Pai can best be described as "the Byron Bay of Thailand". Much like that beautiful and famous town on Australia's east coast, Pai is the biggest hippie retreat in Thailand, and hence is one of the most chilled-out places in the whole country. Situated north-west of Chiang Mai — deep in the mountainous jungle of Thailand's north — Pai is well-known for its music scene, for its motor-bike riding, and for the river-rafting and trekking opportunities that the surrounding forests offer. Fortunately, Pai hasn't yet been completely overrun by high-end resorts and by rich yuppies — it's 5 or 10 years behind Byron in that regard — but it's certainly on its way. As with all visitors to the town, I stayed in Pai longer than intended — and I didn't regret it one little bit.
I really should stay longer here in Pai. It's such a nice place. Anyway, despite the great friends that I've got here, and despite the urging of said friends for me to linger, tonight was my final night here: what can I say, except "the south is calling"? This evening, I enjoyed a delicious Thai curry for dinner with Sonny (can't remember the name — but it's one I've never had before), while the two of us engaged in our final heated political debate. Then, it was back to the sewer bar: it left such a good impression on us last night, that we just had to return for more.
Roti isn't a Thai dish as such — at least, not as far as I'm aware — but they've got plenty of it on the street here in Pai, and I hear that they have it elsewhere in Thailand as well. It's a very thin pancake, cooked in about 30 seconds over a hot stove (from a small handful of dough), and commonly offered with such fillings as banana, chocolate and pineapple. As well as being delicious, roti is also the perfect dessert to fill that gap in your stomach, which seems to so annoyingly form several hours after dinner. The street vendors are well aware of this magical property that their pancakes possess, and as such, they can be found flippin' and sizzlin' every night, well into the wee hours of the evening.
As of today, Marie, Claire and myself have moved out of Mr. Jan's Bungalows (cosy though they are, and nice though Mr. Jan is). Following Sonny's example, we've moved over to the Unicorn I bungalows, where we are privy to what is possibly the deal of the century. For a mere 100B/night, the Unicorn I offers quaint little bungalows (albeit rustic), in a gorgeous grassy field — plus, they let you use all the luxury facilities of the nearby (but much pricier) Unicorn II resort! The newer and flashier Unicorn II boasts such freebies as a private swimming pool, a sauna, and free Internet. If you're heading to Pai anytime soon, be sure to check out the Unicorn thing.
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.