The remainder of our time in Pai slips by under a warm haze of Tramadol and weed. The weather is stunning, and we laze by the pool, reading and napping the days away.
We scooter out to some underwhelming hot springs and laugh at the signs forbidding you from cooking eggs in them. Later we discover the pool where you CAN cook your eggs, and it is a curious scene indeed. You emerge from forest into a small clearing and are confronted with half a dozen Thai tourists. They crowd around the steaming pool, cooking eggs suspended in plastic bags that swing from the end of bamboo rods. We laugh some more, and photo bomb the chefs standing proudly with their cooked lunch.
Brother Fox and I go for an excellent walk into the mountain jungle and follow a river upstream for several hours. The forest is lush, and different enough from the nature back home that we constantly find ourselves pausing to admire a different mushroom or strange plant. Our lazy pace fits perfectly with our mental space and we yarn contentedly, reaching the rewarding depth of conversation that comes easily to kindred souls.
Redbeard is laid low by a virile stomach bug and spends much of his time lifeless in the hammock. Tijo continues to charge, inevitably missing much of our daytime activity. Still, he has adventures all of his own. One evening he manages to get lost after leaving the bar and is picked up by some local chargers. He spends the next few hours riding shotgun in the back of their ute, sharing slugs of local whisky with his new compadres. When queried about his ride the next day Tijo is remarkably unfazed; after all, it’s not the first time someone has been drunk and lost in a foreign place.
On our last day Redbeard recovers enough to come tubing and we head to the river in Darling’s overloaded Triton. Tubing in Pai is nothing like the chaos of Vang Vieng: Darling arms us each with “remotes” that turn out to be bamboo poles and we ungracefully enter the stream with not a single rope-swing or drunken tourist in sight. The remotes turn out to be invaluable, and we splash along, fending off impending collisions as the rice fields float by.
The river is low, and Darling’s casual approach to time ensures that we arrive back just in time to avoid the plunge in temperature that characterises nights in Northern Thailand. We waddle up to the huts as the sun sets, wet and shivering in the cool mountain air.
Some beer ameliorates the cold, and then some more instigates activity. I eventually wind up in a packed bamboo bar, Dutch dubstepping on the bouncing floor. It is a fun night, but before I know it we are piling on a bus again, hungover and Bangkok-bound.
Predictably we arrive back in Bangkok just as the first rays of daylight breach the horizon. It seems to be a feature of travel in Thailand, these early arrivals. It’s as if there is a law of physics, or a rip in the space-time continuum that guarantees that no matter how late you leave, you will pull in at dawn, wrenched from a valium coma to a cruel world of cold air and hard decisions. It never fails to scam tired travellers out of a few extra baht, and we barter half-heartedly, the vestiges of sleep still clinging to sticky eyelids. Naturally we pay an inflated cab fare, and return, once again, from Mo Chit to Khao San road.
We sit, soulless in a Macdonalds, eating hash browns and waiting for hostels to open. For all the ups, these are the downs: the tired eyes and grimy sheen, destitute walks between full hostels; trying not to get ripped off, but evidently desperate for a room, back heavy with pack.
And that was that: the beginning of an end.
Day by day our already shrunken number dwindled, with hugs exchanged for outgoing flights as the final collective of the Hhhudrin disbanded.
Tijo and I are given a Dutch-led tour by our friend from Pai, and we indulge one more night of humidity and hooch. We enjoy a beer and the view from the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel, our motley backpacker garb slightly out of place amongst the wealthy Thais who dine at the far end of the rooftop lookout. Luckily the girls look smarter than us, and we are not hassled. I certainly feel dressed up though; this is the first time I have worn shoes the whole trip.
The view is incredible, with skyscrapers and concrete condos stretching as far as the eye can see. As the daylight fades, a sea of neon lights swells out in all directions. It is nice, to see this side of Bangkok, and our subsequent dinner confirms the obvious conclusion that there is much much more to the city than Khao San has to offer.
We take a taxi to Thong Lor, and are led through an inauspicious door and into a scene from prohibition-era Chicago. The wine bar and restaurant is called “The Iron Fairies”, and combines a low-lit blacksmith aesthetic with a tasty burger menu and extensive cocktail list.
There is a live jazz group, and they play standing around the spiral staircase that stretches between the floors. The built Manhattan I order is good, and I lap up the chance to spend – there will be no cocktails once the prices are in euros, that’s for sure.
A door concealed in a bookcase leads us through to the smoking room, where a solitary red light bulb reveals an old coal range and a haunting iron faery that watches us as we sprawl on the 1940s styled sofas.
A few more bars later and we are back amongst the heathens on Khao San, sauced, singing along to yet another horrendous rendition of wonderwall – a fitting end to my time in South East Asia. Thailand had been a kind mistress, but Europe was calling.
I wander the airport bleary-eyed once again, shivering under the air con – a singleted zomby on the run from reality.