At some point during your travels in Southeast Asia you’ll have to go on a Visa Run in order to gain a little extra time for sightseeing or festivals. Apparently it’s so common in Thailand, that when you go to book your bus or minivan, they ever write visa run on your receipt. I hadn’t been planning on overstaying my Thai visa, but after a week in Chiang Mai with all the wonderful people I become friends with, I decided to extend my stay for Songkran. To be fair, it would have been ridiculous to miss the largest celebration of the Thai New Year all because of a date stamped on my passport, so I asked Tony and Oi, who own the hostel I was staying at where I could book a trip to the Myanmar border, and they graciously agreed to drive me to a travel office to help sort out the ticket. Luckily for me, the first place Oi drove me had openings for a visa run, so I booked a van for early the next morning and thanked Oi for taking time out of her day to help me. I really did have the best hostel owners ever.
The minivan picked me up really early in the morning, and to be honest I slept almost the entire way to the border. When we got there, the driver gave us a meeting point and said we have an hour to get over and back. I quickly got into the ever-growing line of foreigners obviously on the same mission as me, and exited Thailand without an issue. It was weird to be walking through a place that doesn’t really belong to one nation or another. No man’s land was full of both Burmese and Thai people begging and selling food and drinks, as its easy for them to exit their own countries in favor of standing between the two borders.
Once I was through Myanmar immigration, I spent about 10 minutes wandering through a small market off to the right hand side. I didn’t think I had any extra time to spare, and I really would have liked to stay longer, but it was back to the border for me. Getting through Myanmar immigration was a breeze. The Thai immigration on the other hand wasn’t so fast. I spent a good 40 minutes standing in line before I ever even reached the window and had my passport stamped. Since I had seen about 3 people from my van in line behind me, I took my time getting back and stopped to buy some snacks as I hadn’t eaten all day. Our driver had threatened to leave anyone not back in an hour behind, which we all knew was a load of b.s., so I wasn’t surprised to find him and a handful of people waiting outside the van by the time I made it back. Once everyone had arrived he shoved us back into the van and proceeded to drive at the nauseating pace of all Thai drivers. It seemed as though Songkran had already begun in the mountains. We passed hundreds of people throwing water at cars with buckets and having water fights with their friends and family on our way back.
It was exciting to see, since I hadn’t had a legitimate reason to have an all out water war since I was a little kid, and I could hardly wait for tomorrow morning to come.
April 12, 13, 14, 15
SONGKRAN! SAWATDI PI MAI JOW! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Basically from New Years Eve (12th) to the end of the Songkran celebration on the 15th, I was engaged in water fights with anyone with a bucket or water gun. All of the people in my hostel banded together the first day and threw water on the cars that passed by. Since it was indeed war in the streets of Chiang Mai, we created rules to make sure certain people were most definitely hit with as much water as possible. Anyone wearing Tye-dye was to be hit directly in the face, sex-pats were to be mercilessly attacked with as much water as we could muster, and for all the Europeans participating, anyone wearing an opposing teams football jersey was fair game. We also had a lot of fun attacking trucks full of people and tuk tuks. A lot of the time the tuk tuk and truck drivers would motion to us to attack the people in the back, and would slow down or often times even stop long enough for everyone to get soaked. They seemed to be enjoying the festivities just as much as anyone else. I even sprayed a monk in a tuk tuk at some point. Now, before you get too up in arms about my disrespectful behavior, none of us in the group shot him with water until after he asked us to, at which point we proceeded to spray him with the same amount of effort and water we used with any children we encountered. He happily waved to us afterwards and seemed to be happy about being a part of the celebration.
Since everywhere you turned water was being thrown your way, I didn’t take my camera with me to document the festivities, but man was it a lot of fun. The best section of Chiang Mai to be in during Songkran was down by Tae Pae Gate. On day 2, by the time a group of us made it down there, we had just missed a giant foam party, but there was no shortage of people throwing water and perfume, or smearing clay onto your face. It was what you dreamed of as a child as you hunted down your siblings in a violent game of water fighting, but with alcohol and better music. There were moments where we would find ourselves on some backstreet viewing another part of Songkran, which was more spiritual and less reckless. People were blessing monks with water out of silver cups and processions slowly made their way down streets lined with Thai people. Occasionally someone would gently pour blessed water onto our shoulders and we would tell them Happy New Year in Thai. It was nice to see both sides of the celebration throughout the course of 4 days.
By the time it was over I was sick from all the canal water that had been thrown on me, but even a cold couldn’t ruin the fun I had reverting to childhood on the streets of Chiang Mai.