I may be the last Aussie on Earth to have visited; but now, at the grand conclusion of my world trip, I've finally visited Thailand. And let's face it: Thailand is the no. 1 budget travel destination in the world, and no true round-the-world backpacking trip would be complete without it. The Land of Smiles is home to sunny beach paradises, steamy tropical jungles, curry that redefines curry, a Buddhist religious heritage of great richness, cheap shopping to please anyone... and more. The only thing that remains a puzzle: what took me so long to get here?
Every bar in the world is unique: but few are as unique as Pai's "sewer bar". On the main street of Pai, they have a hilarious setup: the town's largest supermarket (not very large) is also the town's cheapest source of alcohol; and in order to cash in on this fact, they've got a long line of picnic tables and benches available right outside! So you can buy your booze for less, and not even have to worry about finding somewhere to drink it. There is one small catch — namely, the sewerage drain that runs uncovered down the side of the street, and that makes the picnic-bench area positively reek — but 'tis a small price to pay. And in my opinion (and if you have a different opinion, then you may kindly shove it up your a$$ :P), this only adds to the ambiance. There are some things you can only do in a small town in Thailand.
We were a bit hot and worn-out from our wicked motorbike ride; so this afternoon, Marie, Claire and myself cooled off by taking a dip in the Pai public pool. The pool is located up on the eastern hillside overlooking the Pai valley, and it's run by a kind old Thai couple. We met a few other people at the pool, and we splashed around for a bit; but mostly, we just ended up relaxing in the large deck chairs, enjoying the gorgeous view (and the divine sunset), sipping fresh juice, and playing cards. Life sure is strenuous here in Thailand... I don't know how much more of this I can handle :P.
I've met some insanely adventurous travellers in my time — but Sonny has got to be one of the maddest. Sonny's an English lad who's off for a year, and who's planning on doing the complete Central Asia and Middle East tour: among his intended destination countries are Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Yemen. Like myself, Sonny's well-read and opinionated in the areas of history and politics: this was a big reason why we clicked from day one, and why we never seem to run out of conversation topics. Along with Marie and Claire, I hung out with Sonny for most of my time in Pai. Assuming he survives his pioneering travels, I hope to see him again one day.
I've never had any burning desire to jump on a motorbike. I've always thought of motorbike riding as a dangerous, punked-up, reckless activity — not really my cuppa tea. And if I ever was to ride a motorbike, I sure as hell never imagined that I'd do it for the first time here in Thailand — surely, the craziest place on Earth in which to try it without prior experience! But motorbike riding is a very popular pastime in Thailand — not to mention the cheapest and quickest way to get around — and so, due to peer pressure from my friends Marie and Claire, today I threw all my fear and common-sense to the wind, and gave it a try. It was a terrifying and nerve-racking adventure, but there's no denying that it was absolutely wicked good fun.
This evening's colourful introduction to cosy Pai was a visit to the town's night market. Marie, Claire and myself went exploring the street or two that comprises the market: primarily to grab a bite to eat (actually, we grabbed several), but also just to peruse. The food is definitely one of the market's highlights: although some of the dinner-food isn't so crash hot (my "omelette and rice" dinner was rather ordinary), the snacks are incredible. The shmontses are arrayed in abundance: some of them quite amusing, althogh most of them just regular hippie junk. The highlight of the market, however, is the nightly dance show: a large group of young local Thai girls perform an elegant traditional routine, garbed in their finest silks; while their friends accompany them with flutes and violins.
While Marie, Claire and myself were perusing the Pai night market this evening, I couldn't help but notice these little fellas. Sitting in neat rows in one of the souvenir stalls, they smiled back up at me with their jet-black knitted faces, all garbed in the African colours of red, yellow and green. When I saw them, I couldn't help but smile back, and think: "holy crap, it's a bunch of Starvin' Marvins!" Sweeeet.
This was yet another savoury street snack that Marie, Claire and myself sampled at the Pai night market this evening. These pancakes are made primarily from ground corn and from coconut milk, with a bit of rice thrown in for good measure. Unlike the grilled rice pancakes, they're quite petite, and are generally sold by the dozen or half-dozen. There was a long wait for them this evening — despite the fact that they were cooking them in batches of about 100 — but our patience was well rewarded.
Grilled rice pancake was one of the many delicious, fresh-cooked street snacks that I discovered at the Pai night market this evening. Its appearance is not so appetising: it's black and flat and slimy, and it looks not unlike what I imagine a female uterus would appear like (when grilled). But don't be deterred by this: the pancake is sweet and chewy, and it's divine. Best eaten fresh off the coals, in no more than 5 bites and gulps.
These two Dutch boys were part of the super-friendly crew that kept me company, during this morning's road trip to Pai. They're two guys who are friends from back home, and who are taking a little summer break in-between their studies. For most of my time here in Pai, I kept bumping into them again and again: and each time that I saw them, both myself and them were ever more wasted.
Marie and Claire are two girls that I met on the bus to Pai this morning, and they're two great examples of encounters that you can't help but feel have something to do with fate. They're also both travelling alone; and like myself, neither of them has any particular plans for what they want to do here in Pai (apart from hanging out and seeing what all the fuss is about). Marie's a real estate agent from England, and Claire's a marketing manager from the USA. I ended up hanging out, riding bikes, and drinking a few nights away with these great ladies — when I think of Pai, I'll think of them.