Traveling has its ups and downs. What we are looking for in the end is a place we can call home; a place where there is a kitchen, we have our own space and a place where we don’t have to carry all our stuff with us all the time, we can leave our chargers in one place and when you lose something, someone else knows where you might have left it.
In Pai, Thailand, we found this. We lived in a hostel called Pai River Jam and here we have a small community of great people from all over the world. People come and go, as travelers do, but we have had a few constant people here that we have come very close to.
When we spoke about times past here in Pai River Jam, about people we met and the stuff that we have done, someone asked “Who are all these people you speak of? It sounds like you have been here for years and not just a few weeks!” Pai is exactly the kind of place we wanted to avoid at any cost at the beginning of our trip, but now, that we have done all the crazy traveling in strange countries, it feels great to be with our beloved international crowd, people who understand where we come from, what we miss from back home, and a similar cultural point of reference.
We stayed in Pai for a month in total, with a five day break in the middle when we went to Mindful farm south of Pai, but north of Chiang Mai. To read about our time at the Mindful farm, click here
Our first day in Pai, we arrived with the bus without having any accommodation reserved, so we found a hostel online, but then when we went to get lunch, I opened the little book I’ve carried around these last seven months, and in the recommendations we got from Matan in Auroville, I see that he has written “Go to Pai River Jam”. If this place is good enough for Matan, it’s 100 % good enough for us, so we canceled our booking (we lost the money we already paid) and made our way down to the river and took a right before the bridge. We are welcomed by Chris and Maxi in the reception and the first thing Chris says after we’ve checked in is “Do you like to paint?” and hands me a big bag full of different markers. On our first night, there was an event at Pai River Jam called River tales. It’s a story telling event or just in general an event where people share music, stories, poems… Anything you would like to share. There were a few guitars, one or two ukuleles, a cajón ( a drumming box) and some people with amazing voices. I am blown away by the skill and talent of the people in the circle. The place is full and people are hanging out everywhere. Someone had the great idea to light a fire in the middle of the circle, even though its 38 degrees outside, but it did add to the atmosphere. Someone starts strumming on a guitar and all of a sudden more people join in, and someone completely freestyles a melody and lyrics and within seconds, there are several harmonies . Spanish, english, french, the lyrics flow with the music and it’s incredible how in sync everyone are. I later asked Chris how long they had practiced before they did this event, he said most of it was completely improvised; “I have never played with these people before”. I have always thought of myself like a musical person with some talent, but compared to these people…. I am waaaay behind. Chris is a story teller and tells stories in song, and he played this one song called “Maria” and we all cried in the end
“Wont you follow me,
To find a place a little closer to the sea,
Float away, away away,
Today, today, today, today”
At River tales we made our first friends here in Pai, a German couple, Melissa and Hank, and their friend Selina. They adopted us into their family and from then on, everything was OK. We have a group and a loving family. Melissa and Hank asked us that first day while we were waiting for our burgers from the Burger man, when we arrived in Pai. When we said we litteraly just arrived, Melissa gave a little laugh and said:
“Wow, today must be a great for you then”, referring to the jamming and the vibe that the event brought. Melissa loves Sweden and she and Hank are doing a road trip through the country, so we will see them this summer!
We spent a lot of time on the porch of the Germans Bungalow (which is the fanciest bungalow in Pai River Jam, it has it’s own bathroom), just chilling. Since our own bungalow didn’t have a porch and were too hot in the day to be in, it was greatly appriciated to have a place to hide, when the crowd became too loud.
Pai River Jam
Pai River Jam is located by the river next to Golden House and Giant. It has bungalows, dormitory, camping ground and space to hang your hammock. Prices vary between the seasons, but there are 3 different dorms and 12 bungalows. Most of the bungalows have a small porch with a bench and a hammock, overlooking the lawn/ football field/ yoga area/ parking space that makes up most of Pai river jam. One bungalow has it’s own bathroom, the others share the five bathrooms that are outside the dorms. The big bungalows can host between three to five people, and the small ones are good for two people (or two plus a child). There is no AC (which is something we want to avoid anyway) but there are fans, lamps and electricity. The water in the river is not deep, but still up to my hips in some places.
There is a small “living room” area, where there is surfaces where one can sleep or sit and a swap box. The reception is also the bar, where you can get beer and rum. At the time when we arrived, they also served Kambucha. Oliver, who runs the place, can mostly be found in the bar with Baptiste from France, who have been in Pai for five months I think, and there are almost always people in the bar. Next to the bar is the fire place, in which the River Tales even was held. All walls/ surfaces have beautiful art on them, high grade graffiti, quotes and small decorations. On the stairs up to the living room, they have nailed bottle caps into the wood, making it anti-slippery.
The kitchen is a place where things magically disappear and appear randomly. Maxi once told me that nothing ever disappears in Pai River Jam, it just moves around. There is a fridge, and a small freezer box, a gas stove and a long work bench/ pantry, where the community keep it’s shared items (salt, oil, soy sauce, pepper….) and private items. Usually you got to keep your private items, but as time progressed we shared more and more. If you needed something (like coconut milk for you coffee, or coffee) you could usually borrow a little, but then it is assumed that you, too, will share once you have something someone else needs. The members of the community (but mostly August) provided Pai River Jam with water. 30 seconds walk from the hostel, there are a place that sell 15 liter water containers, and a refill is only 15 baht. We did however also have our own 15 liter container next to our bungalow, for when the water was finished late nights etc. There are always free space somewhere in the area for everyone’s needs, quiet places, lively places and in-between the two-places.
Me and August stayed in four different bungalows. The first two weeks we stayed in a small bungalow by the river, with Baptiste as our only bungalow neighbour. We had a great time those first two weeks in our little bungalow, sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor.
One day we had the bungalow closest the the road, which we didn’t like. For one week we were landlords, sharing the biggest bungalow, with Aldo and Yonathan. The rest of our time we had our own three bed bungalow.
The staff at Pai River Jam is amazing. They keep it so clean and fresh and sometimes when I would enter the kitchen in the morning, I would feel shame that it was so dirty when the staff arrived in the morning, because all they do is clean, and fix, and they should at least be able to enjoy a nice breakfast in a clean kitchen before they begin their day. The first two weeks, I had the habit of getting up early and cleaning the kitchen before I could start making oat porridge and coffee. When people live together like this, it’s very important to clean up after your self, regardless of standards or other bullshit people keep bringing up in defence of their neglecting ways. It takes 2 minutes to do your own dishes… But people became better and better at keeping the place clean, all we had to do was to set an example (and maybe whine a little haha).
Me and August quickly became friends with Charles from Normandy in France. Very naturally, we integrated our shopping and soon we cooked every meal together, going to the market together and doing adventures together. Charles has travelled in Southeast Asia for a while and plan to travel until September or longer.
There are two main markets during the day in Pai, and I really enjoy shopping food in markets. Me and Charles went every second day for tofu, potatoes, mangoes, ginger, garlic, and other staple food and special treats. We made amazing food almost every day. At one point I think we served the best food in Pai. Depending on the crew, we cooked for and with different people, and it’s such a nice activity, cooking together, taking your time to perfect the final product. But mostly, we cooked only for the three of us.
A few times, we cooked together for the whole community (10-13 people). One time, when the Germans were still here, we made a big meal with tofu, onions and mashed potatoes and a salad. I think we were 10 people and we all ate together. Hank is a chef, so he calculated everything so well, we finished all the food, and everyone had their fill. After that there were more and more family dinners, where people from Israel made shakshuka, Spanish people made tortilla, we have made salads, curries and pasta for large groups of people. Once or twice, some people had taken cooking courses and wanted to practice their new skills, inviting us all to have a taste.
Pai is filled with restaurants and bars, and they serve everything from inexpensive Thai food, to all the luxurious foods of the west and middle east (due to all the Israelis). There is a night market in which there are four or five Crêpe places, various smoothie and shake stands, lasagna, falafel, cakes and even Italian ice cream. People sell arts and crafts, lots of different crystal jewellery and clothes for all your hippie needs. I don’t know how many times I walked up and down the walking street after dark, or how many times August went and brought food and drinks back from the market for me. Whenever someone was going out of the hostel, they’d ask if anyone needed anything from the outside world. There are multiple Seven Elevens in Pai, and a Tesco, several bakeries and they did actually make good bread. If a french person approves, you know it’s good. There are also several coffee places, and every time August went out in the morning, he brought back coffee for me and Charles.
Many people go to Pai to party, pub crawling and dancing in the bars along the bar-street, walking street or in the Dont Cry bar, which is open all night. We only went outside Pai River Jam to party when some of our friends performed in Boom Bar or in the Jazz house. But even then, we only bought one or two drinks. The drinks in Pai River Jam were better and lots cheaper anyway, we had several Piña Colada nights and a Mojito night with Hank, Melissa and Selina.
There are a few pools in Pai. We only went to one, the Fluid Pool, to which entry is free if you stay at Pai River Jam. At the FLuid pool there is a live DJ most days, they serve pool food and drinks and the pool is large enough to swim around if one wants to exercise.
So every 100 meters in Pai there is one bike rental place, one restaurant/bar and one tattoo studio. Hank and melissa got a lot of small tattoos, and we met several people who all got tattoos of different size and quality. They are pretty good at tattooing in Pai, and it’s cheap compared to Europe. I also got a tattto, and I paied 2000 baht, which is 40 euros.
There are a few tourist attractions around Pai. There is a giant white Buddha, actually there are several, there is the Pai canyon, some caves, hot springs and waterfalls.
My favorite spot outside Pai was along the river, on the path to the Mae Yen Waterfall. The hike to get to the waterfall takes 2,5 hours, if you don’t stop. And that’s after a 6 minute drive to the end of the road. Me, August and Charles went up that river just a few minutes, when the energy was very negative at Pai River Jam, and hung out for hours, with a few beers. Some days later, me and Charles tried to do the hike again, but we had to turn back because it was getting dark.
After we came back from the farm, me and Charles tried to do the hike again, staring at 10 in the morning, and we did finally reach the waterfall. Someone told us that it was just a little water in the pool below the waterfall, but if you just climb up the first cliff, there is a deep pool, in which you can dive. I didn’t check how deep it was, but I dove straight down and didn’t touch the bottom. One would think that the water would be cold in these mountain rivers, but I have not encountered really cold water since the Ganga river in Rishikesh in India. August also attempted to do the hike to the waterfall but he never reached the waterfall.
Once we went to the Pai Canyon for sunset. It’s a beautiful landscape, 10 minute drive from Pai town. Gato said he felt like an ant, climbing up the beige stones, I felt like we were walking on a glacier.
Once we were supposed to go to some hot springs in the night, but the whole forest was a blaze at this time, so police stopped us and told us to turn around. Instead we went to a place in the river and had a little campfire and live music.
Activities at Pai River Jam
Depending on the crowd, the day, and the motivational level, we spent our days practicing various arts, creating and inventing music, necklaces, bracelets, paintings and bamboo cups and fixing clothes. We had two macramé workshops, where various people shared their skills so that they in turn could teach others. I learned a lot, and now I have developed quite some skill in this field. A few times I brought out all my painting stuff and invited people to practice the art of painting. I believe that everyone can paint, so whenever someone said they couldn’t I had to prove them otherwise. I even sold two of my paintings! At one point, before we left for the farm, Seang Chai (Sunshine) had a huge board in the kitchen on which anyone was invited to paint. Both August and Charles contributed to this masterpiece, as well as a few others, my self included.
But the best and most practiced activity at Pai River Jam was jamming. Almost every day for the month we stayed there, we were playing music in the evenings, or sometimes all through the day.
In the beginning of our time we had Chris, who sings and plays like an angel. At the end of our first two weeks in Pai, Chris, Baptiste and Yonathan even played gigs at Boom bar and the Jazz house.
Of course we went to show our support. I have some amazing recordings from some of the jam sessions, and even August got so inspired he picked up a guitar a few times. One night, Aldo had an extensive guitar lesson with August in the kitchen, showing extraordinary patience and dedication. And August sat through it all without flipping out!
My favourite jamming sessions were when Yonathan, Aldo and Thomas played together, inventing future classics such as “What scale are we in” and “I put my wife in the freezer (I think)”. I would sit and sway in a state of bliss, just listening with a huge smile on my face, in amazement of the talent and synchronicity of these musicians.
The time after we came back from the farm, there were an Argentinian family staying in the bungalow we had one week before. The parents, Sophie and Gato, are both street musicians and carried some really cool instruments with them. Their son, Rio, was singing before he can talk, and I watched him try to play drums, ukulele and guitar on multiple occasions. He is 2 and a half years old! When they joined the jamming session they took it to the next level. The atmosphere of these sessions are relaxed and anyone can join in. The instruments are being passed around, and different people take the lead, making sure that the music never stops. If it did stop, Rio would call for more :).
Rio has travelled since he was one years old. Gato and Sophie met traveling, and it was natural for them to continue after they had Rio. This child gives us hope. One day, Gato and Sophie made a hike to a waterfall and left Rio in our care. Everyone in our community helped out, taking care of Rio, giving him fruits and food, and showering him with the hose, playing and dancing with him for a whole day.
It was a great day, and everyone fell in love with this little boy. He tries to communicate with all of us, he has learned to say “hello” and I spoke Swedish with him all the time, and in the end he tried to say “tack tack”, which is a Swedish way of saying thank you. It’s good to be reminded why we need to fix the planet, to be reminded of why we fight.
Those first days (mostly thanks to Selina) we played a lot of Shithead, the card game, with German rules. I think I won twice in two weeks. August, on the other hand, did way better. Of course, we had the rules written down, German style. Our hangout was in the kitchen, where there is a big table in the center.
Yun did a massage course for two days, and she said she needed a lot of practice, to all of our delight! So i got a two hour, full body massage just like that! It was the only massage I got in Thailand! August also got a small one at a later date. You go Yun! One day you’ll be a pro.
The Pai River Jam Festival
One day some of the people decided that we would have a “festival” the next day. So we made a poster and planned a few workshops for the whole day, starting with Yoga at 10. I showed the people my routine, all based upon the sun salutation sequence, the very base of traditional Hatha yoga. Gian Carlo, from Sicily is a yoga teacher, but somehow I did the practice anyway. It was a lot of fun, and the next day we could all feel it in our backs and shoulders.
After Yoga, August and Thomas had a meditation practice, where they explained some about meditation, benefits and techniques etc, and in the end Thomas did a guided meditation. I fell asleep, as at least I do when I relax too much. In the lunch break, Gato and Charles made lunch for all of us, to save time for the rest of us. I love it, eating all together in the shade, on the grass, by the river…
After lunch we had a workshop in Ecstatic Dance with Franzie. August went most ecstatic of everyone, and the whole scene was a pleasure to watch. Especially little Rio dancing with Sophie <3. Ecstatic dance is when you just dance like what ever (this is how I always dance), but I understand how this helps some people release themselves from believed judgement of others, and how it is a way to release all kinds of bottled up emotions. Comparison is the thief of joy. Me and Aldo kept the beat on the Cajon and guitar because we both danced so ecstatically we got tired.
The next day, after we had this improvised festival, we had a workshop with Kali, a British woman based in Arambol Goa, in introduction to Tantra. That was also quite interesting. Tantra is about energy, how we are all just energy vibrating on different frequencies and how we can be one with our energy body and experience more, since energy follows intention. As with all these ancient arts, like yoga, sutra, tantra, and even the old rasta ways, breathing plays a big role. Its all about how you breathe, and to what part of your body you draw your breath. We learn all about colonialism, capitals of Europe and how to calculate the square root of bullshit, but we don’t learn how to breathe… Something is terribly wrong with our civilization.
August did another tantric workshop the next day with Kali, where they learned some new meditation techniques.
Charles is doing Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, and I went with him to practice three times. The gym is called WisarutGym and it’s a family run place, which Charles had found through a documentary. We were mostly alone there, getting a lot of help from the two guys running the gym and it’s a really demanding sport. Once there were a british couple there, the guy has practiced Muay Thai for 20 years, and he is a professional fighter. It was really nice to watch his style. The girl had done karate before, and she was sooo strong, it was a pleasure to watch her fight as well.
Once in my life I did some jujitsu, but there is no boxing in that sport, so this was a completely new experience. On the first day, I was kicking the bag, trying to improve my stance, and I glance over at Charles to see how he did it, and he just kicks the bag with so much force, I get inspired and ram the bag with my lag, and it hurts A LOT. I got a bruise and they were all laughing at me. After the practice I felt so strong, and walked up right with pride all day. One day, Charles held a workshop in Muay Thai where August participated. It was fun to watch, they didn’t have any of the gear they have at the gym, like gloves, bags and punching-things, but they gave everything, in the steaming mid day sun. They all enjoyed it greatly, and Aldo said this is something he could continue doing.
On our second night we went to a fire show at a place called Paradise. It was the best fire show I have ever seen, with about 10-13 people who juggle with pins on fire, staffs, pojs, swords, drenched in kerosene and a blaze. If you go to Pai, I highly recommend this show, it’s free, but it’s appreciated if you give a donation at the end of it.They perform every Thursday and Sunday. At Paradise, they also provide donation based Yoga every morning at 11:11. The Yoga teacher is named Harry and he is half Swedish half Thai. It’s always fun to meet Swedish people when travelling. When Chris was still around, the fire show would sometimes come to us. This one night, we all wanted to party, and tried to find a place next door where someone had heard that there was a house party. There was no party, so we went back to River Jam, and all of a sudden there are 8 or more people, fire benders, dancing with flames to August´s music. It was quite the night, and we sat there until sunrise.
Again, Special interest on the Israeli topic
We have had a special interest in Israel since the beginning of our trip in India, since we have met soooo many people from this country. To read our first Special Interest on the Israeli Topic, read our Auroville Experience post.
Another prominent character during our first days at Pai Rier Jam was Ron, or “Family man”, from Israel. He had been here already for a long time when we show up. He invited us to play a game with him and Chris. For some reason, everyone here spoke English with an Italian accent those first two weeks, and this was allegedly initiated by Ron. He is from Israel but has an Italian spirit in a way. As we have done with every Israeli we have met so far, we asked him about his time in the army. He said he worked with bombs but he couldn’t say much more about this at the time. One day Ron comes to us, looking tired and a little distraught. In the middle of the night his commander had called him, asking him to come back to Israel and the army. Ron explained that all the intense conflicts happen in the summer, no one wants to fight in the winter. And now, his entire unit were going back to Israel to fight for their country, or I don’t know exactly what he is doing now, because he couldn’t tell us. He said he had the choice to say no since he is in Asia, but he said he couldn’t justify being here in Pai, smoking and drinking when all his friends were going back. He said he’d go home for them, his unit, which are like a family to him. I asked him once why he was called Family man, and he said that he wanted a big family “I already miss my future kids”. He is 22 years old and already have a dream and a plan of how to get there. I am always amazed by people like this, like my friend Dorel also, people who just know what they want to do and just goes for it.
Corruption and Visas
Corruption is present everywhere in Asia, but it is so obvious here in Pai. There is one scooter rental place per 100 meters, and not a single place asks you to present an international drivers license or even a regular drivers license. So the police puts up controls now and then, to catch tourists without an international drivers licence or who carry drugs. In ten minutes they make enough money to go out drinking in the evening. On Friday afternoon they are especially active because it’s right before the weekend. Me and August have not had any problem with police in Pai, because we haven’t rented a scooter for ourselves, but we have been on many other people’s scooters. But if you get caught driving without licence, you have to pay 500 baht or go to jail. If you get caught with drugs you have to pay 25 000 baht or go to jail. 25 000 baht is 500 dollars approximately. If you do go to jail, the fine for posession will only be 5000 baht (130 euros) if you behave.
A few times a month the immigration office of this region comes to Pai. We went there to extend our visa, because we booked our flight back home on the 3d or June, while our visa ended on the 18th of May. The office is by the hospital, not far from the walking street and we spent half a day there, me August and Charles.
When at the immigration we met a guy from Newcastle, UK, and he told us a story of his friend who got caught by the police carrying a little cannabis. This guy did not know he had this on him and started arguing with the police, accusing them of having planted it on him (he later found out that his son had put it in his bag) and he refused to pay the “fine”. They took him to jail in Chiang Mai, a place that should be avoided at any cost, especially at this time of the year, when the heat is unbearable mid day. This guy seems to have a pride so great he won’t give in to any cost, and surely had some troubles making friends, even in the most dire of situations. This guy was so unpopular that the administration forced him to pay because he overstayed his visa, due to him being in jail. At the time we spoke to his friend, he was going to be transferred to Bangkok and deported back to the UK. He had to pay for his own plane ticket, and for the police officer that would accompany him as well as the plane ticket back from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for the officer. I met the guy from Newcastle a while later, and asked for updates on his friend. Two weeks after I heard this story, this guy was still in jail in Bangkok. This is supposed to be the worst prison in Thailand, filled with people who would have been deported but who cannot pay for the ticket. This guy just can’t catch a break or learn the lesson; the lesson being keep your head down and PAY THE BRIBE.
The art of Fermentation
August and Yonathan did a fermentation course one day, the day me and Charles went to the waterfall. The class was made in a place called Good Life Dacha. The class was on the various ways in which we can make use of helpful bacteria in food processing to make food more healthy. The main focus of the class was kambucha, a healthy “soda” made using sugar and tea. Also in the class was ways to make fermented food items such as sauerkraut and pickles which are also very good for you. The class took place in an amazing location with a huge library and other cool stuff. The guy who had the class was from Ukraine and he was teaching the ways in which his family had done fermentation traditionally. During the day there was discussions around bacteria and fermentation in general and also he showed specifically how he made kambucha and other fermented items. There was also an amazing lunch made up of all the things he had made himself at the place. In the end he provided the means to do fermentation at home. All in all it was an amazing day with lots of inspiration.
Camping trip and our last day
On our second to last day we went camping with Gato, Sophie, Rio, Charles, Yun, Joanna and Gian Carlo on the way to the waterfall. It was raining the whole time, so we made camp next to a place with a roof, which doubles as a donation based shop. We were playing music all through the night and we slept on the floor, almost all together, next to the fire.
We woke up with the sun and stayed until 10 or so, when we were hungry enough to take action and leave. That last day, when we returned from the camping trip, we ate sooo much food, because we were fasting the day before. Me and August and Charles were hanging out the whole day, and we drank piñja coladas in the evening. This was the first and last time I worked in the bar. The bar is like a whole other world from the kitchen, and Rio came and danced with me behind the bar.
On the day of departure (our bus left for Chiang Mai at 2:30 PM) everyone came to the kitchen to hang out. At this time, this was pretty rare, since we’d been scattered around Pai River Jam a lot afer people started to leave. We took a group photo together with Yun’s amazing camera, to “All you need is Love”, and everyone were happy. It was certainly a celebatory athmosphere, when we said our goodbyes. We also found out that Paula and Franzie will be in Berlin at the same time as us, so we will see then again this summer!! Charles and Gian Carlo drove us to the busstation and it was a rather tough good bye. We will probably go to France this fall, to see everyone that we can, spend time with Charles and do a short visit to Brussels before moving down to Spain. The future is so bright you’ve gotta wear shades.
Lots of Love,
August & Linnea