The Generous Road to Chiang Mai and Pai

Escaping Bangkok would be no easy task. The city is massive and trying to find a suitable spot for hitchhiking was not coming together. I’d been on foot since the apartment I’d couch surfed in after my short trip to the city, giving into temptations on my way out in the form of ice coffees, bowls of spicy rice and the like.

Somehow, I got a ride. The woman wasn’t going very far, dropping me off in a place that looked identical to where she’d picked me up as far as being a tightly packed freeway with little place to stand, walk or otherwise. Although she did write me a note in Thai which was helpful, explaining where I was going and that I was hitchhiking rather than looking to find the bus station, which is where she initially thought I was heading to as well. This would be useful if I got picked up by anyone who didn’t speak English.

I got another short ride after that from a couple who slipped me 200 baht on the way out. I walked a bit and then caught another ride from a woman still within the city, she shared some durian chips and other snacks she had before letting me out.

I walked through a market and over a pedestrian bridge before finally getting back to the main highway and just walking alongside, then finally getting the long shot ride I was hoping for. The driver was a retired Thai air force sky diver, his English was pretty good, but his wife’s was non-existent.

He told me plenty of stories and asked about mine. He wasn’t getting all the way up to Chiang Mai, but still pretty far north. Before long he was offering to let me stay with him and his family the night and insisting on getting me a bus ticket the next day to get me up to Chiang Mai. “No” was not an option.

We cruised and cruised, pausing once for a cappuccino, at last getting to his house right on to dark. He toured me around the town quickly first, pointing things out as we went. His house was surrounded by gardens and a giant rice field as well. A giant dinner was cooked up and we stayed up talking. Throughout the house were awards and photographs all dealing with sky diving. He had thousands of jumps and was involved in some of the biggest multi person jumps ever attempted.

I stayed in the extra room and slept great. In the morning we had a breakfast that rivaled the dinner. As we were getting ready to go, his wife was attempting to ask me if I needed any baht, I explained they’d done more than enough for me and I was already grateful. As we were heading to the driveway she handed me a big paper bag full of snacks and the like, along with a 200 baht crumpled up and a smile. Again, “no” was gone.

In town we found the bus station right in time and he got me a ticket then slipped me an additional 500 baht, relentless generosity. I had to rush on to the bus with thanks and goodbyes, then I was off, Chiang Mai bound, standing, sitting scrunched up, getting there.

I arrived in a light rain falling on the city. I found an internet cafe to make a phone call to Ben, a couch surfing host in town who’d offered up his spare bedroom to me. We met up and then got the most expensive meal I’d eat while being in Thailand, Mexican food of all things, but it was tasty and well worth it, especially considering the baht money that had been falling in my lap early.

We went to the market in the main square where we picked up his scooter then cruised back to his place, whiskey and conversation, then back to the market for a proper wander. By this time I’d realized that bananas were the true food of life, and if they were fried one could rightly call their surroundings heaven.

We cruised through the market like New York streets, weaving on an undefined mission, taking in the path as we cruised. More fried bananas, banana shakes, spring rolls, everything. At last we were back at the house, some more whiskey and more conversation bordering on philosophy until the night was expired.

Coffee in the morning, green curry shortly after, into town, back home, back into town again in a full listless wander. Fried bananas again, this time covered in chocolate, heaven has competition. More pad thai and a late night of writing and coding.

The late night set up a late morning, afternoon anyway, now I wanted to get up the mountain to spend some time in the small town of Pai, but I’d be back to Chiang Mai after again. Ben gave me a ride a little ways towards the edge of town on his scooter and I began wandering, pausing for coconut curry as one must do.

My first ride was a bit forced, the barrier in language had confusion talking through the window and eventually I just hopped in the car only to realize he was going a matter of a few blocks. A German/Thai woman picked me up next, she got me all the way to the turn off to Pai, grabbing some rice cakes and coconut juice for us on the way. There was a bus stop where she left me and she handed me what she said was 300 baht to cover a ticket, more generosity in the tasty country.

I waited happily, munching and sipping the juice, still thumbing cars as they came only every once in a while. I looked at the money she’d handed me and it was actually 1,200 baht, amazing. A scooter came and stopped before a bus did, a British guy who was traveling around. I hopped on back and we started to cruise. He told me about how he’d snuck into Burma only to get caught by the government and sent back out, he had a few stories like this.

We winded and twisted up the steep mountain exposing beautiful views. His bike was not liking it though, we were going extremely slow and punishing it, holding on tight as my bag wanted to pull me backward rather than let me stay on. We paused to get our bearings, and although he was willing to take me further, I told him I’d try to hitch another ride from where we were and that it would probably be faster for both of us.

I caught a ride a while later from a guy in a pickup truck, from there it was about a thirty minute drive and we passed my new friend on his scooter just as we were entering town. I got his attention and jumped out of the truck then back on to the scooter, his name was Will. He buzzed me through the small town towards a cafe where I was going to be late meeting up with a Couch Surfing host. “This is paradise!”, he told me, in love with this little place. Smiles all around, signs for mango sticky rice that I knew I’d be back for.

At the cafe there was no one, I was in fact too late. Will was staying down the street at some bungalows and told me if I couldn’t figure anything else out I might be able to stay on the hammock there. He sped off and I went into the internet cafe where they let me use the computer for free to make a skype call to the Couch Surfer I was supposed to be meeting, saying “Welcome to Pai”.

I only got a voicemail, so I said maybe we could meet up tomorrow. I walked down to the bungalows where I found Will hanging outside. He said he’d asked the owner about the hammock, but it was a no go. The other option was a single bungalow by the river I could have for the night for 120 baht, so I went for it.

I dropped my stuff off a burned into the night aiming my self right to where I’d seen the mango sticky rice sign. A chicken spring roll threw itself at me on the way, then the bliss began as I made it to the mango sticky rice I so desired. I looped around the town trying to see everything. A glance down an alley exposed a sign reading “Curry Shack”, red curry was the answer. I sat alone with the friendly Thai guy who whipped it up for me. A banana pineapple shake had to come next, this was my spot.

I walked back to the bungalows to see if anything was going on, Will was pacing around, but nothing doing yet, seemed he may be going to sleep soon. Back in town I found myself a beer to accompany my further wandering. I looped around eye balling everything a few times until finally heading back to my bungalow where I did a bit of writing and eventually passed out.

In the morning I was back in the Curry Shack, banana pancakes and coffee this time. Back at the bungalows I rested a bit more until I had to check out, the owner let me use his phone and I got in touch with Jack, the Couch Surfing host. We met up at the cafe and grabbed a coffee, talking basketball and Thailand. He was older and used to be a basketball coach and still got some local games going once in a while.

We headed back to his place for a while, back to town for pineapple rice, home again, town again. He went off with an Aussie friend while I made one more trip to Curry Shack, addicted, then finally heading back to his home again talking for a while over tea.

The morning he rode us back to town, one more cup of coffee and then we parted ways, it was time to head back to Chiang Mai after the easy going and tasty Pai visit. One last penang curry on the way out, then I caught a ride with a Thai guy and his daughter who were heading to Chiang Mai. We cruised on down the hill, stopping once where he got us coke and snacks, soon I was weaving through the Chiang Mai streets again.

Back at Ben’s I met a dutch girl who was now staying with him as well. Eventually the two of us headed into town where we met up with a friend of mine I’d never truly met yet, Suzy. We knew a lot of the same people, mostly folks who’d worked or volunteered for the Couch Surfing website at one point or another.

The three of enjoyed some drinks at a great cafe and let the chef decide what he felt like making us, my only request was “the spicier the better, kill me please”, so he came up with fried red curry and all was happy.

It was fun catching up with Suzy, meanwhile the dutch girl was set on riding an elephant and somebody who worked there had made a call and soon someone was taking her away to look at pamphlets and book a trip for the following day.

We parted with Suzy for the night and headed back to Ben’s place, she quickly fell asleep, but I stayed up until Ben was back from his day. We went out for a couple beers and stayed up talking for a while.

I met up with Suzy the next day on my own, Ben at work and the Dutch girl riding an elephant somewhere. We bounced around the city, running out of the days quick blast of heavy rain to get some noodles, found some rum, fried bananas, ice cream and all the good stuff. She was pointing some things out to me and we just carried on.

More tasty food came towards the night, pineapple curry and a mango shake, then we headed back to her apartment to relax and watch a movie before calling it a night. I headed back to Ben’s where the girl was soar from riding all day and shared the story with me.

With only a few days until my flight to Germany out of Bangkok, I’d have to begin my trip back down south the following day. Thailand had been tasty and awesome, I was eager to soak up the next few days as best as possible despite quite a bit of hitchhiking still left to do, but I was also getting excited for the next chapter, Europe.