"I realize I completely skipped writing about Chiang Mai, but hopefully this compensatory entry will amend such egregious offense (I say this ironically). I regret not having explored Chiang Ma, but we did arrive in the middle of a nationwide festival celebrating the New Year, and also a concomitant relief to April's seemingly daily heat wave.
Thais celebrate Songkran by having an enormous, ubiquitous water fight bordering carnage. The streets are lost to anarchy. A moat surrounding the old city inevitably becomes the battleground and the source of artillery for the week of Songkran. Trish, Steph, Caitlyn and I stayed at an amazing hostel--Spicy Thai-- and met fellow backpackers around the world, all of which flocked to Chiang Mai to experience Songkran in the most hardcore way. Even before the first day of the festival, I bore witness to the gravity and the extent of this tradition. Armed with countless swigs of rice wine, courtesy of our hostel owner, my fellow hostel-ers and I hopped on the back of Spicy Thai's pick-up truck supplied with a plethora of water guns, small buckets, and a tub of water in the middle.
Fate eased us into this water fight well enough, some little scruffs of water gunfight here and there and several harassments of unwitting bystanders and pedestrians, under the influence of our breakfast for champions. But, getting closer and closer to the moat was like advancing closer and closer towards the front lines of war. The intensity of bucket throwing increased relative to our proximity to the moat. Fights erupted from one pick-up truck to another, hapless victims aboard a songthaew get drenched with moat water. Under the 100 degree heat of the sun, the worst attacks were the rude acquaintances with ice cold water to the face. There were vendors selling huge blocks of ice, ready to supply the masses clamoring for the thrill of hydro-violence. We, soldiers of the water, sadistic, owing allegiance to no one, cock our guns and spray aimlessly--how oddly phallic...
Traffic inched, and the streets were flooded with water. I may have been affected slightly by this monolithic mob mentality. There are numerous eye witness accounts of my uncharacteristic brutish behavior, laughing maniacally as I sprayed ice cold water straight into the eyes of helpless... children (I sure hope my occasional frustrations with 1st graders weren't manifesting themselves in this state of non-sentience). Don't mistake me however for being a heartless smiter of water-- I was pelted wave after wave of moat water, into every possible orifice of my body. For a while I was afraid I would contract some disease.
This type of heavy fighting went on for an entire week. There was no way of staying dry. Even the most unsuspecting street corners had Thai people ready to soak you with water, no matter the time of day.
Suffice to say, my stamina could not keep up with this insanity. I sought the refuge of Wat Doi Suthep, and witnessed the yearly pilgrimage performed by Buddhists. People bathed Buddhas situated in different postures with oil and water, walked around the stupa holding dok buas (lotus flowers) while ringing prayer bells along the way. There were newly initiated adolescent monks running about this whimsical wat. My water quota for the day was essentially fulfilled by the blessings of a resident monk, and my luck for the new year sealed with a traditional string bracelet."