This feature was originally published in the November 2013 edition of High Times under the title “Kief in the Rif” – a typo mistaking the incredibly harsh Moroccoan kif for the luscious kief crystals that give Mary J her famous kick. But what are you going to do? It’s High Times for chrissake.
My return to Northern Europe marked the beginning of another end. My European leg was coming to a close and I had nominated Copenhagen as the place I would wait out my visa application for India. This was largely due to the fact that my cousin lives there (and the visa office’s murky responses about how long it would take to process my application). His inevitable offer of a place to crash was a welcome respite for my increasingly destitute bank account and I accepted happily.
As chance would have it, his housemate had just found an old bike, abandoned through no failure of function and ready to go. So I was the happy recipient of a large orange single-speed, free to take my place in the well-populated cycle lanes of the Danish capital. The old Dutch habits came back easily and, with my visa application lodged, I was soon speeding my way towards Christiania and all it promised.
There are many things that the Netherlands is well known for: gouda, windmills, dikes; being as flat as the pancakes the Dutch claim to have invented; having the tallest people in the world; canals, clogs, tulips and many other things beside. But there is really only one thing that they are infamous for, and that is their historically liberal approach to the so-called “soft drugs.”
This is particularly prevalent in Amsterdam where the heady smell of marijuana wafts above the canals, and coffeeshops lurk on every corner. Their range is impressive, and a testament to the innovation that occurs outside the shadow of prohibition. It is all here: White widow, Jack Herrerr, Bio Shiva, Lemon Haze, Santa Maria, Blue Cheese, Bubble special, Buddha Kush, AK-47, Purple Afghani – the list goes on.
The stigma against smoking must be more entrenched than I realise and it feels strange to suddenly be allowed to blaze one in public. And not just in public, in a shop specifically catering to your vice, where you can sit in relative peace in the company of strangers doing the same thing.
It felt like I had got off in the wrong town. It was quarter past eight on a Wednesday morning and the parking lot outside Utrecht Centraal was eerily quiet. The air was cold and grey snow huddled in the corners, seeking refuge from a brisk wind.
Perhaps it was the wintery conditions, or the fact that the station was undergoing some large-scale reconstruction, but this certainly wasn’t the Holland I had been expecting. Where were the tulips, the canals, the historical buildings?
Winter is a bleak time anywhere, and first impressions can be hard to shake.
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.”