Most of you who know me know that I don’t like big cities. There are a few exceptions; Buenos Aires, Boston and, recently, the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam. Bangkok, however, isn’t one of them. We successfully avoided Bangkok on the way into Thailand, but our plans went awry on our exit and we wound up spending four nights there.
So, what does this have to do with Chiang Mai? The plan was to spend three nights in Chiang Mai then only one day and two nights in Bangkok, but due to Songkran (Thai new year), everyone was traveling. It seemed like no problem. I quickly found a place in Chiang Mai on booking.com and booked it for three nights. Easy, peasy. Unfortunately, the only way to book the day train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was in person at the train station. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
As good luck would have it, the AYA minibus we took from Pai to Chiang Mai dropped us off right at the Chiang Mai train station. Excellent! We immediately went over to the ticket counter to buy our tickets for Saturday. If all went according to plan, we’d get to Bangkok late on Saturday, have a day to get our travel docs in order, maybe enjoy a nice meal and fly out early the next morning.
“What? No space on the Saturday train?” Quick huddle… “How about Friday? Nope?” Another huddle, and reluctantly, “Thursday, as in tomorrow? ” Yes, there were two seats available in the same car, but not next to each other. (In case you are wondering, all of the night trains were full.) Do we take them or go see if a bus is available? There were only four train seats total left and the tickets were non-refundable. The bus station was not nearby and Songkran was in full swing with people in the streets dousing each other with water. Taxis were few and tuk-tuk drivers were fearful. Grudgingly, we opted for the train that left the next morning.
After buying our tickets at the train station we approached a tuk-tuk in the parking lot to take us to our guesthouse. We showed the tuk-tuk driver the address of our guesthouse to which he violently shook his head ‘no’ and pointed to his soaking wet clothes. Apparently, I booked us a room in the war zone. Maybe a taxi would be a better idea. We looked around, and other than the tuk-tuk with the drenched driver, there were no other forms of transportation. Another woman was in the same pickle we were, so all three of us boldly went out to the main street in front of the station to look for a taxi.
After a few minutes of looking like lost puppies, a taxi driver took pity on us and accepted our mission. He didn’t even overcharge us. That was really nice. But, due to the festivities and the size of the vehicle, he could only get us to within a couple of blocks of our guesthouse in the war zone.
We gritted our teeth, donned our packs and left the safe confines of the taxi. Pat had to stare down a couple of 6-year-olds who were armed with buckets of ice water and I played the lost tourist with my cell phone in hand asking every adult along the way directions. The children were held at bay by Pat’s icy stares and their parent’s admonitions. We made it to our guesthouse largely unscathed; packs and camera dry.
It’s too bad we couldn’t spend the three nights at the Kavil 2 Guesthouse. We had a nice room with a/c in a great location. The staff was very helpful and understanding and there was a restaurant right on the property. That meant we could stay dry and watch the carnage on the street from the comfort of our dining table. Well, until happy hour… as so often seems to happen in these posts, we ran out of scotch. We had to run the gauntlet to replenish our supply.
People everywhere had buckets, bowls, water pistols, and super-soakers. Kids in packs doused other kids in packs. Older kids piled into the back of pickup trucks with 55-gallon trash cans full of water and multiple forms of arms. Adults lined the streets with bowls of water and sprinkled passers-by with their fingers. The streets were wet with puddles though it hadn’t rained in months. It was all good clean fun. The only ones you really had to keep an eye on were little boys with too much fire-power and gringos, otherwise, it was actually refreshing.
We were really looking forward to this second stop in Chiang Mai with its very walkable old section, cafes, restaurants, very nice park, and great street food. Instead, I’m penning this post in a Las Vegas wannabe, overpriced, crappie hotel in Bangkok while the elevated train blasts past the window every couple of minutes like Elwood’s apartment in The Blues Brothers. The silver lining? That elevated train is going to whisk our butts to the airport in the morning!
Hike, Drink, Live, Laugh