Many of my friends and family back home are aware of my affinity for costumes and cosplay. Naturally, one of my favorite times of the year is Halloween—where you can dress up as anything you want, party until dawn, and eat lots of candy. What’s not to love? I usually go all out every year putting a lot of time and thought into my costumes. Two of my favorites from previous Halloweens were my Frodo costume from 2009 and my King Joffrey costume from 2013…
When I realized I would be in Thailand for Halloween, missing out on all the fun parties back in New York, I was determined to find a costume to wear and party to attend. Halloween is not typical to Thai culture, so I was expecting to have to deviate the norm a bit to find a suitable costume and party. To my delight, I ended up receiving a zombie makeover, attracting the attention of many Thai locals with my undeadness, and partying with Thai people and other backpackers until the wee hours of the morning. A Halloween worthy of my high standards.
Where to celebrate?
I had multiple reasons for choosing Chiang Mai as my Halloween destination. I had heard the famous Yi Peng lantern release festival was supposed to happen at the beginning of November there. Also, everyone from Thai locals to other travelers had been telling me I must go to Pai, a small town just a few hours from Chiang Mai.
So I checked on couchsurfing.org to see if there were any local events happening in Chiang Mai for Halloween. Sure enough there was a meet-up of local travelers getting together to walk the streets as zombies and attend a big Halloween party. Now the decision was easy: I was going North.
Arriving back in Bangkok, I had just two days to make it to Chiang Mai in time for Halloween. After a short stay in a guesthouse near Khao San Road, I navigated my way to the Hua Lamphong Rail Station. Taking the overnight train in Thailand is a unique experience. It gets you from point A to B without losing a day to see other things and you get to see a bit of Thailand from the window of the train car.
I booked a second class, lower bunk. There were 4 bunks, 2 facing each other in each section of the car. I shared the space with a Hungarian couple and another solo female traveler. The outlets in the car didn’t work for charging my devices, but moving up to first class to charge them did work! I sat up there for a bit and then visited the restaurant car.
Other travelers advised I eat in the restaurant car instead of buying overpriced food from the attendants walking up and down the car. But I probably wouldn’t follow this advice again as the restaurant car’s food was still over-priced and it was pretty awful. Luckily, I had bought some snacks before boarding to hold me over.
Around 10 or 11pm, a train attendant came around to make up the bed with fresh linens, signaling it was time to quiet down and settle in for the night ride. Despite the noise and unfamiliar bounce of the train, I slept a few solid hours.
On the morning of All Hallows Eve, I looked out the window and caught a glimpse of the rice fields and jungles specific to Northern Thailand. We arrived at the Chiang Mai station around 9am. I quickly spotted a songthaew driver (red truck) holding up a sign from the hostel I had booked.
He took a few other travelers and I to Julie guesthouse—a Lonely Planet-suggested stay and one of the cheapest accommodations I found in the area—just 90 Baht (<$3) a night in their dorms. The place was decorated with comfy hammocks and cool spots to hang out with other travelers.
How I got a free zombie makeover
After a quick shower, I took to the streets of Chiang Mai to find a cosmetics store. The couchsurfers were becoming zombies and I wanted to be one, too. I’m a fan of the show Walking Dead so becoming one of the nameless, and often faceless (literally), walkers worked for me. I didn’t think it’d be too hard to concoct a little “blood” and some white and black makeup to do a quick undead look.
I found a cosmetics store which carried all the typical makeup brands as well as Thai-specific brands. Looking all over the store, I could not find any white creams to use as a base. Nearly giving up, I tapped one of the workers on the shoulder and asked her, “Do you have white makeup—like to make a zombie face?” She looked at me quizzically. Language barriers are always fun to crack! So I said, “Uhh…Halloween!” and held my hands up to my neck, stuck out my tongue, and rolled my eyes back into my head. Giggling she said, “Ahhh! Holl-ween! Yes. Come.”
She walked me over to another attendant and spoke in Thai to her. At this point, I noticed their shirts said Maybelline on them. The girl turned to me and said, “She do Halloween for you.”
“She’s going to do Halloween makeup for me?” The woman, Busaya, who would become my makeup artist, nodded her head emphatically. “How much?” “No. No pay.” “What?! Why no pay??” “Promotion! For Maybelline!” Angels began to sing in my head. Angels of DEATH, that is (this was Halloween after all).
I told her it was a little too early to have my makeover just yet. We agreed I would come by at 5pm. I walked around a bit more to try to find ingredients to make blood and some clothes to destroy but nothing worked. I would have to hope her makeup job looked bloody enough and do with the clothes I brought.
I sat in the makeup chair near the entrance of the cosmetics store where I posed while propping up my phone with an image of a girl with zombie makeup I had found online. When I was in the store earlier, I hadn’t realized most of the patrons were Thai locals. As they walked in, they couldn’t help but notice the White girl sitting there getting made up. There I was in this brightly lit cosmetics store, having a makeup artist use Maybelline products to make me look dead. It took a second for it to register, but most Thai people walking through figured out this was for the popular Farang (Westerner) holiday, Halloween. Many pointed and laughed, nodded and cheered me on saying how good it looked or wishing me a happy Halloween.
Being a walker
After I was finished, I insisted on giving Busaya a tip for her work. She wouldn’t take it, saying, “Nooo! You friend!” But I sneaked it onto her cosmetics stand anyway. Walking out of there, Thai people were doing double takes at me. As I walked down the street toward the bar where I would meet the other zombified couchsurfers, I had Thai people call out to me, ask to take my picture, and yell “Ohhh Happy Halloween!” It was just like being in New York City dressed up as some popular character people might recognize (e.g., like when people yelled “LORD OF THE RINGS!!!” at me as I walked around the city in my hobbit get-up). Only, in Thailand, my makeup was simply “Halloween” to everyone.
I arrived at the bar, Brasserie, early. I passed the time by chatting with the Thai servers and helping them do their Halloween makeup. That’s right, some Thai people also get into the Halloween spirit. In fact, hints of Halloween could be found around the city on massage parlor windows, in bars, and at store fronts. More than anything, this was most likely a part of the tourism industry catering to what foreigners want to see.
Meeting other walkers for the party
When the other couchsurfers showed up at Brasserie, we all had a beer and the event organizer, Leoni, shared her blood with us—her homemade, fake blood. It was the perfect final touch to my costume. We all stumbled down the streets of Chiang Mai together getting the attention of locals and travelers alike. We definitely entertained them as we looked like a band of "walkers" from the Walking Dead. After just a few blocks we made it to Zoe in Yellow where a huge Halloween party was in session.
There were some great costumes there. With limited availability of ready-made costumes like in the USA, some people got very creative. Many did an amazing job pulling together classic Halloween looks. Here are a few favorites:
Similar to my simple makeover, others also opted for a fun makeup job like this girl with her creepy Cheshire Cat smile:
Before entering the bar area, the event organizers took photos of everyone in their costumes for a costume contest. This is Leoni posing with the costume winner. So hilarious and creative!
I had a great night dancing, drinking, and talking to locals and travelers about their costumes. I’m glad I had a night like it to satiate my Halloween addiction! And it was exciting to learn Thai people were into it, too. Now I was ready to focus my attention on the more traditional aspects of Thai culture.