x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dodging water attacks and flying cockroaches in Chiang Mai

The nomad I was on my way to Phuket airport to fly to Bangkok when I received a telephone call from my sister Jomana.

During New Year's festivities in Thailand people celebrate by soaking each other with water.
During New Year's festivities in Thailand people celebrate by soaking each other with water.

I was on my way to Phuket airport to fly to Bangkok when I received a telephone call from my sister Jomana. I was due to meet her at the Bangkok airport before flying north together to Chiang Mai. She said was at the cinema when the lights came on during the film and everyone was asked to leave. Some people were protesting against the current prime minister and tanks could be seen on streets throughout Bangkok. Jomana said she was not frightened, but she was worried she might not make it to the airport on time - an assassination attempt had been made on the prime minister and the city's major roads were closed. So, when I arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport I was extremely glad to find Jomana waiting there. And she had already booked a room at a guest house in Chiang Mai.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai the following day we met up with my Thai friend Grid, who had also travelled north for the start of Songkran, the Thai New Year. Chiang Mai is a much older and less glitzy city than Bangkok, and it was also much more relaxing. Whereas Bangkok is filled with modern shopping malls and tall, high-rise structures, Chiang Mai's buildings are generally modest and low-rise. During the New Year's festivities - essentially a five-day party - people roam the streets with water guns and buckets filled with water, soaking any stranger that walks past them. Naturally, we felt obliged to join in.

I, along with Grid's friends, purchased a water gun, climbed into the back of his jeep and squirted motorcyclists, pedestrians, children and shop owners with water while being driven around the city. This is not to say that the people we soaked did return the favor. I must have had 10 buckets of water poured all over me and the back of the car was drenched. The pavements were filled with "bucket holders" waiting for any vehicle to stop before creeping up behind it and unloading buckets of water onto unsuspecting passengers inside.

After a good soaking that afternoon, I joined Grid and his friends for a traditional Chiang Mai noodle dish called khao soy. This is served at a few restaurants in northern Thailand and consists of a thin noodle soup mixed with chicken, shrimp or beef and topped with thicker, crispier noodles. The bowl of soup is served on a tray with other small plates piled high with different ingredients that can be added to the main dish according to taste. The ingredients include sugar, fish sauce (Thailand's equivalent of salt), sliced bananas, coconut milk and chilli. I put a sample of all the ingredients onto my soup which made it even more spicy and delicious.

The next day I was traumatised when a large cockroach landed on my arm and proceeded to march down my trousers to the floor. We had booked a three-day jungle trek in the jungle and I hoped this experience would prepare me for the variety of insects I could come across there. I can handle most insects without jumping around like a little girl, but there is something about cockroaches that makes my spine tingle. The way their long antennas move, their bodies feel hard and shell-like, and their brown wings flutter as they fly menacingly through the air, is enough to make a grown man cringe. Luckily, I don't think I'll find this kind of cockroach in the jungle - I just hope I don't find worse...

Next week: find out how Omar coped on his trek through the jungle.