Monday, February 22, 2016

Pai Out of Town or Pai In Town?

Today was a day of travel. We left Bangkok to head to the north of Thailand. Our day started early, as we woke up at 4:30am. We had packed the night before, but still needed to get ready and head to the airport. We left our hostel and asked the concierge of the hotel at the bottom floor to call us a cab. We explicitly said we only wanted to pay by meter. Both Jessica and I had heard about cabs to the airport trying to scam you by "agreeing" to a price beforehand, not running the meter, then asking for a higher price once you arrive.

The guy called a cab who, when he told him we wanted to use the meter, shook his head and said 400TBH. We said no, we would wait. He left, and another arrived. This guy, too, refused to use the meter. We had gotten out of our room earlier than we expected, so we again refused and waited. Finally, the third cab to arrive agreed to use the meter.

We packed our stuff in and got into the cab. It seems to me that Thai drivers are all pretty crazy, but I think we had the fastest cabbie on the road Sunday morning. I pulled up the route on my phone to make sure we were heading the right direction, and he took every turn exactly as Google expected him to.

We got to the airport in blazing time, and because there was no traffic, we didn't have to use the tollway. Yay! That saved us 75TBH. When we finally got the curb at DMK, the fare on the meter was 189TBH. Less than HALF what the first cab wanted to charge us. We agreed to each throw in a 100TBH bill for a small tip. Tipping is not necessary but we felt like something small was deserved.

Once we got into the airport, the line at AirAsia for check-in was HUGE. However, we had already checked-in, and only needed to drop off our bags. The line for that was much better! We dropped them off, took advantage of the restrooms, then headed for security. The security line was super quick; the girl who checked my passport and boarding pass looked at me, then at my passport, pointed to my photo, and said "Beautiful!" Awwww :)

After we got through security (quick and easy), it was time for breakfast. We went to (gasp!) McDonalds. To be fair, though, our options were McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, KFC, and Krispy Kreme. And really, I thought what I got for breakfast was delicious! We got to our gate with a little over an hour to spare and I wrote Saturday's blog. When it was time to board the flight, we had to take a bus to the jetway. I had done something similar on another flight, although I can't remember where. We got to our seats on the plane, and I really appreciated Korean Air's ample leg room. I don't have super long legs by any means, and it was still quite cramped for me!

The flight to Chiang Mai was super short, and I read my book the entire way. When we landed, we grabbed our bags and headed into arrivals. The first thing I saw was a sign that said "bus to Pai" and thought, oh good, we need that. Then I realized underneath that on the sign was my name! I told Jessica that I'm starting to feel like a celebrity with all of these signs greeting me at airports recently!

When we got to the guy holding the sign and confirmed that we were who he was waiting for, he took off heading out of the airport. We caught up to him and asked him if we can go to the bathroom quickly, and he held up two fingers and told us strictly "Two minutes!" We nodded and rushed to find a bathroom.

Now outside the airport, we got into a mini-bus and took off. I vaguely wondered if this was our bus to Pai, but the guy told Jessica he was taking us to the bus station. Hey, nice! We were getting this transfer service because when I booked the flight, I added the bus transfer onto our tickets. We were dropped off at the bus station and boarded another mini-bus. Over the next 30 minutes before we left, the bus filled up. When we left to Pai, every seat was filled.

At first, I was reading my book. I'd gotten enthralled in it on my flight and was excited to read more. I was able to do that for a little bit, but eventually we turned onto the main highway to go to Pai, and the road started to weave.  Slowly we started climbing into the mountains and the road became more and more curved, and I got more and more nauseated. I was sitting on the "aisle" and couldn't see out of the windows well. I was seriously feeling ill when we finally pulled into a rest stop, about an hour and a half into the drive.

As we climbed out, I struck up a conversation with the girl riding in the solo seat near the front. I told her I felt sick and then asked if she wanted to switch seats so she and her boyfriend, who was in the seat behind her, could be together. Not only did she agree, she gave me some motion sickness medication! Wow, so sweet!

When we boarded back into the bus, Jessica took the seat her boyfriend had been in (also a solo seat, but behind my new seat), and she and her boyfriend took our two seats next to each other. Between the medicine and my new seating arrangement, I was starting to feel a lot better. The road was still incredibly windy with hairpin turns and the bus had to go into first gear plenty of times to chug up the steep road, but I did not throw up!

About 30 km outside Pai, we were stopped at a military checkpoint. As a soldier walked towards our bus, I wondered if we would need to show our passports, but no one said anything. The soldier opened the door and looked around. When he saw the girl who switched seats with me's boyfriend, we'll call him Bob, he said something and Bob produced his ID. The man looked it over then said something to Bob which I interpreted as "You're going to have to come with me." Bob got out of his seat and they headed towards the guard shack. I tried to see what was going on but it was on the other side of the bus, so I couldn't see too much.

After a few minutes, I saw Bob come from around the back with a small cup in his hand. I could only assume this was a urine sample, as he and the soldier sat down at a small table and waited with the cup on the table. They were talking, but I couldn't tell if it was amicable or not. The girl in the van didn't seem concerned, so I wondered if this was a common occurrence, perhaps they expected it. I thought it was maybe to do with him being Thai, but they didn't ask for her ID, or the other two older Thais in the bus. My only conclusion was that perhaps Bob was "randomly" selected for drug testing (he was tattooed and scruffy looking), OR because he was a young male, that they suspected him to dodging military service. However, I looked it up and Thailand does not conscript their soldiers, so that couldn't be it.

Ten minutes later, the girl got out of the bus and went to talk to the crowd around Bob. She came back and got her things. I expected her to take them and go wait with Bob, but she just talked to the bus driver and got into the front seat. We finally took off, leaving Bob behind with the soldiers. Since I'd spoken with the girl, I'd hoped to ask her about it when we got to the bus station. However, about 10km outside Pai, the bus pulled over and she got out and the bus left her.

Jessica and I are both absolutely dying of curiosity about this whole thing, but I suppose we'll never know the real reason, or the outcome for poor ol' Bob.

Once we arrived into Pai, we got a motorbike taxi to our guesthouse. This meant each of us on the back of a motorbike, with our luggage in tow. Jessica had her hardcase rolling suitcase in front of the driver, and I had my backpack on and smaller backpack in the basket at the front of the bike. We took off, and I definitely had a surreal moment of "Oh my gosh I am on a motorbike taxi in a tiny village in the Thai highlands!" I looked in the rear-view mirror of the taxi and all I could see is Jessica with a HUGE smile on her face.

Our guesthouse was about 2.5km from the city centre, and I hadn't realized that it would feel so "out of town". When we arrived, we asked out taxi drivers to wait and return us to the town so we could rent a motorbike. They were so kind, both older and spoke almost no English. We checked in (there was some confusion over how many rooms I booked) and headed back with them. They dropped us off at a motorbike rental store, and we inquired the price - 140TBH per day. We decided to shop around and headed towards the restaurant where our Thai cooking class was to take place.

Along the way, we asked at several motorbike rental places, and they were all most expensive. Looks like our taxi drivers knew what they were about! We got to BeBe Spice, the restaurant, and walked to the back to meet BeBe. I had made our reservation back in October or November, and was instructed to contact her the day before. However, I've since deleted my facebook and had no way to contact her other than in person. I explained to her that we had a reservation for tomorrow, and she looked confused and said she was not doing a class tomorrow.... Uh-oh! She was actually very kind and good-natured about it, which made me not fret. She offered to do it the next day, Tuesday, and since we'd planned that to be our free day, we agreed to it. SHe invited us back for dinner that night at 9pm, but we weren't sure if it was free or paid, as the cooking school pupils were making it.

After we put our deposit down, we continued to walk, as we now needed to go to the bus station and buy our ticket for returning to Chiang Mai on Wednesday. While I'd planned to leave in the morning, our cooking school offered free practice the day after your lesson, so we changed our plans to leave Wednesday afternoon in order to take advantage of the practice offered. We got two of the last three seats on the 2pm bus for Wednesday. Glad we booked it out early!!

Finally, we headed back to the original motorbike rental shop and got a bike for three days. When they showed me how to use it, I felt okay with it. However, Jessica and I had planned to ride together (she did not want to drive one) and when she got on the back, I definitely felt less confident. In fact, I felt honestly very nervous!! We took off - shakily - towards our guest house. Somehow, I managed to drive it all the way there without incident, although turning was HARD and scary!!! Jessica was very good natured and trusting!!

Once we got to the guesthouse and got off the bike, I realized how much I was shaking, both with effort of controlling the bike and with nerves. I realized that I did not want to do it again, and the thought of doing it for three days was terrifying! I felt awful doing so, but I realized I wanted to return the bike. The biggest problem with that plan was that since our guesthouse was so far out of town, it would be difficult to be spontaneous with our plans. After a bit of waffling, I decided to ask our guesthouse person to help me return the bike.

I headed down to the front desk area and the guy was super helpful and agreed to help me take it back. He even got his buddy to go along and bring us back to the guesthouse afterwards. I ran up to tell Jessica, and with this decision made, we then agreed to look into another accommodation closer to town. I found one with availability AND A/C, and booked it. Our guesthouse was only $10 per night, and the new one $27, so we agreed that being centralized and with more comfort was worth losing the $30. I then went back to tell the worker who was going to help me return the bike that we were going to check out early.

His response to my explanation that we were not going to stay there was "Hold on, let me check my schedule." Errr...? I was super confused so I followed him to the desk and asked if he understood me. He said yes, but wanted to check his schedule. I tried again to explain that we would be leaving, changing guesthouse. He again said okay, no problem. Long, broken-English story short, he wanted to give us our money back for not staying in the guesthouse. I told him it was okay, he did not have to do that. But he kept saying "I want to give back to you!" I mean, I won't turn down a refund! He explained that he would have to wait a little bit to give me the refund, which I said okay no problem. He seemed relieved.

We then got our luggage together and hopped on two motorbikes - mine and one of theirs. They dropped us at the new hotel and then went to return the bike. He returned only 10 minutes later with our refunded money - we were only out the cost of 1 day's rental plus insurance - a total of 180TBH or about $5. Phew!

All checked into our new hotel, aptly named Pai in Town, we took showers and cooled off under the A/C (I'd been roasting all day). Finally we headed into Pai to just see the town and find some food. I was now able to actually relax and enjoy this CUTE little town! I'd read wonderful things about it online, and I can definitely see the appeal. It's a slow-pace, hippy town. The weather is somewhat more pleasant than in the city, and the evenings are downright cool. We wandered the Walking Street market and I found some souvenirs to take home as well as some delicious street food. Sunday night in Pai was the first time it REALLY felt like a vacation - nothing to do, nothing to worry about, just focused on relaxing and enjoying ourselves. And, part of enjoying myself is sleeping. We called it a night at 9pm once again and, with nothing planned for the morning, enjoyed sleeping as late as we wanted.

We've got two full days plus half of Wednesday to enjoy this town and I plan to do just that: ENJOY it!


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