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.