Easy Rider moment of the trip
10/02/2009 - 10/05/2009 84 °F
Pai is a not so secret town about 150 kilometers northwest of Chaing Mai. It sits about fifty kilometers from the Burmese border, sheltered in a valley, surrounded by green mountains and divided by several local rivers. As so often happens, the ex-pat hippies took one look at the surroundings around Pai, and before you know it, Pai was the not-so-secret secret enclave of hippie backpackers and permanent nature loving ex-pats. Between Pai and Chaing Mai are various small villages but mostly wilderness. The road winds up and down with s-turns and switchbacks galore. I decided this would be a good road to motorbike through and got myself what amounted to a zupped up scooter. It was a semi-automatic, so I had gear control, something I felt I needed for the mountains. The drive was tiring, but at the same time liberating. I also had the motorbike while in Pai, which allowed me to get out even further to the Burmese tribal villages that dot the border lands.
A quick note, Burma is in the midst of junta control. The regime has existed since the mid sixties, and the reports I have received are of religious and social oppression. The tribes I saw along the border in Thailand are emigrees who are left in a purgatory type position. They want nothing to do with Burma, but they have no real identity and certainly can not obtain Thai citizenship. The roads in the north are controlled by the Thai army, I went through many checkpoints. They do not care about me, they care about Burmese heading further into Thailand. The situation for these people is not great, but honestly, the villagers are really established towns and they have existed for generations for this has gone on for over fifty years now. Its just that they are more or less stuck in this little corner of the world with no real country to call home.
So I spent one day biking through the villages, trying to do the National Geographic photo op thing with villagers. I snuck in a kayaking trip down a swollen river, remember this is the rainy season. The great thing about this was the spontaneity. I wanted to visit this giant cave and I knew they held kayaking trips down the river which went into the cave and back out the other end. Not only was the river rapids more intense than anything I did in New Zealand, I was alone with a guide whose only word of english was 'paddle'. I doubt the 'company' had much insurance if you know what I mean, but alls well that ended well.
I also got lucky in that my weekend in Pai coincided with the end of the Buddhist three month Lent. Im not sure exactly what happens during those three months, but I know that certain monks must remain inside the temples and there are various restrictions on alcohol and food consumption. So the end is marked by a big street fair, I got to see free Muay Thai boxing, something I had regretted missing in Bangkok, and I got to see a giant beetles fight each other....dont ask, I have pictures.
Pai also brings a strange social element. It was filled with Thai nationals who vacation there, but also has a vibrant ex-pat and backpacker scene. The scene is strange in that its one of those towns where you end up developing packs and cliques. Lots of ex-pats own natural food shops or bars or herbal remedy stores and I got the sense that I was a stranger in their community. On some nights the conversation was easy and the mood was relaxed and all was well. On others, the bar scene was everyone sitting down around tables, subdued reggae playing, not exactly the best place to insert yourself into a conversation. I should add that Pai sits within an infamous opium trade around the burma border, and the effects of this location are evident within the ex-pat community.
Still, the overall impression of Pai is immensely positive. I would have stayed for many more days and will definitely be back. Its a beautiful place with a great mix of Thai culture along with the comforts of western civilization should you need them.