic views without the car sickness.

The way I got to Mae Hong Son

Without a doubt, the smallest plane (aircraft?) I’ve even been in.

{Side note, since when did planes become aircraft? Whenever they do the safety announcements on any US airline, they refer to the plane as ‘aircraft’. Why? It always makes me feel like I’m on some secret military mission or something. I’m not a fan. I will continue calling an airplane an ‘airplane’ or just ‘plane’, not ‘aircraft’. I’d call this one a prop. plane. Carry on.}

a view from the plane

Although it is the provincial capital, Mae Hong Son is a small town. I walked from the airport to the center of town, which took about 15 minutes. I’d read that accommodation was uninspiring due to the peak of its popularity being about 12 years ago, so I wasn’t expecting much. Where I stayed was clean, adequate, and close to the lake. Walking around the lake and visiting temples is how I spent the late afternoon. The reason we had a 4-day weekend was because of two Buddhist holidays. The first one called Asalaha Bucha Day is important because of three events occurring on the day called the “Triple Gem” – The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It was after the enlightened Buddha  and gave his first sermon. I spent the afternoon merit making, making donations and offerings the local lakeside wat – วัด.  I dined at what appeared to be the most happening place in town – Sunflower. I ended up meeting some Thai guys and we enjoyed listening to the singer, who sounded a lot like Jim Croce – a name I’d all but forgotten until I heard the guy’s voice. I requested “I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song”. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, the guy knew it. Gotta love that sappy 70s music. I do, and so do Thai people.

Wat Chong Kham at night reflected on the lake

The Thai guys I met. I tried to speak Thai with them. Conversations were short.

The next morning was เข้าพรรษา Khao Pansaa, the beginning of Buddhist Lent. It is called the rains retreat and lasts 3 months. My goal is to meditate each day for these 3 months. I got up early and that is just what I did.

Although this place was closed…

…I did manage to find this.

From the lakeside I had a view of a wat up on the mountain. I wanted to walk up there and spend some time meditating there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walk in itself up to the hillside wat was divine.      

This one might be my favorite. I climbed these steep stairs too.

I eventually arrived at Phra That Doi Kong Mu วัดพระธาตุดอยกองมู.

temple upkeep

The day one was born in Thailand is significant, in a similar way that the month is important in Westen astrology. I was born on a Monday, the same as the Thai King. Its color is yellow and the Buddha for Monday is standing.

Here was my offering to the Monday Buddha

I meditated, or rather tried to meditate, and made merit.

I got here…

Incredible view from the coffee shop next to the wat

This is the last picture I could take, before my camera battery died.

Mae Hong Son was a lovely little town and I’d like to visit there again. แม่ฮ่องสอน สวย

Day 1 in Thailand this time

Glad to see this tree is still here and decorated

Day 1

It was September 3rd just after midnight when I arrived in Bangkok. Was it an ideal landing time? No, it was not. After leaving on the morning of September 1st from Portland, Oregon and 3 planes later I was glad to finally be there matter what time it was. I was also extremely relieved to find an ATM in which my card worked – whew! I walked out in to the humid night and got a ride in a hot pink cab from the airport, where the attentive cab driver smiled and helped me with my bag. He asked my name and responded with, “Same same Queen Elizabeth”

I checked into my nicer guesthouse (see: flashpacker) in the Ko Sarn Road area. Some drunk American yahoos woke me up shortly after I had fallen asleep. They were loud enough to get chastised by even the most forgiving Thai people. I thought briefly, maybe I’m just too old for this, then I thought I’d see how I’d feel after sleep.

Thankfully I slept until 11:15 and was awakened by the roar of tuk tuks. I knew by looking at the map that I’d be staying  near New Siam Guesthouse, where I’d stayed 11 years before. I realized when I walked downstairs that it was just across the street. The good real coffee with a little pitcher of milk, and a bowl of tropical fruit with yogurt that I’d remembered was still the same. Now that I’d been properly fueled up, I was prepared to meet the chaos that awaited outside.

Bangkok wat

I found immediate refuge in the wat – The Buddhist temples that are everywhere in Thailand. I took my shoes off, lit some candles and incense, saw monks studying, and I prayed. I emerged in the Khao San Road chaos, but found lots of pretty things I love, and one stupid thing I need – a pair of ‘RayBans’. Do you think they’re real for $5?. I can’t believe I forgot to pack my sunglasses.

Not surprised to see this guy...

...but a little surprised to see Ganesh, the hindu god, welcoming me to Buddhist Thailand

My second meal was Pad Thai on the street for 30 baht. Currently 30 baht = $1 USD. When I was here last time street Pad Thai was 20 baht, and the exchange was closer to 40 baht to a dollar. It’s twice as expensive now, but still cheap… and still good.

Street Pad Thai for 30 baht

Mmm, Pad Thai

The heat is stifling so I head to the internet place for some air conditioning. I was offered many times to buy a suit or dress, get a massage, or to take a tuk tuk taxi. Off to the wat again.

Back in my guesthouse, there is wifi, but it isn’t free, I had to buy a card. This allowed me a pleasant little exchange with Khun Ong, and my first attempt to practice Thai – it will not be an easy language.

Now it’s time for one of the things I have been so excited about Thai massage! For 200 baht an hour (yes, that’s about $6.50 USD) it’s lovely and relaxing.

A new friend - someone's pet from Chatuchak Market

I return to my room for a cool shower, then start wandering looking for dinner. I pass a few food carts, one is VW bus.

I stopped for a small bia Chang when a few drops of rain begin to fall. A plastic tarp goes up, which I think is in vain, then a literal monsoon takes place. I decide to move inside the VW bus where I was talking in attempted Thai to a guy named ‘Big’, who was wearing a shirt with the Dude from Big Lebowski. The monsoon did not cease. The plastic kept getting full and then dropping huge amounts of water on the street while taxis and cars were still going by. Had the rains been this bad before? I don’t think I was here for the rainy season.

'Big' the VW bus bartender

People from the Basque country escaping the rain in Bangkok

Bad weather has a tendency to bring people together. There had been a couple under the tarp splitting a large bia Chang and the woman came to get another. Big asked where she was from and I, who usually am pretty good with accents couldn’t guess where she was from. Basque country de España, I’ve never met anyone from there outside of Spain. Her name was Ane, and her boyfriend was Igor. We ended up talking in Spanish, which was infinitely easier than me trying to talk in Thai.

Occasionally I did the Spanish translation to Thai. This ended up being a kind of hilarious problem. A él no le gusta ahaan phet. – In SpanThai this is what I said to the waiter who looked at me like huh? Then I tried with broken Thai English, “He no want ahaan phet.” That worked better. Ahaan aroi! – The food was delicious. Green curry for about $3 – proper restaurant, yum!

Starting young. This is about the age people start driving motorbikes in Thailand

People from all over the world, delicious food, beautiful wats, hot weather, friendly people, Yep, after day 1, I still love Thailand!