Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wet N' Wild

Saaaaaaaaaaaaaawatdi Piiiiiiii Maaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiii
(or if Jack don't talk Thai: Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!)

There is nothing quite like getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head.  It stings, it shocks, and it takes your breath away.  And if you are were in Chiang Mai during Songkran, that ice water was probably drawn from a most unhygienic moat, giving you any number of very undesirable diseases.  But, despite the perils of Songkran, the celebration of the Thai New Year is a fantastic, sopping wet few days.

Originally, Songkran was a time to cleanse images (statues) of Buddha by gently pouring water over them. It was believed that this would bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year.  Even better, one could collect the Buddha bath water and gently pour it on the shoulders  of family and friends giving them good fortune for the upcoming year.  As is so often the case, it was reasoned that if a gentle pour on the shoulder brought some good luck, a massive soaking must be bring even more luck.  And so, Songkran evolved into the wildest water fight in all the world, with everyone, and I mean everyone, receiving countless blessings and heaps of good luck.

No one is safe when a Meshkov has a full bucket
Monks were an especially popular target.
The bright orange robe does not make for good camouflage.
Even (well-built) ladyboys joined in the fun
Thai people gear up for Songkran, everyone is packing heat (or ice).  Kids fling water from plastic cups.  Men wander the streets with water guns with animal-shaped reservoir back-pack, young girls dance in the back of pick-up trucks, and grandparents wander by with the simple, but most effective, bucket.

He got me right in the eye.
But even if my eyes were closed tight (he was definitely throwing moat water) Clemy managed to get his pic.

Young girls riding around the moat
OK, so I was one of the men with an animal back-pack (front-pack?) squirt gun.
I also wore my helmet (Helmet Lang) for the duration of Songkran.
It gave me good luck, and more importantly, allowed me to return accurate fire as it kept water away from my eyes and face. 

This grandma wandered up to Jesse politely saying,"excuse me, excuse me, OK, OK"
as she dumped the full bucket of ice water down her back.
Within the first five minutes of Songkran we were hooked.  Wearing our motorcycle helmets we spent all day soaking others and getting soaked, with brief intermissions for the outstanding Chiang Mai street food and massages.  And we could feel all the blessings and good luck we received; it was five days of child-like joy and fun and an amazing way to end our first visit to Thailand.
And to end off each day, an hour long street massage, for $4.
Here are some of the best moments we captured with Clemy, RIP.

Huge, celebrating crowds fill the streets
Jesse dukes it out with some local girls
They may have been young (and in a superman costume) but they were deadly good shots.
Me, Sharira, Poncho, and a new friend in a blue wig
In some cases the friendliness was unexpected!
And that was water was COLD!
But everyone could have a good laugh about it in the end (or I was still in shock)
Maggie managed to get a hairwash instead of a bucket of ice-water down her pants 
She got a better deal than me
Somehow Jesse got neither a bucket down the pants nor a hairwash.
The self-christened Team Aquablast 
A Thai family that took us in after we tried to buy beer from their family lunch.
Three hours later we'd finished their Red Label, all their beers, and were all Facebook friends
(I have never understood any of their status updates).
Note the celebratory shirt-swap between Mathias and Papa.
Me, J, and Ma - who gave us a bottomless bowl of pork noodle soup, which has haunted my dream ever since
Just another bucket to the head
No one is safe when a Meshkov has a full bucket
And another bucket
And another bucket
It was undoubtedly the simplest, but most effective, weapon
 A group photo SNEAK ATTACK.
The superb photographers (and baristas) at Hopf Coffee kept re-positioning us until they could capture the moment just right
The streets lined with water fighters 
We even managed to make it to the actual Songkran parade 
It was pretty, and surprisingly dry.
These little guys stayed dry in their ponchos, despite their willingness to get me wet
This little girl perfectly captured the snickering fun of the Songkran water fight

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oh My Buddha!

We had thought that the crumbling ruins of the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya were really cool.  But even cooler?  The way older, way more intact ruins of Sukhothai, a six hour bus ride to the north.

The day started off great.  We had our newest scooter, the Green Machine.  We had our delicious bowl of the famous Sukhothai pork noodle soup.  (This is Asia, soup for breakfast is perfectly acceptable, and delicious.)  We were interviewed by a giggly group of tourism students.
Dave and the Green Machine outside a
famous Sukhothai noodle shop
The Meshkovs, two tourism students,
and the park ticket taker
And then things got even better.  It was HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday, so the normally $20 park fee was waived!
Because I'm feeling lazy, here's an excerpt from Encyclopedia Brittanica about the Kingdom of Sukhothai:
Sukhothai kingdom, former kingdom, north-central Thailand. It was founded in the mid-13th century when a local Tai ruler led a revolt against Khmer rule. It remained only a small local power until its third ruler, Ramkhamhaeng, inherited the kingdom c. 1279. He extended its power to the south onto the Malay Peninsula, to the west into what is now Myanmar (Burma), and to the northeast into present-day Laos. On his death in 1298 the kingdom began to lose its power, and in 1438 it was absorbed into the kingdom of Ayutthaya.
The ruins are just spectacular, so I'll let the photos speak for themselves.  The whole Sukhothai photo album is available here.