Ultimate frisbee is one of my favorite sports and so it was awesome to discover there was going to be a hat tournament in Chiang Mai right on the eve of songkran, Thai new years. I first started playing ultimate frisbee in Korea where I joined the ROK Ultimate league and played for two different teams in the two seasons I played there. At the first team training session I felt like I wanted to quit because all the other plays seemed to take it so much more seriously than I thought it to be. Looking back, I’m glad I decided to stick it through because I find it a great sport to have fun, to stay physically active, to meet new and interesting people, and to be part of a community that takes care of each other and knows how to have fun on and off the field, at the bar!
Unfortunately for me it seems that ultimate frisbee in Thailand is based mostly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, hundreds and hundreds of kilometers from the two towns I’ve worked in in Thailand. So after I missed the Bangkok Hat Tournament back in February because I had to work in an English camp, I made damn sure I wasn’t going to miss out on a hat tournament in Chiang Mai. I booked my flight from Bangkok months in advance and after the day in Ayutthaya, I crashed at the airport for the night and flew out bright and early the next day.
At Chiang Mai airport I was lucky enough to have arranged beforehand to meet up with another player to split a cab to the fields north of Chiang Mai at Maejo University. The other player, a Kiwi, turned out to be a pretty chill guy and we hung out in between games and at the after party events.
Once at the field it turned out that 20 people who signed up didn’t show up. This meant that there was now one less team and the teams were now mixed up to try ensure a equal strength teams. For the 1700 baht I paid to register for the tournament I got a goodie bag that had stickers, a mini water gun for songkran, a wristband reading ‘Chiang Mai ultimate’, and a couple other cool small items. I was assigned to the orange team and made my way over to their field to find them just about to start their second game.
My teammates were welcoming and I was quickly practicing my throws with one of them in order to break off the ring rust from not playing for months. Now I should say that April in Thailand is part of the hot, dry season and so the temperature was easily close to 40 Celsius which made playing that much more exhausting. Thankfully, each team had their own shaded area complete with water, a cooler of ice, and a big fan. When it came for me to play my first point for the team I did quite well. I made the catches that came my way, laid them off back to the handler, and finished by making the assist for the point. Not a bad way to introduce yourself to a new team!
We ended up losing the game on universe point I believe but it was just great to get out on the field after so long away and to be with a team that I felt comfortable with. After the game there was big buffet of Thai food laid out for all the players who, myself included, were understandably starving and thirsty from running on and off over the 2 hours of games played. Regrettably I was told by one of the organizers at lunch that I had to switch teams to help another team out with their number of guys. It was at that point where I should have realized that I could have said I wanted to stay with orange and they probably would have been ok with it, instead I switched and though it was not said, I felt some of the orange players might have been a little understandably let down that I agreed to switch. Sometimes I’m just too willing to make other people happy when I should just stand my ground. So after lunch I switched over to Team Teal, or as we became better known as, Feel the Teal.
The new team welcomed me to the fold but right away away I could feel the vibe was a little different, mostly stemming from on of the oldest and most experienced player who was taking the tournament more seriously than the other players. This turned out to be a running theme throughout the rest of the games over the weekend. At this level of competition, similar to the level I’ve played in Korea, I think the game should be more about everyone having fun, developing their skills, gaining experience, and ultimately everyone getting some time with the disc, even if it is just catching it up field and then passing it back to the handler. If this was a more competitive level than I would completely understand more playing strictly to win than to have fun, but that was not the case for this tournament. Suffice to say some members on the team and myself included, were a little overlooked and overly criticized by one or two more experienced players. Still, I did not let that issue prevent me from enjoying my field time and doing my best for the team when called upon.
One of the bizarre moments of the day came when in the afternoon a thunderstorm broke out with heavy rain and wind forcing the players off the field and under the stands. The window blew so hard it actually started blowing away all the covered areas. Thankfully it didn’t rain too long and before we all headed back out onto the field for the, shortened, remainder of the games.
After the last game all the players barrelled into the fleet of specially hired songthaews waiting for us. Teammates, briefly teammates, and others in our songthaew thought we’d be the first back to Hug Hostel, the official hostel of the 10th Annual Ultimate Frisbee Songkran Hat Tournament, but it turns out our driver was running on Thai time and despite his ride being the first full, he decided to have a couple smokes before driving. The ride back made for a good picture though!
At night we used the wristbands given to us to go to a bar and restaurant called Big Daddies. There we were greeted with an all we could eat buffet and an open bar. Having not had Western food for awhile, I had plate after plate of chicken wings and potato wedges, with a healthy amount of Leo beer to wash the food down. I even ran into some current and former ROK U alumni. Not wanting to drink too much I ended up heading back to the hostel early for a good night’s sleep, a far cry from some of the ROK U party nights!
The next day our team fought point for point each match but ultimately ended up not being able to win a game. What was more important to me was simply getting out there to play and getting to know my teammates better. In the end the tournament final was contested between the purple and green team. The final was a really competitive game with the underdogs Team Purple prevailing against the favorites Team Green, the score was 12-10 I believe.
The tournament itself I believe was very well organized and I strongly recommend it to those coming to Thailand next April around songkran time. There was the official hostel which had discounted prices for players. There was free transport to and from the fields back into the city. Plenty of food and drinks available at the field during and after games. Lots of Chiang Mai ultimate swag to buy, which I indulged in and bought a disc so I can try and practice more. The fields were in very condition and much better than I had been expecting. Games were competitive as the teams were just about even in strength as possible. The party events themselves having the free food and drinks for the Saturday and Sunday nights was a nice touch too. I think the only thing that people might have changed would have been being able to drink on the campus, because beer is an essential part of any hat tournament, alas Maejo University is a dry campus. Overall it was a great tournament to be a party of and definitely one I hope to play in again.
Do you play ultimate? What is your favorite ultimate tournament you have played in abroad? Let me know in the comments, cheers!