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.”
Having survived the island jungle our entourage headed north, bound for Laos. Returning to Vientiane was largely uneventful. The Laotian capital is a sleepy riverside town in comparison to the bustle of touristed Thailand and not much had changed since I was there last. We feasted on the excellent Indian cuisine, sipping Beer Laos in the afternoon sun, and wandered along the river’s edge trying in vain to get a game of Frisbee going, with the wind strongly in opposition.
At the insistence of Tijo, Redbeard and I were cajoled into heading out for a few beers. It was a quiet evening and the curfews in Laos make for some fairly tepid nightlife. Vientiane is not a party town but none the less we persisted, Tijo obviously gravitating towards the one ex-pat girl in the quiet bar. A few brews later and we were reluctantly accompanying an increasingly drunk Tijo to go get a sandwich on the other side of town, the new girl fallaciously assuring us that it was just around the corner. And then around another corner. And another.
The streets are deserted so it is with some surprise that we round one final corner and are finally presented with the promised vision. Tijo munches on the first of what will be many late night baguettes, and we hop in a tuk-tuk to head home. The tuk-tuk driver, however, has another suggestion.