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.
The days in Bangkok blur into a stream of memories. The final assembly of the gang was completed late on Christmas Day, and was followed by a swift yet prolonged dose of beer and banter, the heat and infamous strength of Chang nearly my undoing as we roamed the late night wasteland of Khao San.
For the uninitiated, Khao San road is a short strip of concrete pavement in Central Bangkok that bustles with the trade of a thousand backpackers and the hawkers who cater to them. It is a monument to the success of the banana pancake trail, and a temple to the potent buckets of red bull and vodka that fuel its worshipers. Crowded with stalls of fake Ray Bans and tourist t-shirts in the day, it later transforms into a motley collection of bars and clubs that continue on to the wee small hours. The street hums with the raking noise of the frog toys pushed by a tireless coven of Thai women and a roadside wok sizzles as another order of pad thai is fried up for the masses.
My first taste of the metaphorical open road was to be Oriental in origin, with a long planned sejour in South East Asia the perfect segway into Europe. Of course, it wasn’t to be anything intrepid, with a greater emphasis on hedonism over hardship. Still the trip promised much, and with the brothers I planned to meet there already three weeks hardened I was anxious to arrive.
My final night in New Zealand coincided with the last day of the corporate year and it was with little surprise that I found myself still in town at the witching hour, wobbling back to the familiar Freemans Bay villa I had called home for the last two years. An early alarm, some last minute checking and I was off, my hangover momentarily placated by the remaining buds of nature’s panadol.
Then the first of what would be many queues, impatient proles shifting restlessly behind me while the line slowly snakes forward. A greasy dose of chicken to ward off looming nausea and some painkillers, then customs, safety announcements and settling into my budget sized seat –finally I was in the air, but it wasn’t without some sorrow that I bid my beautiful nation good-bye.