08.12.2012 87 °F
It’s a warm Sunday afternoon back down here in Chang Mai and after spending several days up north in the cold mountains I’m happy to be back in the warmth. Pai (the correct spelling) was a 3 hour bus ride to the north up through and into the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The curves were so treacherous that they didn’t even run large buses up there, but rather mini vans. The driver drove like a bat out of hell and racing up the mountain while passing other vehicles around blind curves just added to the overall adventure.
Hitting Pai midafternoon I quickly realized the hostel I was planning on staying at was full as were many other of the places in this small town. This is the “long weekend” for the locals meaning they have Monday off of work so many Thai’s flock to this favorite destination. Usually when getting off the bus/van there are a million drivers who approach you trying to get you to stay at one of their guesthouses. These places give them a nice little commission once you book in so there is usually never a problem finding accommodation quickly. However, this time was different and not a single person offered me a place. I strapped on my pack and just starting walking in a random direction and after 20 minutes I came to a cool looking place by the river. It didn’t seem open and the old signage on the front indicated it was once a bar/restaurant. There were 2 noisy dogs barking at the front and I made my way past them to see what the deal was. Before getting to this place I had passed several other places closer to town, but they were all full. A tall, skinny, middle aged man, covered in bamboo picked tattoos warmly welcomed me in very broken English. A wrist shaped size dread was twisted on the top of his head to form a bee-hive type shape. Naturally I knew I had stumbled upon someplace great and a little off the beaten path. For 150 baht a night (about $5 USD) I called this place home for the next 3 nights. I was in a large dorm room by myself and there were no beds, just sleeping pads that were rolled onto the floor and covered in fresh linens. There were no locks on the doors and the building was partially open so there was a serious camping feel to the whole thing. There was a shower outside and it overlooked the river. Taking a shower while jamming out to the Dead’s Terrapin station, while watching a family weaving bamboo thatch into some device was a pretty cool feeling.
Well it turned out that this dude was simply helping/watching the guesthouse while his friend was down in Bangkok taking care of some business. The place was sold to her not all that long ago and she was in the process of fixing it up from a restaurant/bar and into a dormitory style guesthouse. They weren’t going out of their way to bring in business, but since I stumbled down their path he was more than happy to have me. It was cold at night, real cold since Pai was in the mountains and my dwelling was partially exposed to the elements. No worries though as he gave me a thick cover, and I layered myself from head to toe in clothes, and to top it off I have a sleeping bag that’s of average thickness. In the morning there was ice in my bottled water and your breath was clearly visible. Every morning the fog was super thick until the sun came up and warmed everything up.
During the day that temps were very warm and perfect for renting a bike and exploring this town and its outer lying areas. I rented a bike for 4 days and rode many many km’s. I met some really friendly people in Pai while sipping on drinks at a couple of the local watering holes. Locals and travelers alike were friendly and this place had a serious Asheville vibe combined with a sprinkle of Nimbin, AU. One day an Austrian fellow and I ventured to a local, kind of hidden actually, swimming pool. It was a big pool and the grassy area surrounding the pool was not very large, so it wasn’t super crowded. We sat out there until the sun went down enjoying the sights and the sun. Leaving before the cold came through we rode our bikes back into town and that was the highlight of the day.
Nighttime in Pai was pretty laidback and the epicenter of the action was the night market which was located in the middle of the city. Several streets were closed off to cars and this is where the food vendors, craftsmen, and street performers took up any and all real estate that was available. I sampled many different types of food of all varieties. My favorite was the beautiful sushi that was being made. It was set out on two different levels of a street cart. You could choose different pieces depending on the level or price it rested on. I loaded up a Styrofoam container with 12-15 pieces for around $3 USD. There were no tables to sit down at so one must walk down the street while eating. It was even tough to find a curb to sit down on, so weaving in and out of people while munching down on this sushi with chopsticks in hand become a bit of a ritual during my 4 day stint. A couple of drinks and laughs here and there after the night market each night and that was that.
I arrived back in Chang Mai yesterday evening and was very fortunate that the guesthouse I had stayed at prior had a room available since the long weekend brought in so many tourists. The descent back down through the mountains was just as fun and was lucky to see the sun setting over these glorious mountains. The overnight train into Bangkok is booked full so I am forced to take a bus from Chang Mai to Bangkok. Tomorrow morning I pick up my passport from the Indian embassy, hangout around the city during the day, and then catch the overnight bus into Bangkok which leaves here around 7pm. I was pumped to take the overnight train as it would be my first time travelling in such manner, but I have a feeling there will be many overnight train experiences throughout India.
Next posting will be from a little place by the name of Calcutta in about 5 or 6 days. Until we meet again, stay cool out there.