Once Jesse had left for Seoul and Georgia for Myanmar, I was again alone. No big deal, since the last few weeks, I had constantly been hoping from place to place so I was overdue for a break. Not to mention that work had piled up and I had a huge backlog of experiences to commit to this travel log. So I stayed an extra day in Chiang Mia, quietly typing away in front of my computer. The next morning, I booked a shuttle to Pai.
Pai is a little town some hours north of Chiang Mai that due to its laid back atmosphere I guess, has become a backpacker haven. There is not a whole lot do there but in a sense, this is what makes this little provincial city such a proper place for taking a pause from the craziness that prevails in the rest of Thailand. Having already passed though while on my motorcycle journey, I had had a pleasant feeling about Pai so way back then I had already made the decision of coming back.
Three hours aboard a minibus on road so tortuous that I almost got carsick (having my eyes on my computer the whole time probably did not aid) and I was back in Pai. Not really knowing where I should go and stay, I had a soup at the street market and started wandering around in search of a cheap bed. After passing through a couple streets, I got intercepted by Dougall, an Australian dude who offered me a decent deal. Anxious of dropping my things and getting back to writing, I made my way to his hostel, which turned out to be decent enough and while I was filling the guest book, Dougall upon seeing that I was from Canada started to get really excited: You must be from Québec right?
Yes? He had spent more than two years in Montreal working at La Banquise (Montreal’s most famous poutine restaurant) and in the process had grown a fascination towards the city, its people and its hockey team, the Canadiens, of which he had their logo tattooed on his right calf (later he would also show me a “tabarnak” higher up on his thigh). Now married to a Thai girl, Dougall remains a hardcore fan and never misses a game and was understandably really enthusiastic that he now had someone to watch them with him on the other side of the globe. I’m not a hockey buff, but of all the televised sports on the planet, its the one I enjoy watching the most by a huge margin, with strongmen competitions coming close second. So over the course of my stay at Happy House Pai, I would watch no less that three hockey games (a personal record) and hold numerous discussions with Dougall about the Canadiens, Montreal and Québec in general. The first game saw the Canadiens catching up from a 4-1 deficit to win in overtime against Ottawa with only 5 minutes left to play and scoring the evening goal with 0.3 seconds left in the game. Dougall was bursting with joy he could no longer contain while his wife and her sister’s boyfriend were giving him perplexed looks.
Besides watching hockey, the rest of my daytime would get devoted to working and writing. Not once did I leave the premises of the hostel when the sun was up, except to go eat lunch. From the beginning of the afternoon to well in the evening I would be in front of my screen. Pausing sporadically for a quick discussion with the guests or to get a drink. Nighttime would see me become a bit more active though. The hostel was small and we had a good crowd of backpackers (mainly Dutch) which I did join for a time out in town on two occasions. One of which was to attend Pai’s very own full moon party, which had advertised itself as a trance music night, but ended up being some fire shows and a bunch of people drinking around camp fires; my kind of party. Back at the hostel and feeling like one more drink, I pulled out my bottle of “good whisky” (Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 years) and shared it with the gang on the sidewalk of a nearby street.
Pai is one of those places where people get stuck and I could have been a good candidate, but my schedule demanded that I be in Vietnam in four days so not having seen Bangkok at all, figured it would be wise to give myself enough time to visit it. Not really motivated by another sickening shuttle ride to Chiang Mai, two of my companions informed me that a rental agency in Pai had offices there so its was possible to rent a scooter for a one-way trip. Currencies in high denomination often mislead me into thinking something is expensive while in fact, after conversion it’s not. The shuttle was 150 baht while renting a bike was 640 so 25$ which for an afternoon of riding, is not so bad. Plus, they normally rent scooters but they had a semi-automatic of the type I used on my road-trip available.
Too bad it was already late when I took possession of the machine. Dougall was gone at a medical appointment so I did not get a chance to say farewell but still left a thank you note. I strapped my backpack to the backseat and hit the road. The bike, already quite old, struggled more than expected going uphill but nothing compared to carrying Georgia some days ago. Again, forest fires had made the visibility poor and had spread to much larger extent that when I first passed on this road. Around half-way, I encountered a massive traffic jam of several kilometers, to which being on a motorcycle, I was immune. A burning tree had fallen on a high-tension power line and had taken down several poles with it, blocking one entire lane with heaps of cables, concrete and metal. Anyway, I made it to Chiang Mai in one piece, stopped by the bus station to get a ticket for the night bus to Bangkok and made for the rental place where I surrendered the motorcycle. More and more I’m appreciating these Honda Dream, so ubiquitous in Thailand. Easy on gas (at least the fuel injected versions), they drive fine but above all seem to be reliable judging by the number of old versions circulating around. I wish I could have taken mine all the way down to Bangkok but no, I had to take the bus so after a small pad Thai, I was at the station patiently waiting but not looking forward to the night.