Pai wasn't on my list of places to visit on this trip. When flipping though the book on Thailand, I came across the town, read how it was a popular place, devoid of any sights or activities, with a serious dirth of significant wat; merely a sleepy (hung-over) mountain village that for some strange reason drew in the crowds, I passed it on without a thought. Why would I want to go to a place where people just relax?
Well, after living in the bay, I learned the value of stopping at these types of towns every couple weeks and recharge for a day or two. The hippies of the bay touted it highly, claiming it to be like Koh Phangan in the mountains, which really wasn't too much of a stretch to be honest.
It was a four hour ride from Chiang Mai, up a windy road that is famous for its gifts of nausea (I didn't notice, it was raining the whole ride, so just buried myself in a book). I did however, notice it was lovely place. The lush mountains were gorgeous and green, but not so high or enticing to induce the common reaction from me, "I MUST HIKE THERE!" The river was small, flowed a little too fast for swimming, but was so relaxing, but not so nice that I felt the need to grab a Thai guy, throw him against a wall and scream, "GIVE ME YOUR CANOE!" Everything about the town had the magic ability to make me feel as if it was a pleasant place, without being so amazing as to force activity. As you could guess, partying was a popular past-time.
I got bored pretty quickly. I really liked the place, but North Thailand has so many places where I could do things, that I tired of chilling out after a day. I had befriended an Australian who was quite fun, but for the first few days, he was only person with whom I wanted to socialize.
Everything changed the day I rented the 100cc Honda scooter. I've never ridden one before, so the Australian took some time to show me the basics. The minute I tried to leave to a nearby waterfall, the rain started. So he drove. The rain pushed us to shelter about halfway, which was fine, there were others in the hut, so we all just hung out and chatted for while. Suddenly, about four meters away, we heard a squeal! All but the one Israeli recognized that it was the sound of pig being slaughtered. So naturally, all but the one Israeli and the women walked over to watch the most primitive of human activities.
The group of Thai men started by charring the hair in the fire, then used a spoon to shave off the blackened fuzz. They washed the exposed skin, then opened the abdomen to remove the organs. We all knew that these were the main prize of the pig. The intestines were thrown to the side, but the liver, lungs, head, and another organ I couldn't recognize were thrown into a pot and boiled, while they cut up the rest of the pig.
Since they began cooking, we returned to our shelter to show that we were not trying to poach upon their dinner.
"Ah mate, wouldn't it be nice if they shared some of that with us?" the Australian asked.
"For sure! That little pig is going to be really tender and so flavorful because it's fresh." I concurred.
"You think they share with us?" The French Belgian asked.
The Australian joked, "They'll probably just throw us the penis when they're done."
"Hey, for all we know, they consider that to be the best part. It could be an honor to eat the penis." I'd learned in my travels that we all have different ideas of which things are worth eating.
To our great pleasure, we were gestured over and offered some of the pig. One of the guys handed me a chunk of some tube, surely not a piece of ham, imploring me to try. I popped it into my mouth; it was a delicious, tender, but with a enough texture to be pleasing.
"Aroi!" I said enthusiastically. "What is it?"
"Dick!" he laughed a minute, but I'd passed the test and was invited to feast on the rest. "Best part." He said seriously.
So we all snacked on the grilled chunks of pork. I was offered a piece of ear, which I found to have too much cartilage for my tastes. We all dipped pieces of lung, liver, skin, and other bits that I chose not to identify, but were equally sumptuous, into an impromptu sauce made simply of lime juice, salt and ground chilis, mixed onto a random leaf picked from the field. Surprisingly, I found the more normal pieces of meat to be the most boring, lacking any of the natural flavors of the organ meat. It's best to just not think too much about what you're eating. So many times in Asia, I'd see a bubbling pot of soup or curry, emitting the types of smells of which I dream, only to pass it up when a quick stir brings the kidneys to the top. I don't know at what point Western culture decided that only the muscles are worth eating, choosing to discard the tasty and more nutritious bits of meat, but I was proud to know I'd learned better.
Later that night, we walked into a hole-in-the wall-place, sandwiched between two more touristy and frequented places, and told the woman to just cook us what she likes to eat, once again putting blind trust into the rich-palated North Thais. She reluctantly complied, making us some stir-fried liver in oyster sauce concoction...my god! As we sat there trying to eat through our incessant needs to say "mmmm!", I wondered why liver has been so demonized. Maybe they just don't know how to cook offal in the west.
That night after we tired of paying the crazy bar prices and dealing with the anemic social scene, we went to the 7-11 picked up a bottle of Sangsam and coke, then just sat in front, creating our own bar. We started beckoning people to buy a beer inside then join us. Next thing we knew, our "bar" was drawing more customers than any of the regular joints in town. We met two seriously cool French women, Marian and Blancdin who joined our group for the next few days. We found ourselves all hitting the sack sometime after sunup.
The next couple days, we all hung out, riding motorbikes to a hotspring, then hiring a local to take us to an even better, natural hotspring. We stayed up until sunrise every one of the three remaining nights I had in Pai. Eventually though, I had to leave so I could make it to Laos and meet Michelle. Yeah, I had to skip a few of the places I'd planned, but it really didn't matter. After touching the Taj Mahal, it is hard for a building to impress me. After being surrounded by the 7000m peaks on all sides of me in Nepal, it is hard for a mountain to impress me. I, however, never cease to be impressed the by company of fun, interesting people. Moving around, in search of a fun time, when you've already found it is silly. I will also never cease to be impressed by the simple act of eating a chunk of penis with some kindhearted locals, showing the most natural act of human kindness, sharing fresh meat.