Songkran 2008 Chiang Mai – The water festival

Once again that time of year has arrived where Chiang Mai is as hot as an oven, and people start hysterically throwing water at each other. Accompanying the water climax is the Thai tradition of drinking as much whiskey as possible and driving around blind drunk in pick-ups laden with water tanks and ‘armed’ revelers. Welcome to Songkran festival – the Thai New Year and one of the biggest, hottest & wettest parties on the planet!

Songkran is celebrated in Thailand every year between 13 April to 15 April and is not for the faint hearted. This year marks my fourth Songkran festival in Thailand. My inaugural experience was as an 18 year old backpacker arriving with two friends in a small town in South East Thailand. As we stepped out of a taxi in the bus station, it was as if someone had ‘paused’ the locals. They all slowly turned towards us, grinned and then charged us. We were utterly mobbed and probably had about 10 gallons of water poured & thrown all over us, as well as copious quantities of white powder (plaster?) pasted all over our faces.

Lots of the long term, older ex-pats actually escape Thailand at this time of year as it can all get rather intense. Being a white skinned foreigner tends to have the same effect as pasting a target onto your forehead. You either love it or hate it!

The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of water on other people’s hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100 °F or 40 °C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.

Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual aspects. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival due to the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists. Last year I received a bucket of water in the chest whilst doing 60KM an hour down the highway on my motorbike and it was an absolute miracle I didn’t crash. Sadly, this year there have already been more than 180 deaths over Songkran and there’s still the last day of the festival to come.

Despite the sometimes out of control behaviour, it’s all in extremely good spirit, and Songkran is a great time to visit Thailand, join in the fun and see the locals at their craziest & best!

Sound file: Chiang Mai street sounds 1

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This was recorded in our street in Chiang Mai, Thailand at about 6pm on a weekday night – in early April. Every night the cicadas start screeching at about the same time, and in the background (if you listen carefully) you can hear the sounds of the local community ‘announcer’ chatting away through the loud-speakers strategically positioned on lamp posts at the end of our road.

Sound file: A relaxing Saturday by the pool?

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Lotus swimming pool, Chiang Mai, ThailandI finished my month long CELTA course last weekend and decided to go and lie by the Lotus hotel pool at Kad Suan Kaew shopping center in Chiang Mai. I had intended to sleep and wind down after a hugely stressful month.

Mr & Mrs Karaoke had other plans…

Video: “Care for Dogs”, Chiang Mai

Street dogs are probably the most common sight in Thailand (and other developing countries). Whether you travel to Chiang Mai as a tourist or live here, it is impossible to overlook the street dogs.

When I first arrived in Thailand, I was shocked to see so many dogs, some in terrible condition and I always feel really bad when I see them and am not able to help them with more than just a sausage from a near-by seven-eleven.

Karin Hawelka and Amandine Lecesne are two women who refused to ignore the problem. They set up ‘Care for Dogs’ in Chiang Mai. Their aim is to improve the life of street and temple dogs by organising sterilisations, vaccinations, and medical care. They also offer a home for approximately 80 homeless dogs and puppies until they find a new loving home for them.

If you want to adopt a dog, puppy or cat, volunteer, or support the group with donations or dog food – then contact 084-7525255 or 086-1855218, e-mail to contact@carefordogs.org or visit www.carefordogs.org

Above is a video of the amazing dogs they take care off (and that are up for adoption if you offer a loving home). You can also listen to the very interesting interview with the founder of “Care for Dogs” Karin Hawelka if you do to: http://www.earthoria.com/care-for-dogs-shelter-chiang-mai.html

Enjoy and get inspired.

Podcast: Care for Dogs, Chiang Mai

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Care for Dogs is an animal welfare organisation based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Listen to an interview with Karin Hawelka, one of the Care for Dogs founders by clicking the play button above.

Care for Dogs - Dog charity & dog adoption, Chiang Mai

Care for Dogs was set up by Karin and Amandine Lecesne who refused to ignore the problem of dogs suffering in the streets of Chiang Mai. Their aim is to improve the life of street and temple dogs by organising sterilisations, vaccinations, and medical care. They also offer a home for approximately 80 homeless dogs and puppies until they find a new loving home for them.

If you would like to adopt a dog, puppy or cat, volunteer, or support the group with donations or dog food – then contact 084-7525255 or 086-1855218, e-mail contact@carefordogs.org or visit www.carefordogs.org.

Enjoy and get inspired.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and the white elephant legend

The legend goes that a monk named Sumanathera from Sukhothai had a dream; in this dream he was told to go to Pang Cha and look for a artifact. Sumanathera went to Pang Cha and found a bone, which many state was Buddha’s shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers; it shined, it was able to disappear, it could move itself and reproduce itself. Sumanathera took the artifact to King Dharmmaraja who ruled Sukhothai.

The excited Dharmmaraja made offerings and hosted a rite when Sumanathera arrived. Nonetheless, the artifact displayed no abnormal characteristics, and the king, doubtful of the artifact’s validity, told Sumanathera to keep it.

However, the king of the Lanna Kingdom Nu Naone (rules 1355 – 1385) heard of the artifact and offered the monk to take it to him instead. In 1368 with Dharmmaraja’s permission, Sumanathera took the artifact to Lamphun, in northern Thailand. The artifact split in two, one piece was the same size, the other was smaller than the original. The smaller piece of the artifact was preserved at a temple in Suandok. The other piece was placed by the King on the back of a white elephant which was released in the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), and trumpeted three times before dying on the top after the long journey up. It was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of the temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep at the site.

The present complex dates from the 16th century and was expanded or restored several times later. The video above is from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep anno 2007.

Podcast: Pun Pun – Sustainable organic farming

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In this podcast, I met up with Peggy and Jo – the two founders of Pun Pun. During the interview, we discussed their views on Sustainable living & farming, Earthen house building, how they started out, and the philosophy & vision driving their work.

Pun Pun (meaning ‘thousand varieties’) is an organic farm, seed-saving operation, and sustainable living and learning centre based about 50km North of Chiang Mai, Thailand in Mae Taeng district. The first I knew about Pun Pun was last year, when I heard about an amazing new organic vegetarian restaurant that had opened in the grounds of Wat Suan Dok temple. I visited it at the first opportunity, and quickly became a regular!

Pun Pun Organic farm - sustainable living in Thailand

Pun Pun offers a variety of workshops and training courses, from their 10 week internship program offering an in-depth, hands-on experience in organic gardening (including seed saving, earthen building, and community living) through to 3-5 day earthen building workshops, and sustainability study trips. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can contact them via their website – the details are below.

Peggy & Jo - Pun Pun restaurant, ThailandFurther information

www.punpunthailand.org – For further information on Pun Pun, including upcoming workshops and internships at Pun Pun farm. Map of how to get to Pun Pun restaurant.

You SabaiYou Sabai Home is located in Mae Taeng, next door to Pun Pun’s organic farm and sustainable living learning center outside a village in Mae Tang province, 50 km from Chiang Mai. They also build and live in simple earthen houses, close to nature.

You might also be interested in reading this article proving a rather interesting slant on the use of organic farming techniques in Africa – Green activists ‘are keeping Africa poor’.