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Pai II: Muay Thai and Motorbike Accidents

It’s rare that I handle a blog post while still in the midst of an experience. But I’m in my favorite café in Pai, carrot shake in hand, taking notes in my Moleskin (#stuffwhitepeoplelike) about my time here, and digesting 45 THB worth of strong coffee and jok, a traditional Thai meal reminiscent of porridge but loaded with a ton of fixin’s. In short, life, as it currently stands, is good. Besides, tonight I depart for Chiang Khong, a border town between Thailand and Laos, before bouncing into the latter for seven to ten days. So, while I may still be in the midst of an experience, it’s a good time to take a breather.

Besides, I just finished a grueling—and mainly enjoyable—week at a muay thai camp in Pai.

Muay thai, also sometimes called thai boxing, is a combat sport that combines striking with one’s fists, elbows, knees, and shins along with upright grappling, called the clinch. While definitely not the most popular sport it Thailand, it is still the national sport, and it seems like many males I’ve come across here have some, even rudimentary, knowledge of it. At its highest level, muay thai involves brutal ass-kicking, tremendous stamina, and impressive will-power. At every level, though, it encourages supportive and productive camaraderie.

On Thursday, September 29, I boarded an overnight bus to Chiang Mai with a new friend who’s set to live in Thailand until December 23. I considered myself lucky to have some company because I thought I’d be spending the next twenty-five days—my break between semesters—alone. I wanted to do a muay thai camp before I left Thailand, which precluded me from joining friends’ trips to Vietnam, Malaysia, or elsewhere. I don’t mind traveling alone—or at least I didn’t think I would—so I dived into planning and coordinating Pai and, afterwards, Laos. Needless to say, though, I welcomed the company, especially from someone as chatty, enthusiastic, and fun as her. She’s a great travel-buddy, as far as I’m concerned.

To take advantage, I of course fell asleep for the majority of the bus ride and left her to enjoy bus-ridden insomnia. Don’t blame me; I was exhausted from grading and packing frenzies. Besides, chivalry is dead.

From the bus, we hitched a van to Pai and arrived by 1 p.m., allowing me to partake in the afternoon training session. (Most gyms have two-a-days. The one at which I trained, Rose Gym, trains for two hours at 8 a.m. and again at 4 p.m.) Since I had a tiny bungalow at the camp, we found the friend a guesthouse and chowed down on a massive mess-plate of vegetarian food for 35 THB, including some of the best roasted pumpkin I’ve ever had.

Blow me.

When I called one of the gym’s proprietors to coordinate getting to the camp, I discovered some terrible news: the bridge that conveniently lead to the gym from town had been washed away after Myanmar lifted a dam to avoid flooding, causing waters to rush south into Pai. One of the main reasons I chose Rose Gym was because of that fucking bridge; it would have allowed me to easily enjoy Pai in between training sessions. Now the goddamn thing was gone and, upon recommendation, I needed to rent a motorbike. Shit.

The first day, though, I got a ride in a pickup from some lovely people associated with Rose Gym. There, I threw my shit in my bare-bones bungalow, changed, and got right to training.

Shower;

Pooper;

Sleeper.

Damn, son, it felt good to be back. I expected a hell of a time getting my body acclimated: I trained in muay thai for a year—more than two years ago—and have had only a smattering of training sessions since then. Plus, Pai is at one ass-end of the Himalayas, and I was worried about training at a higher altitude since I have a history of asthma, even if it’s been mainly dormant for the past eight or so years. Anyway, I did just fine. My stamina held—probably thanks to my irregular triathlon training—and the trainer and I immediately had a rapport, as I mostly understood how he held the pads. Of course, I was rusty as shit, but not so rusty as to be useless.

A fellow student, an Australian, generously took me back into town on his motorbike so I could meet up with my friend. She and I spent the night walking around Pai and bar hopping (but no booze for me). We stayed up pretty late talking about absolute bullshit, but thankful bullshit, since it meant I wasn’t talking to myself. I also had to sleep in her room, since I didn’t have a motorbike and walking to the camp was out of the question.

Why was it out of the question? On a bike, the camp is fifteen to twenty minutes away, half of which is along a very hilly mud/dirt path riddled with trenches. The trip fucking sucks on a motorbike, and would probably be just as bad—and slower—on foot.

I woke early so I could rent a motorbike and find my way to camp before the morning session. Here, I made two wise decisions: to rent for only one week and to buy insurance for 40-THB-extra a day.

“Does this insurance cover everything?” I asked the employee at the motorbike-rental place.

“Yes,” she assured me. Considering I had been on a motorized two-wheel vehicle only once before, I thought the insurance-for-everything was a smart move.

Suspicion confirmed.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Around twenty or thirty minutes after I rented the bike, I motherfucking crashed it. I took a wrong left onto a wrong dirt road, turned around, and skidded from dirt to gravel—all on steep inclines. My touchy accelerator got the best of me and the back of my bike went right as I went left—and down. I opened up my left elbow and foot and scraped my left knee. Plus, I shattered the left side-view mirror and maybe cracked the front bumper.

Small, but it bled for weeks.

Again, smart move with the insurance, me.

All said, the wounds, however bloody, were pretty superficial; the crash was mainly a blow to my ego. However, the planned two weeks at the camp took a big hit: because of the scrapes, I could no longer kick, knee, or elbow with my left side without immediate searing pain.

The walk.

I treated the wounds with alcohol at least three times a day, but I was still worried about them, especially the one on my foot. As I said, the walk to and from the camp involved mostly mud—luckily, mainly dried dirt by the end of the week—which meant that four times a day (leaving and arriving from the camp after each training session), I dunked my open wound in mud.

Holy hell did I want that bridge.

The cuts stop oozing a day or two ago—five or six days after the accident—which is a good sign? It still hurts to walk, since the one on the foot is at the upper end, and thus stretches open with the first steps after a rest.

Most of all, though, I was pissed about training. I came to Rose to kick the ever-loving shit out things (and have this action returned), not to be forced to wear a shin guard and worry each time I cranked my left leg.

After the morning training, I was really discouraged and angered. I wanted to go back into town for much needed food, but it fucking began to rain, and the last thing I wanted was to deal with were those hills, freshly muddy. Instead, I did what any sensible angry person does: nap.

And I napped again after lunch, because life was just that paralyzingly boring.

Thus far, my choice to train in Pai was backfiring: in one day, I had as many naps as meals, was bleeding like a stuck pig, limping all over the place, and hating my requisite mode of transportation.

An appropriate fucking metaphor: a view from my bungalow.

After a few harried hours of consideration, I decided to do only one week at Rose instead of the planned two. There was no way my leg would be fine enough to kick as hard as I needed to in two weeks, and I was overly frustrated with my other conditions.

Thankfully, I found balanced contentment by the end of the week. But we’re not there yet.

A more complete view, metaphor.

Afternoon practice normally ended by 6:15 p.m., and the sun is pretty much set by 6:35 p.m. Consequently, I had to use the flashlight on my cell phone—the main perk when I bought it!—to navigate the five minute walk to my bike through somewhat-footpathed fields. I mentioned the stunningly clear Pai sky in my first post about town; the wonderful blackness was no different this time. Unlike before, though, I now had to find my way to my motorbike on foot in order to get into town—all in a blanket of goddamn utter darkness.

Once in town, though, things got better—as they tended to do while my friend was in Pai. She had signed up for a two-day mahout training course at Thom’s, per my recommendation, and wanted to relax after four hours on an elephant’s back. We ate and chilled with another student from Rose who was leaving for Chiang Mai the next day. We finally landed at Nancy Bar, an over-the-top reggae and weed themed bar with—as if it needs saying—a 100% relaxed atmosphere. I once again stayed with the friend—she was lodged at Thom’s, in the same bungalow I had—because driving back was wholly unappealing.  Besides, Sunday was my day off from training.

And what a day off it was.

The friend persuaded—well, slightly coerced—me to do another tour at Thom’s. I was pretty reluctant since I had done the walk once before and enjoyed it mainly because my best friend in Thailand was so affectively joyous. However, it was the elephant or be bored off of my balls, so I chose the elephant.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Pom Paem

The two of us shared Pom Paem, the elephant that my elephant-loving friend spent her time loving my first time at Thom’s. This elephant is smaller than either that I rode, making this second experience much more comfortable—no ham problems. Additionally, the entire vibe was different: the tour was just me, my friend, the mahout, and Pom Paem; we didn’t have the large group that I had the first time. She and I just sat and bullshat, looking forward to the river and rodeo, which was exactly as fun as it was previously. The current was hella strong, though, so making one’s way back to Pom Paem after being thrown off felt like a light workout.

Soaked, giddy, and back at Thom’s, we ate lunch with two couples—one from England by way of Slovenia and one from Denmark—whom my friend had met the preceding day. The two couples are extensive travelers, and the Slovenian one was in the middle of a ten-month tour of Southeast Asia. I was impressed by their intrepidness, as they were set on not blazing through the region, but instead spending as much time in each country as they could, absorbing as much as possible. The pair has a pretty awesome blog, Rice Capades 2011 – 2012, as well. You should follow them as they make their ways through the region—and tear out toured countries from their Lonely Planet in the process.

Next: hot spring, nap, shower, and riding with my friend back into town on my motorbike. The same group met for dinner and headed to Ting Tong, another relaxed bar that also had couches and was showing some (reportedly) important soccer game.

Although I had completed only three training sessions, I was nevertheless fucking exhausted. Sunday, with all of its relaxed and subtle glee, was a complete rejuvenation.

From here on, I hit my stride with training. My energy levels remained mostly high and I was even put in charge of stretching. Also, two new trainees arrived on Monday—a Dutch girl and a Swiss guy—and stayed for three or four days. Both had a year-and-a-half of training under their belts, including short stints at camps in Thailand. The two were pretty good—definitely better than me—and the guy got me pretty good in two bouts of sparring. For better or worse, I was the only one who trained both sessions every day, so I think I milked the most out of the lead trainer, Lon—who had yet to be joined by Em, who didn’t arrive until Tuesday. 

Em and Lon

A watchful eye

The French friend left Monday afternoon, leaving me to my own devices. The Slovenian couple were in town for another day, however, so I met up with them while the guy was getting the eye of one of the elephant’s from Thom’s, Ot, tattooed on the inside of his left bicep. I met them for final hour of his two-and-a-half-hour session, and was blown away by the final product. After much shopping, they went to Cross Tattoo, whose artist and proprietor was finishing his fine arts degree—a qualification that was entirely evident in the final product.

I also hit my stride with life in Pai. I enjoyed old favorites—smoothies at Baan Pai Restaurant; falafel at Mama Falafel; coffee at Cake Go O @ Pai (where I spent too much time blogging and reading)—while exploring even more of the city. On a few occasions, I purposefully wandered off of the two or three main roads and into the surrounding area. Wandering like this in Pai is like driving ten minutes off the Vegas strip: shit changes. As a result, I discovered awesome and cheap noodle places, a small Vietnamese restaurant, and a carnival that seemed to pop up from nowhere. Much like the salted fish that my good friend and I discovered in Pai the first time I came, there is a surprising amount this town has to offer beyond conspicuous hippie hideaways, picturesque scenery, and waterfalls. Indeed, there is a Thailand up here.

Life, in between

In between training sessions, I didn’t do much of anything worth discussing. I plowed through, and loved, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, blogged, walked, drank coffee, opened William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for the third time to begin research for a hopeful article, and ate and ate and ate. This final activity may have been the best part of the camp. I feel the healthiest I have in awhile (minus all of the lower-body pain), but I also ate my face off to ensure I had necessary energy stores for pad work. I even regularly indulged in sweets (well, baked goods and large amounts of roasted bananas), which is normally uncharacteristic of me.

During the week, my feelings on Pai wavered—typically in rhythm with how much my body hurt. Looking back at my Moleskin, there is an entire section beginning “*Less in love with Pai,” but which was later punctuated with the city’s better points in the page’s nearby margins. Yes, the city is sleepy and quiet and small, but that’s why I came. Yes, the city has way too many hippies and other farangs—so many that I’d wager the center of town has as many foreigners as Thais at some hours—but this presence has encouraged a wealth of food and drink choices, including outstanding vegetarian fare. Come to think of it, I think I’ve maintained a vegetarian diet since I arrived (save the occasional overdose of nam pla, or ‘fish sauce’, which I’ve also consciously avoided). In retrospect, Pai and Rose Gym are ideal places to train, as your mind and body stay focused while still being allowed to wander and relax. (Plus, Lon is awesome for someone who isn’t quite refined enough to get in the ring.) Someone shouldn’t come here if he/she wants to train and live it up, but definitely if he/she wants to train, do some personal work, and relax in between—and maybe explore less-trod paths.

Friday, October 7, was my last day of training—and training was training. For thirteen sessions, Lon was committed to making me better and ignored the fact that I was at Rose for merely a week and was not going to fight. Naturally, I wanted to say thank you, and figured buying Lon and Em dinner was as good a choice as any for someone living on the baht. The three of us, along with two other (new) trainees, enjoyed heaping plates of Thai food at Buffalo, a dusky outdoor bar/restaurant on the outskirts of the main part of Pai. Dinner was quiet, thanks to the language barrier, but it was good.

In between silences, I calculated a rough estimate of the work done during my thirteen sessions. Here are the estimates:

  • 8,000 reps on the jump rope
  • 780 right kicks
  • 520 left kicks
  • 390 elbows
  • 650 jabs
  • 500 crosses
  • 900 front kicks, both legs
  • 910 pushups
  • 1,625 reps of ab work
  • 13,000 swear words

I’m pretty sure I’m low-balling these numbers a bit, since I’m only calculating what was done on the pads and bags, and not during shadow boxing or warm-ups.

And Rose doesn’t even have organized morning-runs.

It’s crazy to think that some people do this—train twice a day—as a career. The main trainer, Lon, started muay thai when he was 8 years old. At the time of this blog, he was 22.

Friday was also when I stumbled across the carnival. The other four returned to the camp, burdened with morning practice. I chose to freely stroll after enjoying my first beer in a week—and quickly saw all of the same shit I had been seeing for nearly seven days. For a moment, I considered driving back to my bungalow—until, that is, I spotted what I thought was a muay thai ring two blocks away from one of Pai’s main roads.

Beyond curious, I decided to walk to it.

Muay thai ring, no. Tiny town-carnival with janky rides and enough sweets to give a dentist a stroke, yes.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Enthused carny

I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, which was good until the final quarter, and thoroughly enjoyed Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, so potentially creepy carnivals set in clearings have a weird, literary allure for me. Plus, they’re just kind of fun. I milled around with my point-and-shoot for a bit before being grabbed by a carny who demanded that I take photos of her and myself with her.

Later, while watching a pair of pétanque games, a clearly drunk guy pulled me over from my lonely spot on the grass, offered my whiskey (which I declined), and proceeded to talk to me in Thai while introducing me to his friends. In Thai, I kept saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t have Thai language”—verbiage which itself indicates a lack of proficiency—but Pipers whiskey and hospitality had taken over and he didn’t give damn, thankfully. I stayed for ten minutes or so, making the same hoots and hollers at good tosses, but decided to leave before things got too drunk. (I wasn’t drinking since I had to drive back to camp.)

I began the cruise back to my bungalow pretty elated. I had just capped off my week of training with a dinner with new friends, dug deeper in Pai to avoid its hippie caricature, and was now pretty comfortable on the motorbike, even on back roads. I had gone so far as to begin constructing mental sentences for this blog about how goddamn pro I was.

Until, you know, dharma upended my bike from between my legs as I proceeded cautiously down a steep hill.

Yup. I got into a second fucking accident. This time (I think), my bike went strangely over a rock or other unseen terrain, causing it to jerk forward and left just enough to twist the throttle under my braced right hand. The bike therefore accelerated out from under me and went straight and up. I was going downhill, so had been rearing back to compensate for gravity. I fell off and to the right.

The injuries weren’t nearly as bad this time (except those to the ego, which were exponentially larger), but I did fuck up my right leg a bit, which was already fucked up from so many kicks. After twenty minutes or so, the leg, from the top of the shin to the beginning of my toes, swelled up pretty good but with little to no pain. Dr. SF’s diagnosis: nothing broken. Prognosis: return the fucking motorbike.

Indeed, I counted myself really lucky: the awkward terrain could have easily created a fulcrum around which my leg could have broken, I could have had my dSLR with me, I could have had my netbook with me, or I could have left my helmet behind as my trainer encouraged me to do (but I wouldn’t have fucking dreamed of). Besides, I think my head slammed on the ground, so score one for me and helmet companies.

Accidents considered, I wasn’t afraid of the bike; I know traveling around Pai is unique because of the road conditions. But I also know when to throw in the towel and take a break—and the second accident, however mild, was enough of a signal for me. So I shit-canned my plans to cruise around to waterfalls and other sites in favor of working in my café, Café Go O @ Pai, and kicking back.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Saturday morning, I got the photos of training I’d been putting off all week—and was blessed with proper lighting. Afterwards, my plan was to grab a so-called Vegetarian American Breakfast—a veggie omelet and toast—an idea I formulated to console myself as I fell asleep the night before with a throbbing right leg. Once in town, though, I scrapped that idea in favor of jok with coffee stronger than motor oil, the second best breakfast I’ve had in Thailand. Until then, I’d been eating and loving instant jok, but the sodium therein was making my teeth chatter. Now that I’ve had the real deal, though, I don’t know if I can ever go back.

For lunch, I had the aforementioned Vegetarian American Breakfast. It was more than twice as expensive as the jok and coffee, didn’t taste nearly as good, and, most importantly, reaffirmed what I and so many others have already discovered: eat local, dumbass.

Play it cool, boy. Real cool.

It’s Monday and I’m still in Pai. I have been super productive here and dived pretty deep into the street food. Plus, I had been hanging out with a South African guy I trained with for a couple days at the camp, so I haven’t been utterly alone and talking to myself. I just bought a minivan ticket to Chiang Khong and I don’t need to be back to work until October 24, so there’s still plenty of time to explore Laos.

As of now, I’m relaxed, industrious, and sated.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Happiness, Muay Thai, Thailand

 

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Not the “Bachelorette,” but Chiang Mai and Pai

It has been a frustratingly busy several weeks. Among midterms, quizzes, and daily assignments, grading has been successfully punching me in the stomach. But, some of the work came from freelance copyediting for my uncle, which led to a pretty nice payday. Shwing.

Several weeks ago, on Thursday, 28 July, I got back from a fiveish-day trip to northern Thailand, namely Chiang Mai and Pai. If you watched the most recent season of The Bachelorette, they shot in Chiang Mai—or so I’m told. It’s where they, reportedly, filmed the human meat—er, contestants—riding elephants.

Chiang Mai

Leading up to my trip to Chiang Mai, I was super excited. I remember sitting on the beach in Koh Chang and buzzing about the upcoming trip north—even bragging to my friend about it. In fact, I think I bounced a little from anticipation at one point. Everything I heard about the city made me thing it was exactly what I was wanted out of a location: good, eclectic food; tons of music options; English-capable but not English-centric; and a slow, easygoing feel. Moreover, the city is situated near beautiful mountains and has a mix of old and new, as it was a central thoroughfare and trading post centuries ago. Inside the larger, new city is the remnants of the old city, complete with defensive walls. I even researched jobs at Chiang Mai University, which has an English program (presumably literature, my love, and not as a second language, my vehicle).

Thapet Gate

By the time I was on the van to Pai, I was pretty disappointed by Chiang Mai. I think it was more our fault than the city’s—my group and I tried to jam ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag while there—coupled with a collection of frustrating misfortunes. Nevertheless, I figure a warning is in order in case my ensuing tone isn’t ultra excited.

Pai, on the other hand, is in my top five favorite places on earth. But we need to get there first, don’t we?.

Chiang Mai is, at the least, a nine-and-a-half hour bus ride from Bangkok. Consequently, an overnight bus is the best option.

Get on. Read. iPod. Sleep. Get off.

The group—four people, including me—took an overnight bus on Saturday, 23 July, that left around 11:30 p.m. from Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal and cost 615 baht. I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin—a fucking excellent book that I recommend to everyone, ever—and vamped a forthcoming playlist, Because of Thailand, to perfection. Around 9 a.m., I woke up in Chiang Mai. Score one for my sleeping abilities.

Around 9:10 a.m., the frustrations began. I didn’t have enough money to cover breakfast, so I walked to an ATM associated with my bank. It was having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.” I walked to two more ATMS, one of which was another belonging to my bank. Both were having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.”

Bullshit.

There must have been some problem all-around, since my friends and other people on whom I spied were having the same issue. The ATMs weren’t back online until sometime around noon. Thankfully.

But, also, bullshit.

We found a recommended guesthouse, Malak House, which was a ten-minute walk from of Thapet Gate at the eastern end of the old city. Split with a friend, we paid 200 baht a night for perfectly bare-bones accommodations: cold shower, squatter toilet, and a near mattress-less bed. Honestly, I’m not complaining. As far as simplicity goes, the Malak House was a great place to stay. The owners spoke fairly good English and were incredibly helpful without being obnoxious. More importantly, its location was great: cafes, restaurants, food carts, sites, and everything else were within a short walk of Malak House.

Settled-in and understandably exhausted, the lot of us still wanted to absorb Chiang Mai. We knew we wouldn’t be in the city for long, so we had little choice but to drain it dry if we didn’t want to return disappointed (wakka wakka wakka, indeed). We did an aimless walking tour of a few wats and their contents.

At one—I believe it was Wat Bupparam—was a woman selling birds-to-be-released for forty baht. As a hangover from my (missed) vegetarian days, I hated seeing these birds in cages. Also, could you say no to her smile? Of course I bought a cage and released the three birds therein. Later, a friend told me that these birds are trained to return to a trainer so that they may be caged and sold again. Paint me duped.

Flight.

And we walked some more.

Flowers.

Monked.

By this day, 24 July, 2011, I had been in Thailand for more than two months without a Thai massage. Aside from the eight-week long class I took in undergrad and any friendly gestures from friends, I had also been without a massage for my 24 years on this planet.

Things needed to change.

Near Malak House was the Muan Parlor, a massage parlor with really cheap rates and a really talented masseuse. I’m pretty sure they gave me the biggest girl in the place to contort and kick my ass, all of which were entirely necessary and welcomed. I opted for the one-hour massage for 170 baht, knowing I’m hard-pressed to focus on anything for more than thirty minutes. After dim lights, a pair of over-sized pajamas, and a big-boned woman trying to rip my legs out, I left the Muan Parlor feeling like a brand new, if not slightly bent, human being. While I don’t think they’re not the mythic gift from the gods some people tout them to be, Thai massages are a great break from the tourist-stroll.

Next on the agenda was the Sunday market. Lonely Planet makes a big deal of the weekend night markets in Chiang Mai. Taking their often not-totally-misleading advice, we grabbed some roadies at the 7-11 and walked to the Sunday night market, conveniently located just inside Thapet Gate.

In short, swing-and-a-miss, Lonely Planet. The market was chock-full of the same, ultra touristy, tchotchke nonsense and totally bereft of redemptive street food. I had no intentions of actually buying anything; I merely wanted to walk amid a sea of human beings who were bartering, buying, selling, and capitalisming. The Sunday night market ended up being a bunch of farangs paying whatever was pitched to them. The place had no character, despite the roadies’ best efforts.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not even sure Thailand has an expression to cover ‘open container laws’, so drinks are drank.

We came back to the Malak House sometime around 11 p.m. and, as for myself, somewhat deflated. After a final nightcap on the guesthouse’s rooftop bar, we went to bed. After all, we were getting picked up for an all-day trek at 8 a.m.

The all-day trek that would firmly plant its foot on our throats, press, and twist—somewhat to my pleasure.

Monday was our friend’s birthday. The day prior, we scheduled a hike through some of Chiang Mai’s jungle-y mountains. The birthday girl is admittedly not-outdoorsy and had never been on a hike. By 9 a.m., we were off on our trek, led by our 19-year-old, nimble, and somewhat crazed tour guide, Tom.

Tom, the guide

It’d be ridiculous to describe the whole hike to you in minute detail. Basically, we were mobile from 9 a.m. until 4:30 or 5 p.m., two hours of which were spent hanging out in and around a tiny waterfall. In fact, it’s probably more appropriate to call the site an elevated waterroll.  The walk itself was grueling: a full day spent negotiating often-narrow footpaths wide enough to fit one and half humans across it—sometimes less—hoping you didn’t slip and eat shit down the side of a rocky mountain overlaid with jungle.

Actually, aforementioned shit eating almost happened about an hour into the hike. We were making our ways up and down a slippery fucking mud pit of slippery mud while holding onto a janky bamboo-handrail—a certifiable miracle in the middle of this jungle—when my friend lost her footing and almost fell down the side of the mountain, breaking every bone in her body and probably dying a couple times as well. If it weren’t for my ninja reflexes and paternal awareness of others’ safety, I’d have one fewer friend and one more memorial group on Facebook.

Unfortunately, my camera stayed necessarily buried during the entire walk because one hand on a camera was one fewer hand available to balance and save friends’ lives.

After three hours, we stopped at the waterroll: a chilly and welcomed respite from the trek. While we swam and shot the breeze, Tom foraged and cooked. We ended up eating instant noodles and cabbage out of bamboo cups with bamboo chopsticks: wild style. I think I ate two or three helpings simply because I could.

Tom's bridge to lunch.

Refreshing waterroll, up which I climbed.

Chef Tom

Tom’s foraging abilities didn’t end with noodles. Four times on the trip, he surprised us with fruit, both picked and found/maybe stolen. The fruit sucked most of the time—Tom had a difficult time distinguishing between ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter as a jockstrap’—but it was fun to have him pop out of nowhere with something to eat.

Tummies full, it was back to walking and not dying. After more jungle walking, we ended up navigating a wide expanse of rice fields. Here are the few remaining pictures I have from the trek. [pics of rice fields/ whole trek]

By the end of the hike, we were all exhausted. Most of us thought it was fun, however, despite the more treacherous aspects: Tom’s nimble and experienced self hauling ass like it was some kind of race; intermittent rain, especially at the end of the journey, making the already slippery fucking mud pits of slippery mud even worse. While I enjoyed the trek and appreciated the strain, our not-outdoorsy birthday girl didn’t mince words, “Fuck this fucking shit. I’m never going on a hike again.”

Remember when I said I didn’t think I could handle a two-hour massage? Times have changed, my friend; times have changed. After getting back to Chiang Mai proper and getting a little bit of food, I allowed Miss Big Bones at Muan Parlor to harass the shit out of me for two hours—and loved every second of it. Afterwards, the masseuses invited me outside to eat some fruit with them—not even kind of a euphemism—while my two friends finished their respective massages.

Motherfucking goddamn victory.

After some truly delicious Mexican food at Miguel’s, it was time for bed. Monday sucked the life out of me (also not a euphemism), but it was rewarding.

Tuesday began well enough. I found Nice Kitchen, a tremendous cafe place with delicious coffee and huge, reasonably priced breakfasts. Over a caffe americano, eggs, and a fruit place, I graded midterms and anticipated our 2 p.m. van to Pai. It was marvelous.

And then I lost my motherfucking ATM card.

While the others strolled around the old city, I frantically retraced my steps, looking for the debit card—with no success. I had just enough money to get back to my dorm, so I called my friends and told them I was heading back. To be honest, I wasn’t too bummed about the prospect of returning to Bang Na; Chiang Mai proved to be a letdown and truncating the trip was somewhat tempting. My good friend, however, told me she’d fund the rest of the vacation—an idea I hated for so many reasons, but one for which I owe her significantly more than baht. (The final tally was 2,923 baht, by the way.)

Pai, like I said, rocketed to my top-five list of favorite places. It’s tiny—the entire town can be walked in 20 – 30 minutes—but loaded with things I want. It was sleepy, full of food, and scenic. There were, lamentably, a few too many culturally irresponsible hippies—aren’t they all?—but Pai wouldn’t have been the same without this dirty presence. Actually, if I could somehow have the city extricated of its Haight-Ashbury tumor, I may return and never leave.

I had been warned by several people about the van to Pai: it’s impossibly winding; I’ll get sick; the drivers are nuts—so I was a little curious about what the journey had in store. Luckily, I didn’t vomit, but there were puke bags hooked on to the seat in front of me just in case.

Pai bus station

Three hours later, we were at the bus station in Pai, where we waited for our escort. While in Chiang Mai, I booked an excursion at Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp. Elephants are thing to do in the North, but they tend to run about 2500 baht in Chiang Mai, which is way too rich for my blood. My good friend, however, loves elephants; she even has an elephant-shaped birthmark on her hip that she insists is a tattoo. (Liar.) So, not riding elephants wasn’t an option. After we sussed out the situation and discovered that elephant tours in Pai cost less than half of those in Chiang Mai, she and I agreed that Thom’s would be the best choice—and we were effing right (if one can audaciously announce a ‘best’ without experiencing any others).

Thom—a welcoming, friendly, and helpful woman—picked us up and drove us twenty minutes south to the camp, a beautiful collection of guesthouses and rooms tucked away in a tiny, residential area.

That night—about which I will describe more below—we hung out with the mahouts, or elephant trainers, who invited us to chill out at their table. These dudes were bat-shit crazy, but in the good way. One was obsessed with hair and white, blonde women. As soon as we walked over, he put on a country music TV station and drooled over Taylor Swift. Then he started to joke about his name with the others. One was hahm yai while another was hahm lek: hahm big and hahm small. The mahouts were dudes, so it didn’t much insight to glean that they were talking about their dicks.

Vocabulary word scored.

The antics were fun, but the serene intensity of that night will stick with me for a long time. Forgive the upcoming cliché, but that night was the clearest sky I have ever seen. The stars actually provided illumination. I wish I had pictures, but without a tripod such shots would have been a mere cock tease. So I left my cock unteased and kept my camera away from my face, enjoying what was above.

Wednesday morning, we were going to walk with the mahouts at 6 a.m. as they went to gather the elephants and bring them back to camp to be fed and bathed before we jumped on them for the paid portion of the tour. I stupidly set my alarm way too early—5:15 a.m.—and violently swung at my phone when it went off. It was a little too violently, however, as I rotated myself off of the bed and my face onto the edge of the metal shelf ten inches away. I had a welt on my face for two days—and chagrin in my soul for three.

This was my first time on an elephant and I was rather surprised by their texture. The top part of the elephants—especially mine, 52-year-old Phanom—is covered in coarse, thick hair, which, coupled with their abrasive hides, took a couple layers of skin off of my inner thighs. Riding them is pretty difficult too, especially if you have a pair of dangly man-bits, which I have been rocking since I was born.

The crazy, Taylor Swift-loving mahout saw my discomfort and asked me, “OK?”

“My balls. Ow!”

The mahout gave me a quizzical look.

“MY BALLS HURT.”

“Back?” he  said while pointing to his lumbar.

“Hahm! Hahm yai!” I said while pointing to my dangly man-bits.

The mahouts loved the shit out of that and nearly fell off of their elephants. Dick jokes: transcend language.

The pain was well worth it, though.  Our ride was bisected by a romp in the water with the elephants, which had been trained to spray their riders and buck them off by shaking their massive heads. Trying to hang on was futile, so it became a game of who could hang on the longest. I beat out my mahout, who ended up in the river while I hung on to the animal, screaming, “Farang!” with my fist in the air.

On the way back, when everyone was on an elephant high on an elephant, I looked back and saw my elephant-loving friend loving her elephant, Pom Paem: she was tucked up on its head and behind its ears, bent over and hugging the creature. It was pretty great to see her so gleeful, and that image is probably my favorite of the excursion.

The group checked out of Thom’s and went into town for well deserved falafel, which was as good as I’ve ever head. The four then split in half; two wanted to return back to the dorms while me and the elephant-hugger wanted to stay.

After renting a room at Charlie’s Guesthouse, a centrally located and cheap place to stay in the middle of Pai, I took a long nap while friend read. We then took to the road for food—thanks to which I had my favorite meal in Thailand.

She and I sat on the sidewalk and ate roasted, salt-cured fish and khao niao. It started to fucking pour, so we sat and ate a little longer. It was tremendous.

Next? Beers and bed, of course.

As if Pai hadn’t been supplying enough superlatives, the best part of the entire trip was Thursday. We slept in—something I never do—and got breakfast before renting motorbikes. The first place from which we tried to rent denied us because we told them I had never driven one before: truth. The second place from which we tried to rent permitted us because we told them I had driven one before: lie.

I normally try to avoid lying, especially such gratuitous and silly ones, but how the hell am I ever supposed to ride a motorbike if each place requires me to have previously ridden one? I just needed to circumvent the law this one time.

Of course, I was a little reluctant hopping onto a two-wheeled motorized vehicle for the first time. And, of course, I almost crashed within my first ten minutes of being on the bike. But reluctance quickly turned to (somewhat responsible) comfort as my friend and I travelled farther away from town.

Again, I need to fall back on the trope of inexpressibility. I know motorbikes are hardly comparable to motorcycles, so spare me any patronization or condescension. Simply, it was amazing to get on something open to the world and with wheels, able to pull over at any moment to snap a photo or look at the horizon.

For two hours, we cruised around and explored some of the outer expanses of Pai, opening up a big-ass world of photo opportunities and memories. Thankfully, my friend enjoys interrupting the flow for photos more than I do.

I even found my dream bike, which was for sale, mockingly.

Wet dream, and currently my desktop image.

By 2:30 p.m., she and I were on our way back to Chiang Mai, giddier than children on Christmasbirthdayhalloweeneve.

I’m going back to Pai; you can bet your ass on that. Yesterday, I e-mailed a couple gyms there about training muay thai for a couple weeks in October when I have a break between semesters. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time. Maybe I’ll even get some shots of the night sky.

Next: an overnight trip to Thailand’s former capital, Ayutthaya, and photos of things much, much, much older than myself.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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