The bus slowly winds up the hill, breaking, as the driver prepares for yet another hairpin turn. The road from Chang Mai to Pai is known for its huge number of corners, and we are not disappointed. Our ride climbs higher and higher, and the verdant jungle of Chiang Mai gives way to sparser mountain vistas.
Pai is the very definition of laid-back, a small hippy town where life meanders by for the relaxed locals and backpackers that stroll the main drag. At night the street turns into a food and clothes market that offers a wealth of tasty snacks and tie-die, the samosas and banana pancakes winning particular favour amongst our number.
Our hostel hosts, the eccentric German, Peter, and his Thai wife, Darling, are hilarious and almost certainly on opium. Their response to our query for board is extraordinarily laconic and at odds with the tourist trail’s usual hard sell. We are eventually provided for: VIP accommodation no less, one room complete with four thin swabs spaced out on the floor. We are given a “special price” by a manically grinning Darling, who explains that it is because “you are tall, like my son, veery tall.”
Despite Darling’s evasive replies to requests about the cost of our “special price” we settle in, and eventually give up, stonewalled into submission by her relentless smile. Anyone with a smile like that would never rip their sons off – right? It turns out that our intuition – apathy, more like – is spot on. Darling is lovely, but her subsequent conduct, as affectionate as it is, does little to convince us of her sobriety.
Friends had told us weed was easily obtainable in Pai, and following their instructions we rented a scooter and set off.
The road out to the waterfall was in poor condition, and my bones rattled resoundingly as we tested the shocks’ limits. Redbeard is soon on top of it, and the high pitch of the engine rings out uninterrupted as we zigzag between the ever-present pot holes.
Once we are suitably far from the town, we begin to pass small covens of Thai women on the side of the road. Some sit around steaming pots, while others weave; some are content to just sit talking, waiting patiently for the clientele to come to them.
As we approach, they gesture in a common language, fingers pressed to lips, drawing deeply from an imaginary marley.
“Smoke, smoke, my friend hellooo”
“Hellooo, smoke, smoke”
We smile knowingly and ride on, the view a mixture of cloud-covered hills and autumnal fields. The waterfall is nice, but nothing special, and we head back down to sample the wares. We pull to the side of the road, and quickly exchange a handful of baht with one enterprising woman. She reaches into her shawl, and then turns back; “opium?” she queries, but we decline, content with the sealed plastic pouch clasped tightly in my pocket.
Closer inspection back at the guesthouse confirms our fears; this is no Snoop Dogg grade buddha, but a dry bag of bush weed, seeds and sticks present and in full effect. Still, it does the trick and we indulge in some well-deserved view appreciation, fresh stars appearing in the shadow of a recently absent day.