Bye Pai

Just came back from a day riding around the countryside on a motorbike for most of the day. Beautiful, but hot and exhausting. For lunch we went to Sipsongpanna, a place in the village of Wiang Nur that Chris, Howie’s friend, recommended. Deelicious Thai vegetarian food, if you ever get up this way (and if you can find it!).

Yesterday Marjan and I took a Thai cooking class at Pai Cookery School. The proprietor, Gaew, was extremely gracious, knowledgeable, and patient (especially when we decided we wanted to customize the menu a bit). The class included a trip to the local market, where she told us about Thai ingredients and dishes other than what we were making. The market sells everything from papaya to roasted cicadas and various other bugs. Which reminds me – I neglected to mention that I *tried* a roasted cicada during my trek last week. (I removed the head before eating – I couldn’t bear the eyeballs.) It was…salty and crunchy and I got little legs caught in my teeth. I shan’t eat them, unless I’m under great duress.

In the evening after class we met up with Chris. We tried to meet at a bar, but they were all closed last night – no place was allowed to sell alcohol (though the markets still sold bottles) because today is election day, and the government figures if people drank they wouldn’t get up to go to the polls. That’s a new one for me.

Anyway, instead we went to a local bakery and Chris told us about his 4 years living in Pai, and how much it’s changed. Definitely interesting to hear about the place from an adopted local!

So tomorrow morning I’m on a 7am mini bus back to Chiang Mai, then on a plane down to Phuket, where the nice people at Similan Diving Safaris are sending a taxi to pick me up and bring me to them in the town of Khao Lak, on the Andaman coast. They’re even going to help me find a guesthouse nearby for Monday & Tuesday nights. Then on Wednesday I’m off on a 4-day, 4-night dive trip on the M/V Dolphin Queen to the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, Koh Bon, and Richelieu Rock. YEAH.

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plans always change…

When I as planning my trip I didn’t realize that diving in the Andaman Sea basically ends in late April, because it’s the start of the monsoon season. So I’ve had to rearrange my plans a bit. I’m going down to Khao Lak, north of Phuket, on Monday (flying direct from Chiang Mai – yeah!) to go on a liveaboard for 4 days. I’m hoping to finish off my Advanced Open Water certification on the trip as well. After the trip I’m going to head back up to Bangkok to catch a later flight to Myanmar: now I’ll be there April 29-May 20. I have no idea what the internet connectivity situation will be there, so if you want to tell me anything, tell me before the 29th!

The good news with this change in schedule is that Marjan has changed *her* plans and is coming with me! It’ll be easier and cheaper – and, frankly, safer – to have a travel buddy, so I’m psyched.

Another interesting bit of news is that Howie wrote to say that he’s got a friend in Pai, so I’m trying to get in touch with him. Never underestimate the power of local knowledge.

Anyway, let me finish up the talk of the trek and talk about what I’ve been doing here in Pai. We woke up early the next morning, had some breakfast, and set off – up a 45-degree incline once again. Good morning! I admit that Greg took my pack again until things evened out. Egads. So after about an hour or so we arrived at a place for elephant riding. Now, I’m not a big fan of riding animals as tourism, but it was part of the deal. It was OK – I think the elephants were treated well, and the ride was fun. I even bravely agreed to get off the platform saddle thing and ride on his neck/back for a while….until the bristly hairs on his neck were too much for my thighs (damned shorts!). After about 90 minutes we arrived at our final adventure: bamboo rafts down the river. I have to say, this was my favorite part of the whole thing. Boom and Greg manned the bamboo poles that steered us, and Roberta, Allison and I just lounged in the sun and splashed our feet in the water. Ahhh.

At the end of the raft trip, we jumped back into our Saangtaw and rode back to Chiang Mai. When we arrived in the city, the traffic was so bad that we had to take our bags and make a run for it across the moat and down an alley to escape the water-throwers on our way back to Eagle House.

That night (Tuesday) I slept like a log…and then woke up at 6:30 am, in time to pack and meet Marjan at the bus station for the 9 am bus here, to Pai.

Well, the electricity here just went out (it does that occasionally) and then came back on. We’ve decided to give up on the internet and go have a bite. More tomorrow!

Hippyland, Thailand

If you’re wondering where all the hippies went after Jerry Garcia died, I found them here in Pai, Thailand.

Well, that’s a little unfair. Marjan (the Dutch woman I met in Chiang Mai) and I did, after all, *just* get here after a hot, cramped, torturous, and lovely 4-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai. So before I blurt out any more ill-informed opinions about Pai, why don’t I recount what I’ve been up to.

When I last left you, I was in Chiang Mai at the beginning of 3 straight days of being soaking wet whilst celebrating Songkran, which is the Thai new year. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s “other” city – they say that while it has a slightly more northern Thai feel (in terms of architecture, food, and ethnic groups), its smaller population and more laid-back attitude allows visitors to experience to real Thailand without the struggle that characterizes doing so in Bangkok. All that said, I still don’t really know what Chiang Mai is like, because the city was shut down and turned into Water World for Songkran.

My first night in CM (Saturday) I had stayed at The Royal Guest House, which is outside the old city. Sure, it had a small pool and internet on the premises. And for a mere 300 baht (around $9.75) I was given the privilege of walking up 5 flights of stairs to a run-down room with no air-con, no hot water, no towel and no toilet paper. Gah.

In the morning (Sunday) I tried to avoid the water wars by visiting various Wats (Buddhist temples) around town. Wat Phra Singh, the main temple in the old city, was surrounded by people selling food and drink to worshipers (or followers?) who spent the day picnicking, listening to talks by monks, and watching what appeared to be hilarious, aggressively amplified amateur theater played on a makeshift stage. I escaped the shrill actors’ voices by returning to the streets, where I was greeted with buckets of Songkran cheer. I wove down side streets back to my guest house to drop off my bag (so my stuff wouldn’t get soaked) and joined in the fun.

That night I switched guest houses to Eagle House 2, where for 200 baht ($6.50) I got similar conditions but without the 5 flights or the attitude. I chose it because it’s friendly, centrally located in the old city, and it has a good reputation for organized treks to visit hill tribes in the surrounding area. I neglected to realize that in this case “centrally located” meant “sounds like the crappy cover band at the bar next door is actually playing in your bathroom.” So I was serenaded by some Thai dude’s renditions of hits by The Grateful Dead, Oasis, Nirvana, The Allman Brothers, etc. until around 1:30 am. At least the music distracted me from the sagging bed frame.

So while I haven’t been tremendously successful in getting sleep, I have been having fun. On Monday I joined a 2-day, 1-night trek organized through Eagle House to visit some villages of the Karen tribe. There were 11 of us: our guide, named Doh (heh heh); Boom (really!), the schlepper/sherpa-like guy who carried our food; Allison, a Canadian living in Bangkok and teaching Thai children at an international school; Roberta and Greg, Allison’s parents visiting from Montreal; Sam and Lisa, a lovely couple from York, England, who were on month 10 of their year-long trip around the world (again, I feel like a travel-schmuck); Cami (from Texas) and Sara (from Ohio), friends who had just finished their TOEFL teaching certification in Phuket; and then Matt, an Aussie with a British passport (or Brit with an Aussie accent?) who was in the midst of an existential crisis. He regaled us (so to speak) with conspiracy-like theories about pharma companies and the Aussie government, his hatred of capitalism and greed, the true secrets of life (there are many) and many, many, many other things.

There’s a ton to write about the trek, but right now I’m starving so I’m off to grab a bite. Also, this internet cafe lets you upload photos, so I’m hoping to add a few thousand words’ worth later today.