As may of you know, we haven’t had the best luck with road trips. This time, we solved one huge problem; what do we do with our animals, more specifically, our flight risk, Zeke. Through trustedhousesitters.com we found Natalie and Eva, two lovely Irish girls who have been traveling the world, house sitting.
I was skeptical at first, yes, we would be letting two strangers into our home . . . should we lock up our belongings? Questions of doubt ran through my mind until they walked in the door. As soon as I met them, I was flooded with relief. They had done this before, the dogs immediately loved them, they asked the right questions . . a huge worry was lifted. The car was loaded up and we were out the door 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
Ahead of schedule, but without breakfast, so we stopped in a town, San Pa Yang, just 20 minutes from our house. We went to check out the buddha near the parking lot, when a police officer motioned for us to follow him. The girls thought we were finally going to see the inside of a Thai jail, but he just wanted to show us around the temple.
Every Thai village has a temple, usually reflective of the immediately surrounding prosperity, or lack thereof. Occasionally you find something really interesting. The doors of this temple had clear depictions of Kuomintang soldiers. I knew there were villages on the Burmese border with Kuomintang roots, but I didn’t know there were any settlements this close to Chiang Mai. In 1949 Kuomintang soldiers, being chased out by Mao and his communist army, in eastern China fled to found Taiwan, while solders in the west fled through Yunnan into Burma, and eventually settling in the hills of northern Thailand. These soldiers played a significant role in the history of northern Thailand, both in helping fight encroaching Chinese and Burmese communists, and later in the illegal drug trade during the infamous Golden Triangle days. We were anxious to visit Ban Ruk Thai (see the linked NY Times article "In Remote Thai Villages, Legacy of China's Lost Army Endures" ) when we were in Mae Hong Son (#thankyouandyricker), mainly to look for dishes with my favorite spicy szechwan peppercorn. So, here we were, only 20 minutes from our house, in another Kuomintang outpost that we didn’t even know about. I will definitely have to return to research this when my Thai skills are a bit better.
Once we hit the 1095 to Pai, we had 65 km of construction on steep, curvy roads. We knew about it, so we were expecting it. It took about 2 hours, 30 longer than it would have taken without the construction. As soon as we entered the Pai Valley, we were flooded with the other expected annoyance, the scooters. Herds of shirtless, sunburned, freshly tattooed 20 somethings who are notoriously in love with Pai, and Pai, in return, has opened its doors and let them have the run of the valley. Cheap guesthouses and western food, in the heaviest concentration I have yet to see in Thailand, crowd out local businesses in one section of the downtown area. We did find some great food, and yes, with my favorite szechwan peppercorns in the condiment jar, next to the local market.
Our hotel was a lovely oasis in the middle of all this craziness. Pai is known for its natural beauty, so I understood why there were so many small resorts outside of town. Definitely a better choice for our next visit, but for our first visit, I wanted to stay in town. The blindingly green valleys of rice fields, the Pai River running through town, the waterfall/swimming holes, and the huge, blue sky, Pai is stunningly beautiful. We visited the main waterfalls in the area; Pam Bok is beautifully secluded, and we did have it to ourselves for a short while until the scooters decended.
Pai also has it’s own Kuomintang outpost, Ban Santichon, which really only told me that the Thai’s are masters of concrete construction. It definitely felt more "miniture golf" than "historic village". The Chinese food was worse than ordinary. The fake Great Wall was completely cheesy, but the wulong tea grown in Thailand is very good. Just like the Taiwanese jasmine tea I tried at a Taiwanese friend’s house in Hong Kong, it was better than any jasmine tea I had ever had in China.