In February and March this year, Tina and I decided to do CELTA courses with ECC in Chiang Mai. During our courses (we did the CELTA separately on two consecutive months) Tina and I kept an audio diary of our experiences. You can listen to this below.
CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, and it’s a highly intensive four week course resulting in an internationally recognised English teaching qualification. CELTA is one type of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification.
For information about the CELTA course we did, along with its costs, please see my previous post from March.
In Tina’s last week in Chiang Mai, we went to Sabai De Ka Thai Massage to do a one day oil massage course with a lovely Thai lady called Kloy. We had a really memorable day and wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to others. You can listen to the podcast we made during the day by clicking the play button below. And yes, I’m shamelessly pimping my oily girlfriend in the picture below :-).
Sabai De Ka Massage is located at 93/3 Moonmuang Road (just North of Tapae gate – the East gate of the old city) in Chiang Mai (see map below). You can contact Kloy by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone on 081-8813697 or 053-326529. A one day oil massage course cost 1100THB per person.
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!
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.
I’ve been putting off writing this post and editing the associated podcast for a while now, because I have such mixed feelings about Pai I simply didn’t know where to begin! You can hear the podcast by clicking the play button above.
Pai (pronounced ‘Bai’) is a small town in northern Thailand about 140KM north of Chiang Mai on the main Chiang Mai – Mae Hong Son route. Years ago Pai was a quiet market village, mainly inhabited by Shan people, but nowadays it thrives on tourism thanks to its arrival on the ‘backpacker map’ of Northern Thailand. Nowadays both Thai and foreign tourists are making their way to Pai in droves – the numbers of Thai tourists has increased dramatically since 2006 after Pai featured in two popular, Thai-made romantic movies. There are also frequent music festivals held in Pai – including the Pai Reggae Festival that also features briefly on this podcast.
The drive from Chiang Mai to Pai is undoubtedly a very beautiful one, taking you across a stunning mountain range through some very winding roads, until you descend into the picturesque Pai valley. I have driven it four times on my motorbike now and always feel incredibly exhilarated upon arriving in Pai.
The first time I went to Pai with a group of friends, in June 2007 we had a rather negative incident that has perhaps tainted my view of the place. To cut a long story short, a group of six of us were quietly and soberly walking home at about midnight after a late dinner, and a Thai man drove past on his bike – obviously drunk out of his mind, and with his hand permanently on the horn, almost ran us down. He then proceeded to get off his bike, square up to us for a fight, get back on his bike, and then repeatedly try and run us down for the remaining ten minute walk back to our guest house. It was a frightening experience.
To put it into perspective, this kind of aggressive behaviour is almost unheard of in Thailand, and in my two and a half years here, the only other place I can say I have encountered any kind of aggressive vibe has been Koh Phangan. What’s the obvious parallel between these two places? The short answer is that nowadays they are both on the backpacker drink & drugs party circuit, and this has for some reason contributed towards the tension between the locals and foreigners, perhaps through the sheer numbers of inebriated foreigners invading the town.
What’s more, there are some serious questions being asked over the conduct of the Thai police in the Pai area. In January 2008 an off-duty and reportedly very drunk police officer fatally shot Canadian tourist John Leo Del Pinto, and shot and injured a second woman Canadian tourist. Both the foreigners were also reportedly drunk. This particular officer was alleged to have taken his gun out on a number of occasions (whilst off-duty and drinking), and start firing it randomly in the air.
The changing vibe in Pai was summed up very well in an anonymous letter to the Chiang Mai CityLife magazine – some of which is quoted below:
One Saturday in particular remains in my memory, where several police officers decided to inspect a party at a bar in town. I believe that they were looking for drugs. I along with many other tourists was especially shocked to see that one officer was carrying a machine gun…This kind of behaviour is likely to scare tourists and leave very negative impressions on them with regards to Pai town as a holiday destination…The police are also actively confiscating other vehicles, testing individuals at random for drugs and alcohol abuse, detaining owners of restaurants and bars for remaining open past the agreed time, and generally making a lot of noise in a relatively quiet town that did not appear to have many problems beforehand….The increased police presence is clearly visible and does not, in my opinion, make Pai town look like a place one would like to visit. There is also a general feeling of unrest here and I feel that it is quite obvious to the tourist travelling through. The police are unapproachable and menacing. This has a strong negative impact on the atmosphere here in Pai town. The previously friendly and welcoming town appears to have changed into a place where everyone is afraid to even walk down the street in case they are accused of doing something wrong.
I would still recommend visiting Pai, for the drive there, and the beautiful surrounding countryside and villages, but if you’re going there to party, be careful – it seems to have an increasingly lawless underbelly that perhaps most tourists remain oblivious to. I encourage you to read the section on the Wikipedia Pai entry – Controversy over Police Conduct.
For a very comprehensive guide to Pai with some great photos, check out Chris Pirazzi’s ‘All About Pai‘.
I 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.
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 email@example.com 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