Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pai: I'm back, baby!

After I retrieved my bag from the minivan I ventured into town.

[Inhale. Exhale.]

Ah . . . it was good to be back in Pai. After spending 3 weeks here in March I vowed that I would return someday. I returned sooner than I'd expected, however, as that 'someday' took only 4 months. It's a great feeling - a piece of mind, really - to arrive in a city that you're familiar with, where you know the best places to eat, to drink, to socialize, to sleep, etc. Speaking of sleep, I eagerly began walking to Chai-Niz Village, located across the river, where I'd slept in a teepee for only 80 Baht. Once I arrived at the river, however, I was displeased to find that the bamboo bridges had all been washed away due to a few recent torrential storms. I had forgotten that I'd returned to Pai in the low season, and that Chai-Niz Village and its neighboring accommodations weren't open in the low season. Bummer. I was really looking forward to my teepee, too. Oh well . . .

Instead of finding a place to stay I decided that I'd go straight to the chai shop (Pai Art Design Way & Tea Place), and surprise Sandy and Otto. The main reason why I'd returned to Pai was because of Sandy and Otto and their shop. They've really created something special here. It's amazing that such a small shop can be a source of such positive energy. I haven't come across anything quite like it during my 8 months of traveling - and I've been all over Southeast Asia. And don't get me started on their chai tea. It's the best chai in Southeast Asia. Period. A friend of mine who recently traveled through India said that the chai tea at Sandy and Otto's shop is even better than the chai he had had in India. Better than India's chai tea? What does that say? It may very well be the best chai on the planet, then.

When I arrived at the shop, however, Sandy and Otto weren't there. I was told that Sandy had just stepped out, but would return shortly. So I took a seat and kicked back. Ah, yes, it was indeed good to be back. It wasn't before long that Sandy pulled up on her motorbike. I quickly sprung up from where I was sitting and stood at the entrance with my arms folded, giving a bit of a pose.

"Hello, everyone, hello," said Sandy in her thick Swedish accent as she approached the shop. "How is every . . . " she said, stopping in mid-sentence as it took her a second to register that it was me (probably because I had a beard the last time I was here). "You bastard!" she shouted. "I can't believe you're here!" I started to laugh, and we gave one another a hug. "I'm going to call Otto. He's going to be so surprised." As she was dialing Otto, now smiling, she said, "It's so funny, because I was just talking about you yesterday."

She continued.

"And you shaved! My God. The last time you were here you had a beard." All I could do was laugh and smile. I can't repeat enough: it was so great to be back.

"Otto, hey, guess who's here . . . ?"

What's also great about the chai shop is the people that it consistently attracts. The type of people I would like to meet and socialize with inevitably find their way here. In other words, I don't have to go out in search of these people. If you sit in the shop, they'll find you. Plain and simple. Margo from Canada definitely fits into this category. She had just spent 4 months in the Philippines, in a tiny fishing village on the island of Palawan. We were both excited to speak to someone who's traveled there as it's rare to meet a backpacker who has. I met many interesting people that evening, mainly Dutch. Loads of Dutch, really. I'm continually surprised at how well traveled the Dutch are. I mean the Netherlands (Holland) is such a tiny country, but you see them everywhere. Everywhere! In no particular order here are, in my opinion, the most traveled Europeans: English, Germans, French, and Dutch.

I stayed at the shop until it closed. Still needing a place to sleep, Margo recommended that I'd get a room at the guesthouse where she was staying. Once we got to her guesthouse, however, the owners were asleep. I told her that I'd go back into town where I was sure I wouldn't have a problem finding a room.

Oh, how wrong I was.

It was around midnight now, and none of the owners for any of the guesthouses in town were awake. Seriously. No one. I walked everywhere in search of a room to no avail. I finally found one place where the owner was still awake. He told me there was one bungalow available and for only 80 Baht ($2.48). Sounded great. It may have sounded great but, unfortunately, it didn't look great. Now I'm not one to be picky with rooms, especially cheap rooms. I mean I've had my share of nights during my travels where I've roughed it. But I wouldn't have slept in this bungalow even if he paid me. It had a tiny mattress on the floor about the size of the room, but with spiderwebs hanging from the mosquito net, and gecko turds all over the mattress. I was offended that he would even offer me a room like this. Seriously, do I come off as a guy who wouldn't mind sleeping in gecko excrement and under a spider infested mosquito net? Okay, don't answer that.

I had come to grips that I wasn't going to find a place tonight. It was my fault, really, as I should have found a room before going to the chai shop. So I began walking to the high school. Tonight I would be sleeping outside.

[sound of rain]

"Seriously?" I said aloud as I looked up at the dark sky. "Rain? Now?" The traveling Gods had a sick sense of humor. They were really testing me. But I had the last laugh.

As I was walking down one of the town's main drags, a bartender hollered at me. "Hey, you looking for a room?" Now this would have been a perfect opportunity to respond with a wiseass remark, but, considering my circumstances, I refrained. He called one of his friends, a Dutchman needless to say, and I was promptly picked up and escorted to his hotel, via a tuk-tuk. Eh . . . such a night.

I decided to change guesthouses and move closer to the chai shop after a few scary instances at night while returning to my room. I got fed up with the stray, vicious dogs that patrol the streets once the sun goes down. Conveniently I found a room across from the chai shop for only 100 Baht ($3.10) which included a double sized bed, television, and a bathroom with hot shower. Score!

A few nights after I arrived in Pai I went out with people from, for what I like to call, "the chai crew." Marloes from Holland was celebrating her birthday and invited everyone from the chai shop to join her and her boyfriend, David. We found ourselves that night at the Reggae Bar where we drank and danced the night away.

The original plan was to spend just a few days in Pai, then leave for a Buddhist Temple where I intended to meditate with the monks. However, I had a laundry list of things that I needed to take care of and I felt that this would be the perfect time to do just that. Furthermore, I decided to apply for my Chinese visa here rather than in Hong Kong. Speaking of which, a Chinese visa costs Americans a whopping $190 USD. Whoa! And it's not even guaranteed that you'll get approved. Huh?!?!

I was extremely nervous that I wouldn't get approved for my Chinese visa. Furthermore, I was worried that my Passport wouldn't be delivered on time. Time was of the essence as I had to leave Pai on Monday, May 26 and it was now Thursday, May 22 - and still . . . no Passport. The agency said to come back on Friday, which I did. Twice. Luckily the second time was the charm. I was ecstatic to have my Passport and approved Chinese visa safely in hand. Man, what a piece of mind. I walked back to the chai shop to give them the news.

"Did it arrive? Did it arrive?" People asked as I approached the shop. I whipped out my Passport where I had it opened to the page of my Chinese visa. "Approved!'' I said waiving it in the air, followed by a quick dance in the street. I was quite happy to say the least.

That night I hung around the chai shop for a few hours before Sandy asked if I would like to take a walk with her as she passed out flyers for the shop. I was game. So we headed out. And as we were walking down one of the busy streets a guy ran up to us. With his head slightly tilted and a curious expression written all over his face, he asked " I'm sorry, but . . . Adam?"

"No way!" I said smiling, followed by an enormous hug, laughing. It was Morten, my friend I'd met and traveled with in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia! I'd written about our travels in the blog, entitled "Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Week 2 of 2." How crazy is that, right? So random. So, so random.

Morten joined me and a few people from the chai crew at a local bar where we enjoyed a few drinks while listening to some live music. It was great to have Morten in Pai. "I can't believe you're here, man!" I frequently repeated. And for the next few hours we talked about what we've been up to since we'd last seen each other. Good times.

After Morten called it a night, I decided to join Leona (Korean) and Joost (Dutch), both chai crew members, who were going to another bar to listen to music. Leona drove her motorbike while I rode on the back of Joost's. It had recently rained and the temperature was pleasantly cool, especially as we approached 35kms/hr on the motorbike with the wind blowing in my face.

And what was such a delightful night quickly turned disastrous. For unknown reasons as we were passing Leona - maybe to avoid a slick patch in the road, who knows? - she came over on us. And Leona, who had ear phones on, didn't hear us approaching and, thus, collided into my left shoulder sending her airborne and into the pavement - hard.

[sound of crash]

"Oh my God!" I yelled to Joost, "Leona just crashed!" He quickly pulled over and I sprinted to Leona who I frightenly found laying in the middle of the road, face down and not moving. "Leona! Are you okay?" I hollered.

No response.

"Leona? Can you hear me?"

Again, no response nor movement. Suddenly we were surrounded by curious bystanders who had just witnessed the devastating crash.

"Leona? I hollered for the third time. This time we received a response. "Uhhh . . . " Leona moaned. After inquiring if she'd thought she'd broken anything and if she thought she could move, we slowly helped her stand up. It had appeared that she'd only scratched and cut herself. Nevertheless, Joost took her to the nearby hospital on his motorbike. I found my way by foot. Joost was waiting in the lobby as they cleaned and bandaged Leona's wounds. What a close call. It certainly was an unexpected turn of events. I was happy that Leona managed to escape any serious injuries. Phew!

Once again, I had an extremely enjoyable experience in Pai. I can't believe that I spent another 3 weeks here. It wasn't my intention to spend this much time here. It really wasn't. But I'm not surprised that I did. However, unlike the last time I was here, I feel ready to leave. I really feel as if I'm entering a new chapter in my travels. And after nearly 9 months of traveling I still don't see myself returning home in the near, near future. I'm also really anxious to meet up with my cousin in Macau, where we'll travel to Hong Kong and China. I'm glad that I'll be sharing my next upcoming adventures with her. It'll be nice to join forces with another Daigle. There's really nothing quite like family.

I'll end this entry with a song called "Sweet Lullaby" by Deep Forest. Sandy and Otto would always play this song for me when I visited, and the song will forever remind me of them and their shop and the many, many great experiences that I've had while in Pai.

I love Pai.


Pai Art Design Way & Tea Shop is on FaceBook:!/group.php?gid=424722374324&ref=ts

Next Stop: Macau, Hong Kong & China.

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