Pai takes the cake when it comes to attracting an eclectic bunch of travellers. I’ve heard it described as the least Thai town in the country, and I think this has some truth in it. It must at least have the highest ratio of tourists and expats to locals. This is all part of its charm though, because without the tourism Pai wouldn’t have its huge array of cute cafes, bars and shops, and it probably wouldn’t be one of the more forward thinking areas of Thailand in terms of organic food and sustainable farming.
I’m going to describe my seven neighbours to give a rough dissection of tourist society here. Let me preface this by saying that I live in bungalow number one, which is right at the entrance of the property, next to reception and the motorbike parking area. Prime position to meet, and examine the comings and goings of, the other people staying at Ice House (don’t ask. No idea. It’s not even air conditioned).
My first neighbour encounter came on my second day in Pai when I was in my bungalow and heard a very loud, close helicopter. I went out onto my balcony and saw a military helicopter circling the sky close by. Then I heard a thick French accent say, “Dey are looking for zee sexy foreigner.” I looked over to see a woman about 50 years old, blonde wavy hair, sizing me up. Lady, you are definitely too old to be hitting on me!
I met neighbour number two that afternoon when he pulled up in his motorbike. Blonde, athletic, over six feet tall, Scandinavian looking guy about twenty-five years old. I introduced myself (as you do) – he’s from Holland and speaks perfect English. Also in Pai to train in Muay Thai, but at a competing school. We got along really well and have since had a few meals together – he’s hanging out here waiting for his girlfriend to arrive in Bangkok *sigh*.
I should also say that I’ve had further opportunities to meet the neighbours because the WiFi doesn’t work in my room – I have to walk outside and down the path. After doing this several times my landlord, who doesn’t speak a word of English, brought me over a little stool to sit on, so now I sit next to the main pathway between the bungalows and the road once or twice a day to check my emails and Facebook.
I was doing this when I met neighbour number three, whose first sentence was ‘Great little things, aren’t they?’ – referring to my iPad. He introduced himself as a filmmaker from Maui, Hawaii who is in Pai making a documentary about the poetry of the Buddha. About sixty years old and a classic flower child, when I asked how long he’d been in Pai he wasn’t really sure – ‘Maybe five or six months?’. He reckons his documentary is going to make waves worldwide, it’s going to be 4D (didn’t ask what the fourth dimension was).
Neighbour four is a girl who told me she is half Swedish, half Swiss, half Austrian (??), was born and lived in Malaysia until she was eight, then lived in Sweden, but has lived in London for the past four years because she hates Sweden. She’s also training at my Muay Thai gym.
Neighbour five is a twenty-five year old ex-military man from Boston. He’s served in South Korea and Afganistan, no longer drinks alcohol because last time he did, he spent $7,000 in one weekend, and is a trained stick and knife fighter, meaning that in the Philippines he can legally carry a stick or knife. Amazingly, in the Philippines it is still considered sport for two men to fight to the death doing this.
Finally I have two neighbours who are very quiet but friendly Thais and seem to live here permanently.
The roosters should also get a mention – there are many living in the area and they don’t only crow at dawn, they crow the whole damn night and day and I swear if I had a gun I would use it.
Not a day goes by when I don’t have an interesting encounter with one of them, whether it’s breakfast with Jore (the Dutch), streaming German radio with Nathalie (the Scandinavian) or having a conversation in very broken English with Coocoo (French lady) about the cleansing properties of a vegetarian diet. Certainly makes for an interesting residence and in my opinion a fair breakdown of the people of Pai.
Soon to come: some more interesting characters of Pai who don’t live in Ice House.