From Bangkok we flew to a small town in southern Thailand called Krabi. It’s approximately 1000 km’s south and has a population of only 20,000. It was a refreshing change of pace from Bangkok. Krabi is very laid back and the people are extremely friendly. Many travelers just pass through Krabi on their way to the islands. We found it a worthwhile place to spend some time.
It’s very easy to get around Krabi by foot. The locals greeted us with smiles as we walked the streets. During our visit I think the people were pleased to see tourists starting to return after the Tsunami. Although Krabi doesn’t sit directly on the ocean the effects of the 2004 Tsunami wiped out the entire ferry dock that sits on the river. It also caused an extreme amount of flooding.
The river is a scenic place to go for a stroll, a boardwalk allows you to take in the views of the dense mangroves lining the river shore. The most notable sight is the massive limestone formations that jet out of the water like breaching whales.
There are some great restaurants to experience Thai food, but if you’re craving something more familiar there are a few choices.
A cafe that became our favorite was called May and Marks. It is a family run place that is named after the two oldest children. The husband is Chinese and the wife is Thai, and grandma helps out too. They have many international choices on their menu. They learned how to make the dishes from travelers that have stayed in the guest house above the restaurant. It has become a very popular spot for people who have been on the road for a while. Travelers like to come and get a taste of something from home. They also make homemade breads. The sourdough is a big hit, people come from as far as Phuket to stock up on it.
Thailand’s Songkran is in April, it is their New Year and also known as the water festival. From what we heard we were glad to be out of Bangkok during this holiday, it gets pretty crazy. Chiang Mai is supposed to be even worse. It is a time to cleanse the Buddha images with water, but the washing extends to all the people in the streets. There is a version of this holiday celebrated in other Southeast Asia countries such as Laos.
On the first day of Songkran we headed out of our guest house for the day. As soon as we looked into the street we realized we needed to go back in and get rid of our day pack. We placed some money and our compact camera into ziplock bags before placing them into our pockets.
We only made it a few feet out of our hotel before we received our first water blessing. People were everywhere in the streets armed with large water guns, others were using hoses from the front of their shops. Pick up trucks were traveling through the streets with barrels full of water. Anyone driving or walking past these groups of people were fair game to being soaked. Trucks packed with people would circle around the town and stop to have water fights with the street groups and with other trucks.
We stopped by May and Marks to have some lunch. They are a very close family. We saw a great sign of respect while we sat and watched the water activity on the street. A truck pulled up with a bunch of young guys in it. It turned out to be the eldest son and some of his friends.
One guy threatened to wet the daughter, but didn’t because she was working. She didn’t hesitate to sneak into the back to get a bucket and soak him though. The son did a bow to the mom and put a respectful amount of water on her arms. By this time the grandma had come from the back to check out the scene. The grandson bowed gracefully to her and gently took her hands as he rubbed a small amount of water on them. Grandma was delighted to be included in the action. She seemed to be enjoying sitting in the restaurant and watching the street activity.
As we made our way into the town center it got more intense. The park area around the river had the most activity. Several large barrels of water were set out for the kids to get into the action. The town firetrucks would come by and fill them up occasionally. The entire park had been turned into a community event with food vendors, live music and craft activities set up for the kids.
Another part of the holiday tradition is to smear a paste of baby powder and water onto the sides of people’s faces. We were warmly welcomed into the holiday and soon wore the powder on our faces with pride. At first the locals seemed a bit hesitant to get us wet. Once we were marked by the baby powder we became an attractive target. Now they were having fun playing soak the tourists! We had nothing to fight back with other than two small water bottles. They were always kind enough to let us refill the bottles from their water supply. Then they would continue to soak us again!
By late afternoon we were exhausted and had enough for the day. We made our way back to our guest house. We dripped all the way and our wet shoes squeaked with every step. We had nearly dried out as our hotel came into sight, but we were blessed a few more times before we made it to final safety.
The official holiday is three days long. Many shops and places of business close for the period or longer. The water festival only went on for the one day in Krabi. Apparently it goes on for four or five days in Chiang Mai and up to a week or longer in Laos.
It was a great experience to not only witness a different cultural holiday, but to actually participate in it. It’s so much fun, I think we should start it at home!