The hills approaching Pai
"FOO!" What? Did he just call us fools? "Foo! Foo!" Well, quite right too I guess. "We foo!" Oh wait. Right. I geddit. You're FULL. Greeeat. No room at the inn. Or the next one... or the one next door, or behind, or the one after that... or the one over the river, by the river. On the river? Any room there? I'll happily float in my sleeping bag liner. We're gettin' desperate here! "Foo foo foo!". It's the eve of New Years Eve. Jon, Paul and I have just rolled into town (17.00), the town being the hill-encircled far northern town of Pai and we are struggling to find a place to put our packs down; a pot to p*ss in; a place, a squat, a dive, a dig, a space of any shape, comfort or description where we'll be able to lay our drunken bones to rest over the coming days.
The beautiful hills and scenic bamboo bridge over the river Pai,
too bursting. "Foo"
to the f**king brim. Even the many that raise our hopes up high with sounds outside proclaiming 'Rooms Available' turn out to be cruel illusions for they are "foo" too. What we gonna do?
We suspected that this could be a problem. Even though this is the 'western' new year, it's still heralds a 5 day national holiday for the Thai nation. Pai once a firmly established part of the super-chilled, marijuana-dazed Southeast Asian hippy trail, has become over the last three years or so the trendy holiday destination for young Thais and their families. Predominantly the wealthier strata of Thai society. The few streets that comprise the centre of Pai will be full to choking with super-flash, super clean and super sized 4 X 4 Toyota and Mistubishi people carriers.
The place is going to be chaotic and busy and noisy and brilliant in the coming days. Most of the Thais, one theory goes, pile up here for their New Years in part to escape the suffocating drunken excesses of the farang (foreigner) invasion of Bangkok
and the southern beaches for their parties at this time. Whatever the social weather, it's busy and we didn't book ahead, we're royally screwed on accommodation and the sun's goin' down as our efforts take us further and further outta town.
Fiiinally and not so far from the action that it will hamper our fun we're saved by a real darling. Well, Darling to be precise. A 40-somethin' (probably, yanevercantell!) Thai lady who runs the large Darling View Guest House up on one of the slopes behind and above the eastern concourse of the river Pai.
Sun down and moon.
Frankly - and I'm sure she wouldn't mind me sayin' - she's as nutty as a fruitcake. "So, um, do you have any rooms available?". "Weeelcome to Darling hee-hee!!".
"Yes, um, thank you... so err, are there any rooms here at all?". "Darling, YEEES I am Darling!". "Oh I see..." "Darling View Guest House, thaaat's me!". "Riiiight. Um, any rooms?". "Yes Darling.
..". "GREAT! So you're not foo?!". "Yes Darling!". "Is that "yes" there are rooms?". "No. Yes, yes I am Darling View and Eric he saved me!
". "???!!". "ERIC! Eriiiiic he saved me, he saved me!".
"Oh, umm? That's great...err...". "The waters they came. Yes Darling they came. Water. Big water. And eric he was French and he saved me!!!". "Oh, errr...". "Il me souvrir! Il sauvre ma vie!". "Oh indeed that's great Darling. Lovely Darling. Um, Darling would you be able to give us a room, or anywhere to sleep for a night or two nights?!"
Lantern lit restaurant in Pai
"Yes Darling. I am Darling. darling View Guest House..." "Indeed Darling...". "And Darling she like farang. Other people here they not like farang. They say foo, foo, foo. But Eric, he saved me and farang, they help me rebuild Darling View after the waters, they came.
So Darling like farang! hee-hee-hee
Is he about to go and sniff the other dog's butt?! Probably. Dirty dogs! :)
!". "Great so we can stay here???!". "Yes Eric saved Darling. Darling will save the nice farang!" "Great! Thank you soooo much, we were getting desperate there!". "Here is my darling Eric's hat...look!"
Darling points to a reverentially hung white sailors cap that apparently belonged to the now legendry farang, Eric, a french sailor who jumped into the swollen waters of the river Pai when it flooded about half a decade ago sweeping Darling's old guest house away, and nearly her too. Were it not for Eric. He and others helped to build the impressively large Darling View Guest House to replace the old one. This time farther back up the slopes of Pai, consequentlty commanding some of the nest views in town from its grand wooden strut, balcony house and terrace.
Motor bike (abstract)
Thank you Darling. Thank you Eric...I guess?
The timings worked out just grand. We thankfully dump our stuff in the large communal room where we have a mattress each. And we're happy even for that small mercy. This place is perfectly placed for an incredible view of the hilly surrouonds of Pai, and the town below as the sun goes down. It's been a long day. The long mini-van ride from Chiang Mai takes you along a muderously winding road through the hills of northern Thailand. The scenery grows greener and greener and more beautiful the further north you go. Normally the snake-like writhings of the road would not have bothered me in the slightest but both Paul and I awoke at Spicythai this morning knowing that our immune systems were gonna be spending the best part of the day dealing with something slightly more insidious than road sickness.
Paul (front) and Jon with recovery beers.
Mercifully these rumblings in the tums never amount to anything serious.
Pai has a great, exciting celebratory feel permeating the air all around. We stroll across the bamboo bridge into a town lit with lanterns and smiles. The streets are packed with children with balloons and bags of snacks. Two large ceremonial dogs(men in suits)? dragons? I dunno? jump into the street and dance about for the entertainment of the crowds. Brightly coloured bags, hats and clothes are laid out like little fallen rainbows all about upon the ground for peoples consideration. Jon, Paul and I weave our way through the crowds trying to take it all in... and of course in search of a much needed beer. Recovery beers are soon being transfused into our systems at a very funky open front bar where a very groovy Thai jazz/ rock band blast out some fine tunes until late at night.
Light up those smiiiiiles!
Heading back in the direction of Darling we cross the river Pai via a larger, stone-clad bridge. Here we stop and observe for the first time fully, something that will become a common and beautiful sight of the coming holiday period. The lighting and releasing of large tissue-paper lanterns into the nights skies of Pai. A young couple, complete with comedy wooly hats each (a panda and a polar bear head respectively I think?) stand in the middle of the bridge. One lover holds the tisse-paper 'sock' up high and pinches it into shape whilst the other lover lights the small ring of combustible material that is suspende by wire from the bottom of the lantern. Smile glow red upon their faces in the glow of the heat-fattening lantern. When their time is right, and hot air has filled the red lantern enough they release their little paper satelite into the air.
We all stare and stare as it floats far and away and way, way, way up there.
A large firecracker explodes on the brisge behind us, scaring the absolute crap outta me and snapping me back from my thoughts of floating way up high abovve Pai like a paper lantern, gliding gently through the sky.