Journey Back to Pai

It’s hot. Too hot to think in fact. 97F here today and no proper place to swim. uggh.
April is the hottest and driest month here. I passed numerous forest fires on the trip today from Mae Hong Son back to Pai. In the cool early morning air, the smoke stayed in the valleys I rode through and would burn my throat and eyes. Some of the fires had guys with shovels fighting them, some of them were just burning wildly with no one in sight for miles.

There are a handful of military checkpoints on the road between Mae Hong Son and Pai, Im guessing because we are so close to Burma/Myanmar. On the way out, they all waved me through with a smile, no worries. This time I could see the guys step into the road with their M16s so I knew that they were going to stop me. They had just finished handing some item to another farang in a car in front of me. What could it be, a passport!?! My mind started working and suddenly I had a moment of terror….I realized that my passport was in Chiang Mai at the motorbike rental place 150KM away – my copy, I had stupidly left in my big rucksack in Pai which was still 40KM away. I was 100% unidentifiable and in their opinion, illegal. I have never felt like such an idiot newbie.
I coasted up to the gate and stopped. An older officer armed only with a radio, but accompanied by two young soldiers with M16s, approached me with a smile.

“Sawadee Khrap, friend. Where you from?”

I told him that I was American and on my way back to Pai and then gritted my teeth for the inevitable question that I knew was coming. Instead, he caught me completely off guard with:

“Are you US Army, friend?”

How in the hell could he tell that I might have been in the army I thought to myself? Maybe it was because I had all my hair buzzed off back in Laos so I had the cut, and my daybag on my back was woodland cammo. It wasnt issue, but same pattern the US uses. I thought about my answer for a moment and decided to tell him the truth. I told him that I was in for 6 years but out now.

“Come with me friend”.

I could have filled my shorts at that moment. I parked the bike on the side of the road and walked over to their open air structure that provided some shade. I was preparing for a strip search, caneing, water torture, or whatever anti-US horrors these guys could think up for me not having ID. Out of the blue, he began making small talk with me. He was the equivalent of a Major in the forces at home. He told me that the US was a good friend of the Thai Army and held up one of the young soldier’s M16s. It was an M16A2, not the latest and greatest by US standards, but it would get the job done. I also noticed that they had black US issue boots on. We chatted for a few minutes about nothing and he sent me on my way with a “Chok Dee Na” or “good luck”. He never asked to see my passport. About 10KM down the road, I think my heartbeat finally returned to its normal rate.
The road was even more dodgey than before in places. They are tearing up the old road and building a new one, so there were long stretches of nothing but dirt and rocks. The tires on my Yamaha scooter were certainly not made for that type of terrain so it required full concentration to keep the bike under control. The local “chicken” buses and construction trucks flying by raising dust storms did not help either. About 5 KM from Pai I noticed that my bike was doing strange things. I stopped to check it out, and to my horror, the back tire was flat. After cursing in every language I know any foul language in, I began pushing the bike back to town under the relentless, burning Thai sun. I rolled into town and grabbed a 1.5 litre bottle of water and drank it like it was a shot of milk. Next thing I know, I’m throwing it up again. I knew what it was from all my fun in the army….heat exhaustion. I could feel the wobbly legs and headache coming on as I pushed the motorbike into town. I lucked out and found a local mechanic fairly quickly and he had the right tire. A bloody miracle the way things have been going it would seem. He changed the tire for only 120Baht, again I was surprised, and I rode off to my bungalow to collapse.

A cold shower, some plain rice, and more water helped some, but Im still not particularly a happy camper at the moment.

Oh well…I’m still not sitting in a corporate cubicle…Mai Pen Rai.

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