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balance (2): pai

Monday, December 13, 2004


the fact that there are 12 days until christmas feels less unreal in northern thailand, where i am told it is 2 degrees celsius. this means nothing to me as i can not translate to farenheit, however i can verify that it is indeed freezing when you have only a light sweater, a few tank tops, and flip flops. i sipped a guilty coffee at starbucks this morning, bemused by the christmas music in the background, and then otto and i caught the 4 hour public bus up the mountain to pai in the scant sun. the ride is beautiful, but by the time we arrived we were horribly sick from the twists and turns, combined with the clouds of exhaust fumes from a bus in front of us and an adventurous sampling of the traditional noodle dish called ‘khao soy’ at a rest stop. we staggered dizzily off the bus into the village of pai.

i had read online about a guesthouse called ‘ban nam pai’. i highly recommend it. we stayed in a gorgeously designed bungalow for 800 baht. it was elevated like a treehouse near the river with a huge comfortable bed, crisp white sheets, and a beautiful open air bathroom with a stone floor and lots of plants. it also had very hot water, which would become essential in the next two days.

every single place i have gone on this trip has ended up being in the wrong season, to my exasperation. when they say it’s high season in thailand, they mean it’s high season in bangkok and central thailand. the north is far too cold and the south far too rainy until a few weeks past the new year. otto and i were flabbergasted when we left the room to go explore the village. it was deathly cold, especially after spending so much time on a tropical island, and we were grossly underprepared. this brought out the vicious beast in us both. we snapped and snarled at each other most of the evening, between convulsive shivering. i stopped at a stall and bought socks, a hat and gloves for us both, but it did little to calm the trembling or the mood.

so not only were my favorite places in pai no longer in existence (the spectacular shan restaurant i had eaten at two years before had gone belly up, and the small ‘ja dong’ bar with the chatty owner was nowhere to be found either), but the usual fun things to do there were not accessible at this time of year either. the valley was not as beautifully green but more of a dehydrated brown. the river was freezing, so there was no tubing- ditto the green swimming pool. ditto the waterfall slide. ditto just about everything. even the hill tribe people stayed home. the one saving grace was a smiley burmese man wrapped in colorful scarves who stood on the street in front of three boiling kettles of tea. he ladled steaming ginger elixir into two stalks of bamboo (as makeshift cups) for 10 baht, and we were able to feel almost warm for about ten minutes. we walked around the shops full of hippie wares and laughed at the various hippie people traipsing by (it’s been awhile since i have seen people so decked out in thailand). we perused the small thai market. we stopped at a corner thai restaurant which was not so exposed as the other mostly open air restaurants and shared some hot soup with pork broth and some delicious cashew chicken fried with vegetables served to us by giggling burmese girls. we sauntered bravely back out into the night to try to find a warm bar- only to find all the warm bars packed to the brim with said hippies. we sighed and went back to the room by 9p, to bury ourselves under a thin blanket and sheets for the remainder of the evening.

the night was so cold, i can’t begin to explain. we suffered miserably as the wind eased itself into our room between the wooden slats of the walls. we snuggled together to get warm, and grumbled at each other for not providing enough warmth. we tried scalding hot showers and jumping back into bed, but the cold was insidious even through the layers of sheets. we put on every piece of clothing we owned. we thrashed with unsettled nightmares through the long night. ot was too cold to go to brave the trip to the bathroom and actually (to both of our embarassment) peed in the bed in the early morning. yes, it was that cold. we huddled in the dry corner of the mattress until dawn- trying to balance not being able to breathe under the covers with not being able to have our faces exposed to the air. we groaned and moaned until sunrise, and were unable to move out of bed until around 10am- an excruciating 13 hours.


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