Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pai, Thailand

Pai is a quiet town in Northern Thailand. The type where a few years ago the police had nothing better to do than kick the dogs off of the stoop. Recently it's become popular with backpackers, but they still don't have much to do. You can walk thru the main part of town at 11:30pm and feel like you're the only one there alive. Typically though, I found myself walking home closer to 4am as luckily I found that there is one (and only one) place to go hang out after hours. Upon arriving in Pai I was escorted on a moto across the Pai river to the bungalow where I would tender my stay. My very own river front pad where you really felt away from it all and close to the environment.

I spent a lot of time there reading and watching the Pai river flow gently downstream as the occasional bamboo raft or saffron robed monks passed by with beautiful lush moutains framing the valley.

They had a flash flood recently which knocked out a considerable percentage of the bungalows along the river. A concern that I didn't overlook, but since everything was rebuilt on stilts I felt it was not a huge concern. Of course, I was ready to high tail it out of there at the first sign of rain clouds. Fortunately though, after the morning sun burnt off the daily morning mist it was nothing but bright sunshine followed by a few downright chilly nights.

After dumping my packs off I crossed back over the river via the newly constructed 2 foot wide bamboo bridge and ran into Dave (England working in Holland) whom we had met in Chiang Mai a few days earlier. We walked into town for food and drinks and so I could get a feel for my new surroundings. Spent a good part of the evening just sitting at a sidewalk table sipping Heinikens and watching Pai pass on by. A group of older Americans (Lake Tahoe) sat down with us and I was shocked but happy to hear that the one's Thai girlfriend who looked 13 was in fact 24. I.D. please.

The next day I spent walking all over the town and towards evening I was starting to wonder if I would stay much longer. The town is Chill. Very Chill. I just wasn't used to the pace. I needed to find something or someone interesting to pass the time. So I walked around in a bored state searching every table in every bar or restaurant for someone having a converstation I could intrude upon. But it was a quiet night. Apparently the town was bustling a few days ago for New Years, but now a vacumn has been created by the mass exodus.

I saw in one dimly lit restaurant two girls and one guy having a conversation which looked promising. But I made the mistake of going to grab an ice coffee and when I returned they were gone and the restuarant was shut tight. Not to worry though, our paths would soon cross.
Continuing on I was suprised to have yet another unlikely rendevous with Shimrit, an Israeli girl (with friend) whom I had taken a Reiki class with in Mcleod Ganj, India some 4 or 5 months previous. Small world. I joined them for some food at Mama Falafel (They are Israeli!) and we left with two Thai girls joining us for drinks at Ting Tang.

The staff at Ting Tang were exceptionally warm and friendly as were the fires to warm up next to. I was talking with a few English/Aussie guys when the trio I had spotted earlier walked in. A few minutes later I managed to muscle in on their conversation, but it didn't take much. Brad (S. African living in Germany) and Ali (D.C.) were engrossed in each other so her friend Cate (NYC) was more than happy to have someone to talk with.

We talked until they kicked us out and all made plans to meet for breakfast and rent motos to have a look at the surrounding waterfalls and have a soak in the hot springs. So we ate our eggs and porridge and then each rented motos (~$2.50\day). Cate wasn't very experienced riding and Ali had never been on a moto so Brad and I gave the girls a quick lesson and then we were off hoping for the best.

First stop, Hot Springs. Up near the top the water is hot enough to boil eggs, but below a French couple pointed out a "romatic" pool where we had a nice time soaking in the hot tub like natural spring waters.

There were two drawbacks though. One was the tiny little leeches, but they're harmless. The other were smaller pin worms which Brad first noticed. We didn't think much about them (there weren't any danger or warning signs, at least we hadn't noticed any.) until later that night when Brad reported that he had pissed one out!! Great! Brad checked with a doctor the next day and found out that they are harmless unless they get inside you. So he got some antibiotics and since I felt reasonably sure that nothing had entered me I gambled that I was right and just kept a close watch for any symptoms. So far so good.

Second stop was Pai Canyon where we forced the girls into a crash course in off roading. They made us proud. Unfortunately, Brad was nursing a particularly sore ankle as the result of a crash sustained while trying to keep up the previous day with a Thai motocross champ so we didn't hike through the canyon.

Third stop was to the Mor Paeng Waterfall. After a beautiful 10km ride through the Thai scenery we arrived and stripped down for a dip. The water was freezing so all we dipped was our feet and had a short climb up the waterfall. On the road in all the native town woman were raising their hands up to their mouths, making a smoking gesture. It took me a minute to realize that they weren't asking for smokes, but were indeed selling smoke! We were having a really great time with the girls so it was very disappointing that they had to leave on the 3:30pm bus out of town. They nearly missed that bus due to the fact that Ali was riding very slow. Not that we would have minded. I learned later that she was going slow because on the ride up to the waterfall she nearly had a serious crash into a pole. Full on speed wobbles. Brad couldn't fathom how she pulled out of it, but luckily she did. Later Brad wouldn't be as lucky.

So we dropped the girls off at the bus station and said our farewells, had some lunch and got back on the motos to check out one last waterfall. After crawling at a snails pace with the girls all morning we took the opportunity to eek out every last bit of horsepower the 125cc motos had. Reaching speeds of 100km/hr we were having a great time and turned onto the rode to the waterfall. We were screaming through twisty turns with me in the lead when I noticed that the next tight turn was covered in sand. Uh Oh!! I have plenty of riding experience and knew straight away we were in a serious predicament. Realizing straight away that if we tried to negotiate the turn in our lane we would have slid out straight away and probably been decapitated by the gaurd rail. Without the tires and horsepower to power slide the rear tire around oval track style I deduced our only chance for survival would be to use both lanes and the outside shoulder. I only hoped that Brad would follow my line. He did.

I managed to remain upright and safe, but Brad had to get on the brakes the last few feet to avoid running up my back and had a low speed lay down. His front wheel gently bumping my rear wheel as he came to a stop sustaining some nice scraps on his one good leg, hands , hip and strained his shoulder. Nothing serious, but what would have been serious is if the huge truck that stopped 10 ft. in front of us had come 2 seconds earlier. In that case you would probably have been reading about this in an obituary instead of a blog! Needless to say we didn't get to the waterfall, but instead headed back to patch Brad up and count our blessings. We found a pharmacy and the local sweet lady behind the counter donned rubber gloves and played the role of nurse. She even threw in some pain killers, gratis.

The next morning I made sure to get to that last waterfall before returning the moto. Later in the week we attended the big concert in town. "Caraboo", Thailands favorite band was in town. Of course, the lyrics were all in Thai so although they were a decent band we enjoyed the opening band's rock and reggae covers more.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing during the days and visiting mainly two bars. The Blue Lagoon, an Aussie SAS expat's bar with the only decent pool table in town and some live music. I even got to sit in on congas for a few songs. Undoubtably though the most entertaining place in town was Bebop. They have a really talented house band and we were treated one night to an equally talented jazz band. Bebop closes down at 1am so normally afterwards we would wind up at Bamboo light which is the afterhours bar I mentioned earlier. Sit back around the fires and socialize with the other night owls till the wee hours of the morning.
When I first arrived in Pai I was wondering if I'd stay even two days. In the end I spent over a week there! Once you slow down to the pace it really is a nice place to spend time. Just don't get cocky on the motos!!!!

Pics posting shortly.......