We left Baan Tha Klang early this morning to make our way back to Bangkok. The program is over for me. The week is up. Oddly, it feels like culture shock to return to the city during Songkran. The festivities continue. Today is the last day. The way the holiday plays out in the tiny village compared to Bangkok is worlds apart. Streets are closed. The Black Eyed Peas are blaring from every amp stack on every corner.
Khao San Road is Thai’s Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. There is no way to move forward. You are a sitting target for sprays of water and clay smeared on your face. My hotel is right in the middle of the action (that’s good and bad). It was a struggle to get to the hotel with the bag and not get a little pissy when people are dumping water on you and everything you possess for the trip. I got there without any damage and so now I’m enjoying the party a bit more.
I settled into the room and said goodbye to a fellow volunteer. So sad. I decided to try to relax some after the eight hour bus ride to the city and the stressful drenching I received trying to get to the hotel by scheduling a Thai massage. Well that did the trick! I still have one problem. I’m hungry. Do I dare enter the mayhem again? The crowds seem to be growing as the night rolls in. How is that even possible?! I have a feeling I’ll venture out. And once I’m in it, all will be good.
We are here for Songkran entirely by accident. It’s the Thai New Year April 13-15. The holiday is a water festival celebrated as the dry, hot season is ending and the rainy season will begin. It’s ritually a time for cleaning and renewal. Thais will bathe images of Buddha and give the house a good cleansing. Water is meant to ‘wash the bad away’.
So, what does this mean for the westerner… It means you get drenched… Everyday, wherever you go. People stand on the side of the road as if waiting for a parade to start. Thai children have barrels of water with bowls for throwing it like American children set up lemonade stands. The vehicle is stopped in the street and not allowed to pass until there’s been a proper soaking. The only way for us to participate is to fight back, so armed with the water guns purchased at the Big C at the beginning of the week and an arsenal of drums filled with water, we started out. Basically, you drive around and try to fire before fired upon. No one wins. Or maybe everyone wins, but no one is dry. That’s for sure.
It’s my first day here. No more airports (for the time being). No more travel purgatory, that in between place after you’ve started the journey, but before the destination is reached. I know the ‘getting there is half the fun’ thing, but 24 hours of economy seating and fluorescent hallways is not going to be the highlight of THIS journey. Although I will say that meeting Bobby and Stuart (my new Scots friends) made that part of it far more tolerable.
It took a while to get me out of the hotel room. I decided I was going to start the day at the Chiang Mai Zoo. I thought this would be an easy day given the inevitable jet lag. I have no jet lag. I don’t know why. I am a biological wonder, I guess. Whatever, I’ll take it. I wish I could say I’m fearless. I am not. So, fear kept me in. Not for long, though. I procrastinated for less than an hour. Glad to get that behind me. Now, on with the day!
I figured out how to get to the zoo. I had read that this a pretty good zoo, as far as zoos go. My opinion of zoos has changed over the years. When I was younger I was skeptical of zoos (not as a child… What child doesn’t love the zoo.). I thought they were cruel. That animals should be in their natural habitat and who are we to cage these animals for our own enjoyment. Later, I went on to receive a bachelor degree in biology concentrating on wildlife conservation. I know now that zoos can be a place to help save those animals in danger of low population numbers, threatened by loss of habitat or physical danger of poaching, etc. Zoos, if well maintained and funded, can be a place of education for the public and aid in the genetic research for mating programs to keep a species sustainable. With this in mind I wanted to check this zoo out. I had heard about their feature exhibit – the Giant Pandas. They currently (and only for a couple more months) have the result of a successful mating program involving Chuang Chuang, the male, and Lin-Hui, the female. Lin-Ping was born almost three years ago and lives in the habitat next to her mother. I could have spent hours at this exhibit. There was only a small group of us (maybe because it was 10am on a Wednesday) and the animals were active! It was amazing to watch them eat, play… Do whatever Pandas do. This is absolutely the exhibit that is the draw here and it pleases me that they are using it to better the species. Overall, the zoo is great; well laid out, fairly well marked, clean, improvements going on. I know this sounds like an odd review of a zoo, but part of me is still skeptical and a zoo needs to prove their intentions to me. I only made it through half if it..it’s pretty big, but I hit the highlights and attractions I tend towards. The big cats, mainly.
A little lunch and on to the National Museum.