A Slice of Pai and Chiang Mai
Thailand. A land full of pristine beaches, flavorful dishes, and lady boys. After a series of three flights from Kathmandu to Delhi, Delhi to Bangkok, and Bangkok to Chiang Mai, I grabbed a tuk-tuk to the Mojito House to meet up with Kate and Alex. After catching up over a few beers, we called it a night as the bar closed and I drifted to sleep dreaming of pineapple yellow curry.
The next day we hopped in one of the infamous red pickup truck taxis and made our way up the mountainside to Doi Suthep. The red taxis are essentially pickups with benches along the sides of the bed and an overhang to keep out the sun, kind of like a redneck limousine. Once we reached the top of the mountain, we climbed the stairs to the ancient temple and admired the different wood reliefs and gold trimmed statues and pagodas. From just outside the doi, there is a great view overlooking the laid back city of Chiang Mai.
Upon our return, we decided to hit up the local Sompeth market and grab some street food. Armed with a plate of pat see ew in one hand and a mango/passionfruit/dragonfruit smoothie in the other, we checked out all of the wares for sale. Everything from fried scorpions to fine art work was being offered by shrewd locals doing their best to attract our attention. On our way to the main strip of bars, we passed by a traveler playing on some type of steel drum that looked like a giant turtle shell with raised half circles around the edges. Each time that he hit a different circle, a different note was played. In synchronization with the trippy Asian/Calypso music a girl moved an orb around her hands and down her arms with incredible grace and precision.
Keeping the trippy mood alive, we hit up the THC bar, a popular bar for tourists and where many of the local university students hang out. While grabbing my first Chang at the bar, I ran into a Kiwi bloke and two Aussie chicks who invited me to join their table. When I mentioned I was from Baltimore, the Kiwi shouted, “Ahh the Baltimore Ravens!”, which the Aussie chicks misheard as “Ahh the Baltimore rapist!”. So for the rest of the night I was the Baltimore rapist amongst an ever growing group of exchange students congregating at the bar. After a while we followed the Aussie chicks, by this point there were about 8 of them, to a local dance bar. Many drinks and games of pool later I found myself talking with a group of students from the University of Delaware. Somehow Delaware had found a way to catch up with me across the world, but fortunately the students were cool and we grabbed a massive amount of street meat before parting ways. Hanging out of the tuk-tuk on the ride home, joyously belting out Bob Marley songs along with the driver, I checked the time and realized it was already 5 am. Thinking “Shit, I have to wake up early tomorrow and go play with tigers”, I realized “I get to play with tigers tomorrow!”.
5 hours later my brain awoke, functioning at less than peak capacity, and we hopped in another red taxi to check out Tiger Kingdom. At the Tiger Kingdom we entered the cage of two juvenile brother and sister tigers. We got to pet the tigers and snuggle up on the lithe beasts. The handler jokingly told me to bite the girl’s tail, which I did because sometimes you gotta bite the beast before it bites you. Tigers naturally sleep for close to 18 hours a day so they are quite a bit more docile in the Tiger Kingdom where they are awake for long stretches of time than in the wild, and there is no need for sedation to prevent the tigers from attacking. The main rules for addressing the tigers were not to touch their heads and to approach from the front so they can see you coming.
After a few days in Chiang Mai we decided to head less than 100km north to the tiny city of Pai based on numerous recommendations we had received from fellow travelers. The mini bus ride took over 3 hours to cover the distance due to the 762 curves along the way which didn’t sit too well with two of the Chinese men sharing our ride. I blasted some music to drown out the sounds of the man behind me losing his lunch, breakfast, and last night’s dinner into his plastic bag. When we arrived in Pai, we explored the city and grabbed some curry at a local joint, and I tried kombucha for the first time. Kombucha is a tonic that tastes kind of like fermented tea with a sparkling caffeinated feel that is supposed to have numerous health benefits. It definitely tastes different and delicious and I wound up ordering kombucha many more times while in Pai.
Pai is definitely one of the most laid back places that I have ever been. There are very few traffic lights and you are not constantly badgered by people trying to make a quick buck off you. While in Pai I got a bamboo tattoo from Korn at Korn’s Bamboo Tatoo and took an immediate liking to Korn and his buddies who sit outside his shop and eat and drink at night. After my tattoo was finished on the second day, I accepted Korn’s invitation to meet up for drinks and spent the night downing Leo’s, eating spicy papaya salad and fried pig’s skin, and promising to stick around for a few days to hit up a big music festival. The day of the festival I went to the tattoo shop early to find that the party had already started. A bunch of Korn’s motorcycle gang friends from the Black Monsters had arrived and were laughing merrily and drinking freely. Many shouts of “Chon Keow!” (bottoms up!) later, I hopped into the back of a truck with everyone who had no plans on drunk cycling back from the concert.
Upon arrival I waited in line at the ticket office to find out that the concert was sold out and that all scalped tickets had been sold already. Two British girls found themselves in the same predicament as me and we looked for a way to sneak into the concert. To the left, the only entrance was guarded by two military officials holding large assault rifles. At the suggestion of hopping the fence, the girls balked at the idea saying they didn’t want to be shot in the ass by Thai police. Dually noted. But luckily, 100 meters to the right of the entrance was a large unguarded exit happily waving beckoning to us to join the party.
Making my way to the front stage, which is significantly easier when you are head and shoulders taller than everyone and they get out of your way, I danced to the Thai music and sang along, butchering whatever the actual lyrics were. At one point, a group of dancers in spandex Spider Man costumes began spraying beer over the crowd and pouring shots into our mouths. A little strange, but free booze is always welcome.
The rest of the festival was spent at one of the auxiliary stages where dj’s blasted tunes I was familiar with and seemed to be the main point of attraction for foreigners like myself who couldn’t understand the Thai songs. Dancing like a maniac until the festival shut down, I realized I had long ago lost my ride home and decided to make the 8km walk back to my bungalow in Pai. The walk took a little longer than I had originally thought it would, perhaps I wasn’t walking in the straightest of lines, and after a couple of chocolate milk stops at the 7-11 I had made it back. (The first thing you’ll notice in Thai cities is the staggering number of 7-11’s on every corner. Imagine every McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway was transformed into a slurpee selling 7-11 and there would still be a couple of the convenience stores unaccounted for.)
With close to a week in Pai already in the past, I caught a night bus to Bangkok to meet up with my friend Piglet who was flying in for a couple of weeks to start another crazy adventure.