A very wet Songkran Parade and wedding bands in Chiang Mai, Thailand!
This turns out to be a wonderful,
magical and somewhat mystical day. It starts late for us, and even John sleeps into 9:00. We head downstairs for our “American Breakfast” and are out by 10:30. I am not feeling 100% this morning. I am dealing with a cold and am a little run-down but figure that this will work itself out as the day progresses. On arrival yesterday, our pilot told us that it was 30 degrees, and we gleefully thought, how Australian the weather is! That changes today as we head out into the heat of the day for our Wat and Buddha tour of Chiang Mai. Of course, etiquette demands that you wear long pants and sleeved shirts when you enter the temples, and we do so despite the blistering heat.
Wishing for Good Luck with Buddha
Our first stop is the Wat Bupparam, housing the famous 400-year-old Teak Buddha, and we are met at the gates by two women bearing small baskets, and we think, “oh, no, more touts. Religious touts this time”. They nab John, and we quickly realize that these baskets are housing doves that, upon release, bring good luck to those who have set them free. It is Songkran, after all. We pay 200 baht for 2, and John lets them go. The wat is huge and has many traditional Pra Chedi housing relics of the Lord Buddha. An old woman graciously greets us at the temple door, asks us to remove our shoes and shows us in. I am overcome with a need to cry.
Of course, the North American in me quickly squashes this emotion but still, I move up to the Lord Buddha and crouch down on my knees and say a little prayer. Don’t know why. It just seems like the right thing to do. My stomach does heave a bit as I continue to squelch the emotion. As we leave, one of the old women says in her very limited English, essentially, that we are crazy to be out in the heat and that we should take a Tuk Tuk to all the wats. At least, this is our interpretation of what she said. We continue along the main street bisecting Chiang Mai, and enter another temple. Here the temple is locked, and we are only allowed to enter the grounds, which are completely deserted. We try to stay in the shade as much as possible, and our shirts are already soaking wet and clinging to us.
Something Magical Happens
We continue our Wat Trek along the main street. This is a very nondescript area of town with no high-end shopping plazas or even night market-type stalls on this part of the street but we pass a jewelry store and something catches our eye. We decide to enter, as we have in many stores in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, not expecting much but still, in search of our wedding bands.
We walk out of Nova with our wedding bands!
Nova is a creative cooperative promoting young and interesting designers, and both John and I love the rings we have chosen. They are two floating bands, interlocking scallops, one gold and the other is sandblasted sterling silver. The wonderful thing is that they go perfectly with the bands we already wear. I get to wear mine out, but John needs his re-sized. We will return later in the day to retrieve his. Those lucky birds that John set free at the first temple meant something! We celebrate over a lavish $8 CDN lunch run by a sweet girl just two doors down and continue our trek to the biggest temple, Phra Singh. This compound was built during the zenith of Chiang Mai’s power and is one of the more venerated shrines in the city, and more than 700 monks study here. During Songkran, it is the center of the festival.
We are exhausted at this point and grab a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel for quick naps and a change of clothes before heading out again for 5:00 and the Songkran Parade at the main park in Chiang Mai.
Wet, Wet, Wet
Now, we have heard that people get sprayed with water for the entire time of this festival, so at the very least, we expect to get some water guns fired at us. We hail our first open-air Tuk Tuk, I notice, and no sooner are we at the first traffic lights when a truckload of kids comes by and douses us with a bucket of water! We were wise not to bring any camera equipment with us because, by the time we got to the park, we were soaking wet. They are even grabbing buckets of water from the moat around the old walled city and hurling them across the traffic at us. Farang (foreigners) supposedly are a sought-after target, and we are very popular, Farang! We feel bad for our Tuk Tuk driver because he is as wet as we are. What are you going to do except laugh and laugh? And we do. And so does our driver.
Happy Songkran Parade
The parade is quite spectacular, with many Thai provinces and five countries besides Thailand represented: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar. Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, the two host provinces, are at the tail end of the parade. All have beautiful floats and processions, each representing their cultures. The parade goes on for over 2 hours. All of the delegations bring gifts and homage to Buddha. Some in their hands and some on their backs, with each country and province bringing gifts that represent their uniqueness. The offerings include beautiful floral arrangements, food, and cleansing materials (this is a cleansing festival), including, oddly enough, lots of dish soap and paper towels.
After the parade ends, we wander through the crowds and endless traffic jams. For the first time since arriving in Thailand, the traffic fumes overwhelm us, and we move away from the crowd and finally make our way to a street where the traffic is moving, at least in the direction we want to go, grabbing a Tuk Tuk back to the night market near our hotel, Buddah blessing us all the way home.