So, from the Laos border, we crossed into Thailand and headed straight to Chiang Mai, but I'm going to write about that in my next blog... From there, we headed north to Pai, a small town in the north of Thailand, which we'd heard was a bit of a hippy haven and a great place to relax.... and boy were the rumours true! Even though it's a tourist-fest, ram jammed with people out on the streets and night, there is a distinctly laid back atmosphere in Pai, and the whole town seems to have fallen in love with art and live music... the moment we arrived, I knew I was going to love it :)
The road it Pai is very, very bendy and our driver seemed to be having a race with an imaginary rival, so it was a bit of a relief to arrive! We spent the first few days staying in a bungalow on the river. At night the streets of Pai are filled with an amazing night market selling all kinds of nic-nacs, most of which have 'Pai' written on them somewhere....
On our first day we took the 'Wok with Tee' cooking class, which was absolutely brilliant... It was me, Tom and Mike and a couple of French-Canadian guys... in the morning we all worked on our curry paste recipes and then made a noodle dish which we ate for lunch... then we had a break and went back to cook up our curry dishes and salads with a few beers... it was brilliant because we all made a different kind of curry so we had a bit of a buffet with each dish. Then Tee (our wonderful teacher and host) asked us questions about the recipes, and if we got the answer wrong we had to drink a shot of Thai whiskey... so we were all sozzled by the time we left to go to a bar together... All in all it was a fantastic day - Tee is a great teacher and the class had a really nice, laid back feel so it was more fun than anything else :)
The next day, despite a bit of a hangover, I made it to the second of my three day yoga course and then met up with the boys to rent mopeds... We managed to hook up with Tibbs again too, and we rode up to a fishing lake so that I could sit and read a book and the boys could try to catch some fish... which they didn't... haha... The place with the lake was gorgeous though, with amazing views of the surrounding hills and fields and beautiful little bungalows perching on the water's edge... we really wanted to stay there, but it was a bit out of our price range...
We spent another day or so fishing by the lake (and still not catching anything) and generally relaxing and then made our way to Tacome Pai
, about 5km from town. Tacome Pai is an organic farm where you can stay in any of the hill tribe style bungalows (each is built in a different style from the area) and help out on the farm. You don't get paid, and you can chip in as much or as little as you like, but there's usually a hearty meal at the end of it and lots of other little perks :) On our day we just chose our huts - Mike took a little mud-hut and Tom and one with a hammock not too far away. In the evening we sat around the fire and shared Thai whiskey with the guys who work on the farm and listened to them singing and playing their instruments... it was amazing and so friendly, and we knew straight away that we'd found somewhere special :)
On our second day we got up early and went in the back of a truck with the guys who work on the farm to collect wood to use for building from a nearby forest. They were in the process of building a tree house and needed a few more odds and ends, so we helped them carry it out of the woods and load it in the truck. Then when we got back to the farm, Sandot (our lovely host, who runs the farm with his family) showed us how to use the rice 'machinery' used fro de-husking the rice. When rice is picked, it looks a bit like corn, and the outer shell has to be removed. To do this it's placed in a big wooden bowl with a heavy wooden 'hammer' that drops down and crushes it. One person operates the hammer by pushing a lever with their foot and another moves the rice around in the bowl, taking care not to trap their fingers under the heavy wooden hammer... Once you can see white rice, it is placed in a tray and shaken - this is a fine art and only Sandot's mother and sister-in-law did this, so as not to waste any rice. They did this twice with a different action each time, and then made a small pile that a third person could go through by hand to remove any de-husked rice that had snuk through. It's a very labour intensive process and we were very proud to have finished off a half-full sack of rice :) I will never take rice for granted again!
Later that afternoon Tom and I then went and walked around the farm looking for cotton trees and picking any ripe cotton. Then we spent the evening pulling the cotton we'd picked apart in order to take the seeds out and set them aside for planting, all to more music and Thai whiskey :)
The next day we spent a while picking, washing and chopping up star fruit, then added some banana, sugar and yeast and brewed up some star fruit wine... It took a few days to brew and we only got to have a little taste before we left, but it was delicious!!
Sandot also took us to visit his sister's farm and his uncle's farm so that we could pick up a few more ingredients for dinner that night and see some more of the area. On the way back he took us to a hill tribe family's house where they make fabric on an old loom. They were building a loom at the farm when we were there, so it was interesting to see one working. It's another really labour intensive bit of work - the lady there spends 10 hours making one cloth and then charges around £1 for it - unbelievable! The lady was really nice and insisted on giving us all string around our wrists for good luck, which is a Buddhist tradition. They also kept freshwater turtles there and got one out to show us - he was really cute, but a bit snappy...
The next day we went to a hill tribe market in the morning and had a look at all the things on offer... loads of weird and wonderful foods that I've never seen before, and the usual clothes and kitchen wares... it was great to be at a normal market, rather than a tourist one too :)
When we got back to the farm, we worked on a sign for a project that Sandot had been organising with a local school and the Governor of Pai, to have a clean up day at Pai Canyon. The lettering was made out of rice hay bound up with thin strips of bamboo, then bent into shape and attached to a wooden board using more strips of bamboo. Then we painted the letters red and the Thai guys added some Thai lettering on top.
Later in the day, Sandot took us to the natural hot spring nearby... there is one that you pay 400 Bath (about £8) to visit, and this little spot that Sandot knows... which is free... It's a slow flowing river with hot currents running through it that you can bathe in... in some places it actually boils, so we took some eggs down and attempted to boil them in there... unfortunately we didn't leave them in long enough and ended up throwing them away... boo!! But we all had a great soak in the hot water and threw the mineral mud at each other, rubbed it all over and rinsed off in the warm water... it was great - nature's spa and totally free!!
On the way back Sandot took us to visit a Karen village. The Karen are a hill tribe from the local area and Sandot took us to visit another friend of his who makes fabric and hand embroiders it... Her work was absolutely wonderful and everyone fell in love with at least one item and HAD to buy it... She was so pleased to make so many sales that she gave us all a bracelet each, and it was really nice for us to buy from the person that made it and see how happy it made her :)
When we got back to the farm we ate dinner and listened to Sandot's friends and family playing music around the fire again, and then headed into town for an open mic night... They were running a bit short on acts that day though, so Tom pushed me up onto the stage (and I needed the push, so thank you very much Thomas!!) to sing for everyone... I was terrified, as usual, and I didn't have any backing music, but this was my first real performance in front of a proper audience and I even got a round of applause at the end :) We also got to see Choi, one of the Tacome Pai residents, perform with loads of musicians and on her own with a guitar, and she was amazing - totally full of energy and very confident - hopefully I can be like that one day!!
The next day we made eggy bread in a wok over the campfire for breakfast, which was the perfect way to start the day :) Then we made the finishing touches to our sign and Tom and I started to dig a garden. Actually... it was pretty much all Tom... There was a tour bus full of kids with video cameras visiting the farm that day and it felt a little bit like a human zoo - "and here we have some of the resident 'farang' (a slang word used for westerners) sweating it out in the garden..." So I hid out of harm's way and tried (and failed) to do some work on the website... While Tom was digging out the garden, Sandot stood next to him and gave a speech to 100 kids, their teacher and a video camera... oh how I'd love to see that film!!
Later that day Tom and I went into town to return the moped we hired as it seemed like a bit of a waste of money, and then hitch hiked back to the farm with a group of Thai tourists in their nice air-conditioned camper-van - it's so nice to be in a place where catching a ride with strangers felt perfectly normal and nice - if you can't tell, I am totally in love with Pai :)
When we got back Leron, another Tacome Pai-er, and I designed a flyer so that we could go into town and promote the Pai Canyon clean-up... Unfortunately it took place the following morning, so it may have been a bit late in the day, but it was still fun... we ran into town and flyered as many people as we could... In the mean time, Tom, Mike and Casey (another Tacome Pai-er) had been at Pai Canyon, making a curtain that the governor could pull down to unveil the sign we made... They strung leaves up on a pole with fishing wire and hung them over the sign - unfortunately it wasn't quite finished, so at 7:00 the next morning, Tom, Mike and I headed to the Canyon to finish it off... We were pretty sure that it looked terrible and that it wouldn't fall down properly when the governor pulled the rope, but people seemed to like it and it actually fell straight down to the ground, with the two pieces we had tied to the side perfectly suspended - it looked like a deliberate and intricate design, but I can tell you now... Complete fluke... haha... sssshhhhhhh!!
The opening ceremony for the clean-up day was great - there were lots of locals and some army there, and the governor gave a long speech, and even did some of it in English, just for us, which we really appreciated :) Then we all took a bin liner each and walked around the very steep, very crumbly canyon... I learned very quickly just quite how crumbly it was... I saw a bit of litter a few feet off the path and sat down to lower myself to get it, it was barely even out of reach... but I had to call for help because the rocks underneath me were crumbling away and I couldn't hold on... Tom came running over and pulled me up by my arm pits... it was very scary and I didn't even get the bit of litter... rubbish!! (Literally!!)
After that we ate our packed lunch wrapped in banana leaves (no plastic!!) and went back to the farm to make some more flyers, this time to hand out at the evening event - the Pai Reggae Festival. Tacome Pai had its own stand there with a camp fire, free tea and pumpkin soup for sale, and Sandot wanted us to chat to tourists and tell them about the farm, and give them a little flyer to take away. So we made the flyers, had a little rest and a few shots of Thai whiskey each, and then walked down to the festival ground, proudly wearing the staff passes that Sandot gave us to say thank you for helping :D
We spent the evening round the fire, chatting to people about the farm, selling the soup and sticky rice which the guys from the farm made over the camp fire, drinking more Thai whiskey, taking in the music and generally having a good time :) I got to spend a bit of time with Bum and Dee from the farm too - there are a few guys who work there every day, but these two were my favourites - they were so smiley and tried to teach me Thai, even though they spoke no English... we had a great time trying to speak to each other, and I think Bum (pronounced like a cross between 'bum' and 'boom') has a face that was just designed to smile... he's awesome :) And all of them a so talented - I have seen them making the loom and building the tree house and the amount of craftsmanship that goes into it is just amazing... Dee picked up a few thin strips of bamboo and made a bird out of them, and then helped me make my own... I'd like to say I could do it again when I got home, but there's no way...!! All in all, it was just a great night :)
Unfortunately, the next day it was time for us to leave... Tom and I really didn't want to go, but we had to get back to Chiang Mai for the meditation retreat we booked before we left. Staying at Tacome Pai was such a great experience, and we decided that if we can move our plans around a little, we'd like to go back for a while... It was such a great way to see some of the non-touristy bits of Pai, give a little bit back and get to know lots of local people, instead of just travellers, and we're really missing the place already! More of my photos of our time in Pai Tom's photos of our time in Pai