Alex is a dutch bloke, who's currently studying finance and economics at university. Caroline is a half-Swedish, half-French girl (she's lived in Sweden since age 12), who works as a secretary back home, and who's here in Thailand for a one-month holiday. I met these two great people on the bus to Chumphon (very early this morning), and I stayed with them on the ferry to Ko Tao. The three of us ended up sticking very close to each other, for almost a week on Ko Tao — we signed up for our dive course together, and the rest is history.
Mark's a chatty bloke whom I ended up sitting next to, during this evening's long bus ride from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok. Mark's an Englishman; and like myself, he's also a seasoned traveller of South America. So the two of us had a good ol' chinwag on the bus, sharing our (all-too-similar) stories and reminiscences of backpacking in the Latin World. Sadly, from Bangkok Mark's headed out of Thailand: his plan is to gradually make his way home over the next few months, by way of India and various other countries.
These two girls, and myself, all met each other randomly (and all at exactly the same time), in the staircase of my guesthouse in Chiang Mai today. Adi is an Israeli girl who works full-time for a non-profit organisation back home (and who lives on that organisation's kibbutz), and who's currently volunteering here in northern Thailand. Maria's a physiotherapist from the city of Graz, in south-east Austria — I didn't make it there back in December, but by Maria's accounts I should have. Maria was volunteering in a remote community up in Nepal, and now she's cruising around Thailand on a motorbike.
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.
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.
As well as the smiling, joking *Cluck" — whose favourite sayings are "oh my Buddha" (ostensibly because they believe in Buddha, not G-d), and "no money no honey" — we also have another guide on this trek. I don't know his real name, but I call him "Mr. Baht". He's the accountant of the tour. He enjoys telling us repeatedly, and well in advance, whenever there's an additional cost coming our way, and exactly what the amount will be. And he takes great pride in keeping a drinks tab for all of us, every night, and in meticulously tracking our purchases and in chasing down our money every morning. Mr. Baht like his money.
Of the 15 folks (including myself) that comprised my group during the Doi Inthanon trek, four others were native English speakers. The Pom couple are from fair London, and they've lived in the Canary Islands of Spain for several years, where they mainly worked in bars and partied in-between. The Canadian couple are a sweet pair from Winnipeg, which they describe as being "right in the middle of Canada", far from the big centres on both coasts.
Nobody ever found out his real name; but when asked, the loud and comical leader of our Doi Inthanon trek make a loud *cluck* noise with his tongue. Hence, he became known to us as *cluck*. *Cluck* is a real character. He enjoys introducing his tour groups to the wonders of bamboo bongs, of rock-sliding on waterfalls, and of fresh BBQ pig. He's a bit chubby, and he takes great pride in being able to make the rolls of fat on his chest "oscillate" in a way that most likely measures on the richter scale. Plus, he claims to own the largest house in the village where we had lunch today. None of us will be forgetting this bloke in a hurry.
I can't remember their names, but this young, Dutch husband-and-wife couple were two of the people with me on the Doi Inthanon trek. We became acquainted when I jumped onto a bamboo raft with them, and we remained chummy for the rest of the trip. Nice pair, and they're enjoying the hot Thai "winter" as much as all the other Europeans down here.