The biggest water fight in the world
Back on the left hand side of the road we find the roads in Thailand a bit uneventful and boring after the Cambodian mayhem. Zooming along the perfect tarmac (asfalt) we soon arrive at Phnom Rung.
Phnom Rung is another temple from the Angkor period and this one is built specifically for the sun to shine through all 15 of its temple doors 4 times a year: twice for sunrise and twice at sunset. We happened to be there on the day of one of these special sunrises. This meant a big festival was happening the evening we arrived. Lots of offerings, beautifully dressed girls dancing and a sound and light show later that night. We managed to get tickets for the show and even meet one of the 3 kings.
Via Sukothai, where we camped in between the 3 layers of old city walls, we ended up in Mae Hong Son for a few days. To get there we drove along the Thai western border with Burma (Myanmar). This is a rather beautiful, yet disturbing drive as this area houses some of the longest existing refugee camps in the world and some of these camps are enormous. People living here are restricted in their movements and get their food and other necessities via the UN.
Few are lucky enough to find a way out of the camps, but we met a girl who was born in one of these camps, her mother is from one of the Karen minorities, and at the age of 18 she was given a US passport by the UN. She now lives and works in the USA whilst her mother lives in the Karen village (she was also allowed out of the camp, maybe because she was a Karen ‘longneck’?) and sells souvenirs to the visiting tourists.
Ti Na was visiting her mother for the first time in 3 years and although her English was still pretty poor, it gave us a small window into her life and that of other Burmese refugees. We spent a few hours talking to her, sharing lunch and catch up again with her later when we cycle to the river for a swim.
In Mae Hong Son the police offer us a spot in front of their station, next to the lake and overlooking the wat, with use of their bathroom and shower! The police is incredibly friendly here and will do anything to help us, they even drive us to an insurance company and help us get our new car insurance (the other one has run out due to our detour to Cambodia).
In the far north of Thailand we wanted to explore the caves as we heard they are pretty impressive. The caves were fun, but unfortunately we had the most boring lot of other tourists joining us. After trying to talk to them for hours we eventually gave up and just talked to each other (we don’t talk enough, so this was a great opportunity for us to finally talk…:-)) and enjoyed the caves.
We also drove up to see the opium museum at the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle used to refer to a large opium growing and smuggling area encompassing the 4 nations (for some reason Vietnam is included as well in the golden triangle), but now it refers to the border tripoint (Thailand, Lao and Burma) at the confluence of 2 rivers (the Mekong and the Ruak River) and has been changed into a major tourist attraction on both the Lao and the Thai side. No big casino and wats on the Burmese side yet.
One of the reasons for us to go to Cambodia first and then go to the north of Thailand was the celebration of the Thai Buddhist New Year in Chiang Mai. The party is known as Songkran or the water festival and originates from the Thai washing (= splashing water at) the Buddhas during this time. Now it is one big party that goes on for 3 solid days and centers itself around the moat (gracht) of the old city walls. An obvious place for it as it allows for easy refills of all the waterguns and buckets.
Nobody is spared. Kids, older people, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, people on motor bikes, bicycles or scooters, foreigners or locals, nobody is safe in this area and most actively participate in the party.
We also bought some waterguns of course and joined in for the full 3 days of it. Even getting to a restaurant at night was impossible without getting wet! The worst were the ‘ice buckets’. People bought blocks of ice which they put in their big (100L) bucket or eski and then used the cold, ice-cold water to throw over you. Preferably over your head (using a bucket) and preferably when you weren’t expecting it…
Have a look at the North Thailand video (thanks Jon for creating yet another great video!) to get an idea of the party.
A great party and we had so much fun, but it was time to move on to Lao for some more adventures, but not before we had taken some mountainbikes and had ridden them downhill from the top of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. A bit steep at times (scary!), but great fun as well.
Another country bites the dust, we’re ready for the next one! We’re hoping Lao is less smokey than Thailand as they burn everything here (illegally!).
You can also have a look at the Sun, Sea, Sand and Scuba video (3.58 min) from the first 2 weeks in Thailand as we didn’t have it ready then.
PS a big congratulations to my awesome sister who turned 40 yesterday!!!! Love you lots!! Jx