Roosters all too close to my bed woke me up much earlier than I would have liked. Their voices were not remotely pleasant; they sounded like that person who thinks he or she is a great singer when in reality everyone around them wants to suffocate them with the closest pillow. All I know is that I’ve never wanted to eat chicken pie so badly in my life than in this early morning before the sun rose. After talking to the American in my room, I might have a travel buddy during my time in Burma but we shall see when the time arrives. Before leaving Pai for a day’s worth of side trips by myself, I needed to fill up with a proper meal. For breakfast I had the worst meal during my time in Thailand. What I hoped to be massaman curry, a favorite of mine, turned out to be a sweetened pineapple broth devoid of the peanuts that make the dish so special. This was a true travesty to the traveling foodie. From there I cruised to Pai canyon on the main stretch of highway now comfortable with the roads of Thailand and the deceptive power of a moped at my fingertips. Before images of the Grand Canyon pop into your head, take a few steps back. Although nothing remotely close to the mecca of all canyons, Pai canyon has its own personality and beauty highlighted by the sand covered dirt ridges and crests that rise out of the vegetated forest floor. Walking along the spine of one ridge I descended to the floor and found a dry riverbed on which I trekked for a fair distance passing many fallen, dead leaves that were the size of a small child. After unearthing myself from the forest back up to the utmost heights of the ridges, I followed the path taking in the many views the canyon had to offer. From this point as well as many in the area, I could see an untampered view of the surrounding mountains that border the hippy town of Pai. This spot will not disappoint as far as a sunset destination goes. As I left, I chatted with a Croatian and gave him some advice on what to see around Pai, mainly recreating the day prior in which I snaked up and down the mountain to the cave and more. The road took me over the Memorial Bridge, a place of remembrance in which the Japanese forced Thai villagers to build the bridge during WWII. On the way back to town I passed several elephant camps. These elephants were being ridden by tourists on the streets guided by men toting ankushas, otherwise known as elephant hooks. The sight of elephants lacking the basic freedoms that even a zoo can provide has become quite depressing the more times I lay my eyes on them. Not wasting time, I sped along with my eyes set on the sight of the white Buddha always present and within view from Pai. After taking the ritual walk up the long staircase to the Temple on the Hill, I was now face to face with the ghost white Buddha. This Buddha was the largest I have seen thus far, maybe not as tall as the reclining Buddha in Bangkok but certainly the biggest in terms of girth. Beyond the Buddha himself, the position on the hill afforded me stellar views of Pai below. I am loving my time here in Pai. I most definitely did not expect to spend as much time here as I have (more than in Bangkok or Chiang Mai) but it has delivered on all my wishes, giving me the feel and views of Northern Thailand and its magnanimous mountains. The only downside of Pai is how discovered it is by the many Westerners that have come through here. White people easily outnumber Asians here, both Thai and otherwise. After buying some bananas at the market for a snack I was back at it with no quit in sight. The next destination was Mor Paeng Waterfall. The villages that I passed were for the most part deserted with the exception of a few groups of women on the side of the road. With gestures they told me to slow down, which I did. They then began miming the act of smoking and repeating the word ‘opium’. Pai is very close to the Golden Triangle made famous by its opium fields and apparently these women were trying to sell me opium. Obviously I declined and as I left I laughed to myself by odd that was but then that humor turned to sadness knowing that these women were in such desperation for money to sell these drugs. Traveling through Thailand even for as short of a period of time as I have thus far, I know all too well how lucky and blessed I am to be born in America. In the inner cities and near suburbs of downtown, we pass the lower classes of America and wonder how they can manage. Most lower middle classes Americans have a better quality of life than the average middle class Thai. The waterfall was nice but most importantly no more than 200 meters from the trail head. With some time left before the sun would set I explored random narrow roads that caught my eye. Lending a generous turn to the throttle, I sped around each turn quicker than I expected passing more and more tourists not daring enough to smell the rubber burn. At the same time, I needed to keep a keen eye out because many Thai drivers are bold in passing other riders no matter the distance or circumstance. So at one point you might be hitting a stretch of rocky road pretty strong until at one corner the sight of a quickly expanding truck emerges. The roulette spun and landed on a Chinese village full of all the typical paper mâché lanterns and red roofs before leading me to another stunning view point of the misty mountains the quickly faded to a shady, light blue. More waterfalls followed with the next batch of tourists hunting the best place to chill and smoke a joint. I ran into an American that I talked for a short while at the viewpoint by Jabo yesterday. Apparently he was looking for the waterfall that sells opium so I acted as the drug lord’s middle man and gave him directions he couldn’t possibly veer off from. To finish of a day’s worth of sights and stories I went back to Pai Canyon for sunset. The sunset did not disappoint. Each minute as the sun quickly approached the utmost height of the mountains’ ridge brought a new, more deep set of hues. The sun began to tease all of us in attendance as it disappeared behind the clouds and stretched its rays further than I thought possible. The tops of the mountain range around Pai glowed a bright honest and deep orange before dancing the length of the rainbow through all spectrums of red, orange, and yellow until fading into the blue of the sky above. The more places I see, the more times I have a tough time letting go, always wishing not to let the memory of these sights fade as the sun setting just did for me. Before darkness completely absorbed me and the road in front of me, I took the road for likely the last time in Pai, pushing the engine one last time before saying goodbye. I arrived into town needing nourishment and so I ordered green curry and fried chayote. The green curry was quite potent to begin with but the chayote offered a nice veggie, salad-like competent to the meal. The chayote had two hidden red devils awaiting my stubborn appetite. I took a small bite out of one of the chilis and figured they were sweet chilis based on their mellow taste. With that thought in mind, I tore through both chilis whole before continuing to eat at the rest of the chayote. The fire alarm went off and the pores of my tongue opened wide as the chilis cut away at my unsuspecting tastebuds. The green curry didn’t help matters as my mouth was now vulnerable to the next wave of fire and ash. My body warmed rapidly while my forehead soon gleamed with sweat. My curiosity can get the best of me. You simply cannot put something on my plate with me taking a gander. I am like the kid that stands in front of the stove and can’t help but reach my hand towards the flame; the mystery becomes too powerful. Each further spoon of green curry tasted good but the burn hurt worse. Out of pure determination and with the help of a Thai ‘salad bar’, I finished the curry and regretted each and every last bite. My stomach rued that fateful decision, basically giving me a pair of skywards middle fingers. The rest of the night entailed rehabilitating my stomach and whatever was left of it.
Thailand Day 64: Playing With Fire