About Chiang Mai’s rainy season
Let’s get one thing clear: you cannot smell the rain coming. The air is too thick, too humid, to smell anything other than the chilis or hunks of meat being cooked outside. But, you can feel it. Like, in the arthritic sense where your bones ache. And, often times, because the rain also means a drop in temps, you can also feel it in your nasal passages. Rainy season runs for a whole three-plus months. It first teases you in late April (this year we got a nice little thunderstorm during Songkran), disappears for a bit and gives way to those hotter-than-hell days, then comes back with a vengeance in early summer (also known as June-July). This year, it started in June, but only a little. July, that was the doozy of the month with regular afternoon disappearances of Doi Suthep following sticky hot mornings.
The rainy season does not mean that it rains all day, every day. In fact, maybe it rains once a day. Twice, three times if you’re lucky (I say that as someone who fully embraces the awesomeness of this time of year). Sometimes it just spits down at you. Sometimes it dumps buckets. Sometimes it is a nice, constant light rain that lasts the entire night, quietly lulling you to sleep. But, rest assured, nine out of 10 days, the sun will pull a hiding act and the rain will come down. Largely, this occurs in the afternoons and evenings. Nice, gushing summer storms. And, sometimes, there is massive flooding in the low-lying areas that quickly disipates once the clouds have rolled on to the next city.
As a visitor, what does that mean?
Don’t cancel your trip to Thailand because of a little rain. Just arm yourself accordingly with an umbrella, poncho, plastic bags to protect your technology doodads and a pair of comfortable shoes that wont squish around (gum boots or Crocs are best — yes, I mentioned Crocs). Also, a generous portion of a good attitude helps.
I am in love with the Chiang Mai rainy season. For reals.
There’s one way I can alway tell if rain is coming, besides the obvious option of checking the weather. I simply look to Doi Suthep. If the mountain is shrouded in thick, white clouds, rain is on its way. That simple.
Yet, for some reason, I always forget this little trick and am often caught sans umbrella, poncho or gum boots as soon as the first drops strike the uneven pavement in Chiang Mai.
And, I don’t mind. Not one single bit.
When the skies open up in this amazing city, I celebrate the rain. I take my friend’s daughter in my arms and spin her around as we turns our heads to the heavens, mouths agape, trying to catch the little droplets in our mouths.
I stomp through thick mud puddles at Elephant Nature Park, celebrating the childlike feelings that are triggered with the simple delight of feeling the squish of the wet soil under my feet and hearing the sloshing of my boots as they make contact with the saturated ground.
Sometimes, I even opt to wade through the roads-turned-rushing-shallow-rivers in town.
The best times during rainy season are those unplanned times. When I’m off somewhere, and the downpour hits, and instead of getting soaked upon leaving the safe sanctuary of cover, I opt to wait it out. Because, in an hour or so, after living in rainy season the year before, I know it won’t last.
Except, sometimes the effects do.
The other day, I’m at lunch with my friend, Ae, the owner of a cute little bar on Loi Kroh. She’s heading out of town for a few days and we decide to catch up over an afternoon meal. We head to an outdoor courtyard lined with restaurants and sit down — inside — because at this point, those clouds are moving fast down the mountain, racing towards the city and ready to dump their belongings on the people below.
Within the five minutes it takes to get our lunch, the skies open. The storm doesn’t even start with that slow, relaxing trickle.
It leashes out with a fury. Thick sheets of raindrops flow from the sky, pounding the pavement with monsterous force.
Bam. Bam. Bam.
I look past her and outside.
“We’re going to be here awhile,” I tell her as the deafening sound from the drops hits the roof, the ground, with angry thuds.
So, we do what I normally do when it monsoons. Wait it out. Only, after 45 minutes, it doesn’t stop. And, we don’t want to sit on the creaky old wooden chairs anymore. We head next door and do a little shopping, then manage to walk awning-to-awning to a coffee shop for another 20 minutes as the streets begin to fill with water and the onslaught of the storm rages on.
“What should we do?” I ask her.
“Up to you,” she says, smiling.
Right. Up to me.
“Well, we could walk. I have an umbrella so my phone doesn’t get wet and I don’t get drenched walking back to the office.”
“That’s fine with me,” she says. “I like the rain.”
I do, too. In fact, nothing sounds more fun than disregarding my electronic equipment in my purse and my newly purchased dress for the chance at running through the summer storm. But, it isn’t an option today.
“Or, we would take a tuk tuk or songthaew,” I suggest, surveying the dripping world around us.
“OK,” she says.
I place my emptied coffee cup back inside and we decide to brave the elements. The storm has gone on for nearly two hours, and it’s time to go back to work.
I grab my umbrella and open it and Ae places her arm around my waist as we slowly being to navigate the slick sidewalks in the Old City. We spot a tuk tuk, but it is abandoned, waters have risen to mid-wheel and the seats covered with a glimmery coat of wet.
“Well, I guess we are going to walk it,” I say to Ae as we prepare for what’s coming, even though the rain is slowly subsiding.
I look down the street towards my office.
The street is gone. In its place are rushing waters from the torrential rain. The sidewalks are crowded with people taking shelter and waiting for the waters to recede.
“Let’s just do it,” I say to her, feeling the excitement of running through calf-deep water take over my brain.
We step out into the road.
The water is tepid. Thick with debris. I feel my face scrunch up as slicks of oil and other things begin to pass over my skin. Water sloshes up the back of my legs. My feet hit potholes I can’t see.
The entire time, we giggle with delight. When cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes pass us, fanning the water out in thick bands, we pause so we don’t get splashed even worse.
Just as we are about to turn down the road to my office — and to higher ground — I stop to take a quick video of the traffic moving through the water.
That would never happen in at home.
As I film, I feel something on my foot. Something walking on it. I look down and see a cockroach, using my foot as its personal higher ground. I shriek and kick it off. Rain party over.
When we reach my office, I’m actually happier than I have been in a long time.
I guess the rainy season in Chiang Mai is happy therapy.