Mexico City, Thailand, Travel

Fashion Around the World

When I quit my job to adventure, there were a lot of things I wanted to see. Beautiful temples, distant lands, the faces of new friends. And of course, food. This is why people travel. (Well, that and we’re hard wired and get depressed if we stay put. But people get angry when I trot that one out.)

One thing I didn’t set out to see was fashion.

Consumer Uniforms

People use clothing very differently from country to country. In the United States, it’s a uniform. From business suits to the 30-something geek’s pithy T-shirts, every person has a narrow range of acceptable clothing based on their age, occupation, and position in society. You can vary the colors or brands but basically, dress code is mandatory and your friends won’t recognize you if you break step.

This might not sound like the oft-eulogized land of the free, but think about it. Can you wear leather pants and a see-through tank top to your staff meeting? Can you wear a polo shirt and khakis to hang with your emo band? To both questions: yes, but get ready for a shitstorm.

It may seem like the tyranny of the corporate system, but it goes beyond that. The U.S. is a consumer culture through and through, so we express our personalities through brands and trends. Unemployed non-conformist 19 year olds are just as rigid in their wardrobe as married project managers. They cleave to a different narrow mold, but a narrow one all the same.

Asia Ain’t So

In Thailand, I was struck by the diversity of styles on the street. Not just different groups but individuals with their own unique look. In the US if someone is sporting a unique look I make a point to go up and compliment them. Had I done that in Chiang Mai I’d never get 100 steps.

Without a doubt T-shirts and jeans were ubiquitous in Chiang Mai, like anywhere. But a substantial chunk of the population takes the time to build their own personal style. For a people with relatively low income, fashion statements seem to be a spending priority among the younger generation.

At its root, this is no different than the American impulse: spend money on clothing that says who you are. It’s the execution that’s different. Americans buy into a brand or group: Nike has this, goths wear that. Thai 20-somethings seem to disregard all lines of brand, style, East and West to make something that says “this is me.”

Chiang Mai was not my favorite place, but this really impressed me.

I can’t explain this phenomena. Have you ever watched anime? Each major character, good or bad, wears a unique style that extends to their accessories, hair style, and tattoos. For a long time I resisted making the anime comparison because, well, “OMG Asia is like anime!” does not sound like the worldly traveler sound bite of the month. But art/life/inspires, you know the deal: they consume a lot of anime there, and anime is in part based on actual youth culture.

Bottom line, people in Chiang Mai are using fashion as a canvas to express their individualism in a way no US high school rebel has ever matched.

What About Mexico?

The difference between US and Thailand was easy to see. It’s drastic, and they’re almost total opposites. But Mexico makes my head spin.

Again, I’m not talking about T-shirts. Sure, those are everywhere. And walk into any business district and you’ll see suits and professional attire. No surprise there.

But it’s in more informal settings I’m surprised. Frequently I see men in vest, tie, jacket and dress pants just out walking their dogs. Not only older men, but men my age too. Women build themselves up: tall boots with tall heels, flaring jackets with high shoulders, so much hip sway they take up two lanes. It reminds me of a cat puffing itself up to scare off bigger animals.

People dress like this to go to the corner market.

I’ve got an ascot. I’m going to start wearing it.

What cultural differences have surprised you? Jump in and tell us a story. Did fashion statements surprise you somewhere you visited? Did you change your own style afterward?

Please tweet the shit out of this post because I love you.

By the way, did you know I’ve started my own business? And I make beautiful things? That are magic? Click on over and check out

Mexico City, Spotlight, Thailand

Adventures in Chinese Medicine

Mauricio Quintana is my host in Mexico. I first met Mauricio through, of all things, our mutual interest in online gaming. For several years we chatted online. We share a love of travel, adventure and meditation. Our traveling ways sometimes baffle our more settled friends. Soon we had a strong sense of kinship.

But I didn’t expect to go hunting for blood powder for him.

Tinctures at Mauricio’s clinic in Mexico City.

Skepticism & Weight Loss

“Blood powder” is my incorrect term for yunnan baiyao, a powder that is not made from blood. In fact, no one’s sure exactly what’s in it (proprietary recipe), but it’s been used for about a century to staunch bleeding wounds in Asia.

Mauricio practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and lately the stuff has been hard to come by in his home town of Mexico City. So while I was in Thailand he emailed me to ask if I would go find him some. “It’s common throughout Asia,” he assured me.

It’s a little funny for me of all people to go hunting down Chinese Medicine ingredients. A year ago, I viewed Mau’s medical practice with skepticism. I have nothing against the use of medicinal herbs: they’re proven to work, and I’ve been trained in the use of quite a few of the Western ones. But many other aspects of Chinese Medicine—the use of needles and pressure points, the reference to “energy” in the body, and so forth—go beyond what has been observed with science. And science is the best source of information we have.

So, a year ago, I was reluctant to go Mau for help. My weight loss efforts, which had started off well as I tracked and cut calories, had ground to a halt. I was still 50 pounds overweight, a legacy of my unhappy marriage and my lengthy injury. On a whim, I asked Mau if he had recommendations for losing weight.

“Well yes, but you’re not going to like it.”

I was intrigued.

Mauricio described a 13 week program he does once a year which “removes toxins from the body, balances the metabolism, improves liver health, and leads to dramatic weight loss.”

Sign me up, right? Well… the program’s not easy. It includes a formidable regimen of herbal supplements, and tightly controlled dietary restrictions that change every two weeks. I’d be giving up such varied amenities as chocolate, sugar, gluten, red meat, alcohol, even legumes at different points in the program.

That shit is hard. I wanted to know if it would actually work. I began to ask some pretty detailed questions about claims like “removing toxins” and “balancing.”

I was amazed and impressed. There is a lot of language in Chinese Medicine that does not make immediate sense to a Westerner. Phrases like “energy deficiency in the spleen” are very literal translations of Chinese characters. However, they correspond to bodily processes that can be observed and studied. When you explain it as “the stress from worrying too much leads to troubled digestion” and throw me a study proving it, suddenly it makes a lot more sense.

In other words, Mauricio translated the arcane phrases of his tradition to the (equally arcane) jargon of Western medicine for me. He was extremely patient, thorough, and astute. It painted a picture for me of a medical system that knows what it’s talking about. That inclined me to give its treatments the benefit of the doubt.

Thus, I embarked on his 13-week program. I lost an average of 3 pounds per week, for a total of more than 30 pounds in just over 3 months.

That was nearly a year ago; the weight has stayed off.

My moleskin. Chinese characters for yunnan baiyao and directions in Thai to the herb store.

The Hunt

Having seen the power of his art, I was happy to follow up on his request for yunnan baiyao. Actually, I was excited: I hadn’t thought of checking out an herbalist or Chinese doctor while in Thailand, and it would be fun to see one of their shops.

Or, as it turned out, the only such shop.

I went to the Waroros day market, a sprawling bazaar inside of several old warehouses and a number of back streets. Armed with my faithful reproduction of the Chinese characters for yunnan baiyao, I was quickly directed to “the” place to get Chinese Medicine.

“We don’t have it.”

Is there somewhere else that might?





Sure kid, here are some directions to follow. Enjoy. 

The smiling herb lady waved to me as I set out on what would be a week-long goose chase across three day markets and a dozen pharmacists in every part of Chiang Mai.

The rogue priest will never let you down.

We Promise They’ll Have It

Each pharmacist greeted me with a smile and fluent English, followed by a frown when I announced what I was looking for. I’m still not sure whether the frown was because they didn’t stock it, or because they look down on Chinese Medicine like Western doctors do. I got the feeling it was the latter.

Even so, each pharmacist was quite confident they knew a different pharmacist who stocked it.

Eventually, these leads became circular, with Shop D referring me to Shop A and so forth. When I told a pharmacist that I had already tried the person they were referring me to, they were surprised. They all —without exception—then recommended I go to a certain shop in Waroros market.

After double-checking their directions, I confirmed that it was the very first shop I had gone to on Day 1. The shop that was out of stock.

I relayed this to one pharmacist, who laughed at me. “If they don’t have it then there is none in Chiang Mai,” he told me.

I was ready to give up. But something didn’t make sense. If yunnan baiyao is such a basic emergency treatment in Chinese Medicine, why would the only Chinese Medicine outlet in town not have it? Maybe I had talked to the wrong person, or asked for the wrong thing?

I dragged myself back to Waroros Market, approached the lady behind the counter (a different one than the first time) and showed her the Chinese characters for yunnan baiyao.

“Do you want pills or powder?”

Well played, Chiang Mai. Well played.

Mau blogs about Chinese Medicine at Mauricio Quintana and about life & philosophy at The Wandering Dragon.

Thailand, The Heroic Life, Travel

The Tragic Joy of the Heroic Life

“Love it the first time.”

These words have been my credo since Day Zero.

They came to me literally on the eve of my departure, as I biked into Minneapolis for the last time and saw her skyline above me. Spotlights in the mist, rainclouds parting, 3 million lives unfolding. I caught my breath and wondered if I’ll see my city again, or if I’ll die on my walk.

I breathed out loud: “Love it the first time, Drew.”

I committed the scene to my lifelong memory, put my head down, and resumed biking.

Tragic Joy

This credo has come to serve me many times on my quest. Almost daily I recite these words, beholding with joy some happy scene or experience.

In part, this is because the Heroic Life involves travel. I can never see everything. I pick my priorities and live with my choices. Instead of making phantom plans, I cherish the memories I have. And I look forward.

I believe this view is required for the Heroic Life. You must accept that today may be your last experience. And you must love that truth. You must love that there may be nothing more: the moment is enough. It is sacred in itself.

This is the tragic love of the Heroic Life.

In moments of happiness, my heart soars like I’ve leapt from a cliff. Moments are fleeting and mortal, as we are.

Soul Mates

In the story of the Temple on Doi Suthep I mentioned someone important. I didn’t see her, but a few paces away was Saarein. We wouldn’t meet till later. Heaven brought us together.

When I got home I rested and showered. The temptation was strong to go to bed, but I wanted to keep my ankle moving. I went out for Indian food.

At the next table, a Dutch woman in a breathtaking shawl sat down, alone. (A woman on her own is an unusual sight in Thailand.)

I pushed weariness from my mind. Summoning my training I asked if she spoke English. She did. Would she like company?

We talked for hours.

“I follow the gods of nature,” I said.

“Me too,” she said.

The next day she taught me to ride a motorbike. First I clung behind her as she tried to kill us. Then she let me try to kill us. She was a patient teacher, one hand gently on my shoulder to show she wasn’t afraid.

We walked through caves with the Buddha. We offered incense, we prayed, we talked. As the sun set, I drove us through country roads. The sun hit the rice fields and the old walls and rooves. Everything glowed gold; we waved and the people smiled.

It was picturesque, but we didn’t capture it. “I’ll remember without a camera,” she said.

“Me too,” I said.

I knew this was our only day. Tomorrow she was leaving for Laos, then onward on her travels across Asia. In two weeks I’d go on to Mexico. From the moment we met we had 30 hours together. The clock ticked down.

We didn’t speak of this. We understood. She taught me many Dutch words, but never good-bye. Late that night I watched her zoom away on her motorbike, my fellow adventurer and my soul mate. I went to bed, and I slept easily.

It may seem that the Heroic Life brings this upon itself. If you travel to challenge yourself, you will part with many soul friends and lovers along the way.

In truth, every love is fleeting. Every joy is mortal. Most people choose to forget that. They try to build eternal happiness. When things change their hearts break. The Heroic Life allows no illusion. It confronts you from the start.

          The tragic joy of the Heroic Life:
                    Love it the first time.
                              Heaven may be a dream…
Thailand, Travel

One Month in Thailand

I just stepped off 55 hours of flights and airports leaving behind Chiang Mai, Thailand for Mexico City, Mexico. MC will be my home for the next 2 1/2 months, but as I coasted over the freezing waters of the north Pacific I found myself reminiscing.

Did I accomplish what I wanted to in Thailand?

How was it?

Mission Objectives

Here is a list of the goals I had when I went to Thailand, and how I did with each one.

Learn Thai massage. My teacher suggested I do this, as a way of taking home something unique from the culture. I only wanted to learn a basic set of movements—enough to give a 30 or 60 minute basic treatment.

I went to a lot of massage schools in Chiang Mai and paid for a massage, and frequently found them lacking. Many places just do a perfunctory job to make money from tourists. Eventually in the village of Pai I found one old woman who was a true master. She treated her art as a spiritual path—she was the only one who began with a silent prayer to Buddha—and she dug into my pressure points with energy and precision. When I asked if she taught, she took me to her teacher’s school, but sadly he was not available till after I left.

Eventually I went with NAMO Massage School in Chiang Mai. They taught me a professional half-day class. The instructor spoke fluent English, was very attentive and indeed included the wai to the shrine (“Pray to your teacher, or the Buddha, or God” she said). I left knowing about 10 movements and feeling competent in them.

Mission: Accomplished

Explore the Thai countryside. I wasn’t too sure about this because I didn’t know much about the lay of the land, but it was highly doable. I rented a motorbike and, after some hair-raising driving lessons from a Dutch friend, made the four hour road trip to the village of Pai, the highlight of my trip.

(Note: learning to ride a motorbike in Asian traffic is the most valuable skill I learned in Thailand!)

Late in my stay, I also met some American friends—a white boy professor from Wisconsin and his Hmong-American wife—who annually travel rural Thailand, Laos and Burma to do social advocacy. They painted such a beautiful (and safe!) picture of northeastern Thailand that I really wanted to add a trip to the city of Chiang Rai and the highway along the Burmese border. Sadly I was out of time. Probably my biggest regret of the trip.

Mission: Good Enough

Relax. One of my reasons for a month in Thailand was leisure time, plain and simple. I didn’t really find that in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a large, loud, busy, dirty city. I had a ton of fun there and I’m very happy I went, but it was more like an insanely cheap New York City than a month of R&R. I don’t feel “recharged” after this trip, more like “I earned a badge.”

Mission: Unrealistic

Learn Eastern geomancy. This is going well, and until I’m ready to unveil some stuff, that’s all I’ll say about that.

Mission: Pretty Vague!

Learn to live alone in a foreign country. I’ve been abroad before but always with people I knew and never for more than a few weeks. A month alone? Don’t even speak the language? How did it go?

This was a stunning success. By stunning I mean I surprised myself with my ability to cope. Not that there’s a whole lot that needs coping in Thailand, but I weathered a serious fever, a case of food poisoning, and a lot of loneliness. I’m proud that I went up to strangers and made friends, networked with other traveling bloggers, and made myself acculturate to Thai daily life (showers, toilets, not walking on trap doors… you get the idea).

Mission: Accomplished

All in all I’ll call the Thailand trip a success. It showed me some highs and lows of the traveling lifestyle I’m embarking on, and hopefully it’s prepared me to better deal with everything that comes.

Photographs, Religion, Thailand, Travel

Photo Tale: The Temple on Doi Suthep

Last week I decided I would hike up Doi Suthep, the mountain outside Chiang Mai, to visit the temple on top. I planned to cut off-road to make the walk shorter. In total, I would cover nearly 12 miles of terrain and 1400 meters of elevation change.

Aside from testing out my rehabilitated ankle (more on that Monday), I wanted to see the statue of Ganesha and make offerings. Buddhism is okay, but I’m a polytheist, and these gods are the cousins of my gods. You gotta meet the family.

Anyway, I started out with 3 liters of water, my camera, and not much else, grazing on street food to store calories as I crossed the city. I saw my destination high above me:

You know there’s a bus, right?

It took about 90 minutes to get to the edge of Chiang Mai. I had scouted a possible footpath to cut off-road using Google Maps, which as usual has pants on fire. The proposed footpath is actually within the confines of the Chiang Mai zoo. I wasn’t daunted, I had a map:

This can’t possibly go wrong.

Continuing onward, I found a back gate to the zoo and briefly considered sneaking in sneaked in. Then I thought about my life decisions. Wouldn’t there be a wall blocking my chosen route? Or maybe a lion pit? I didn’t want to detour to find out.

(If you ever make this walk, I’m talking about the red route from last week. Past the zoo it should take you up the mountain to a scenic overlook on Highway 1004. Let me know if you get through.)

Forsaking the zoo, I found out that there was a park farther up the road, sprawling around a beautiful mountain waterfall. This seemed promising. The waterfall zone was full of Thai people. It made me happy to see them on a holiday of their own and not just catering to Western tourists. I didn’t get a picture of them though, because I was tired.

So, so tired.

Trusting to my sense of direction I plunged off the main trail and up the mountainside. It was a steep, difficult walk but enjoyable. I found a hidden mountain shrine where I offered incense.

At last I rejoined the main road. Songthaews and motorbikes whipped past me. Occasionally I’d see a bicycle, but no other walkers.

On the lower part of the mountain, people beeped or laughed at me. A Thai family pulled over to see if I needed help. But higher up, things changed. The people going by could guess that I was hiking the whole way up. In America, they call that crazy. In Thailand they cheered me on. One Thai guy practiced his English: “You can make it! You can make it!” His girlfriend smiled from behind him on the motorbike.

It was actually pretty awesome.

The last two kilometers (mile) were rough. I stumbled up a steep, hairpin ramp of a road. At the top is a tall swift waterfall and the temple grounds. I sat down next to an old Thai worker. I gulped water. He looked me up and down.

“You walk all that way?”

“Yeah. The whole way.”

He broke out into a huge grin and told his friends in Thai. They grinned too. They were really happy for me.

I put a coin in the waterfall for the mountain spirits and picked myself up. I wasn’t done yet. I had reached the parking area. Beyond that is a strip of vendors, some steps, a small bazaar, and the final staircase to the temple.

“You walked up here to buy an anime sweatshirt, right?”

I don’t hold anything against the tourism industry. The Thai people didn’t seem bothered at all that there was this strip of capitalism on the temple steps, so it must be okay. But I did find it disconcerting that lots of grilled and fried meats were served on the threshold of a Buddhist temple. Most Thai are not vegetarians but their Buddhist monks are. I kept waiting to cross an invisible line past which the only street food would be vegetarian, but I hope you like sausages.

On the other hand, this is a great place to buy holy items. There were merchants with bells, vajras, statuary, prayer beads, incense, and all the other trappings of Buddhist ritual. I’m sure it costs more to buy them here than it does in town, but it felt really special seeing people pick them out at this mountaintop shrine.

I didn’t need any Buddha kit but I bought a simple walking stick. It’s nice knowing that my walking stick for future adventures came from a pilgrimage up Doi Suthep.

(Of course, that stick isn’t likely to stay with me long.)

Once past the bazaar, there is a final staircase of 300 steps guarded by seven-headed-dragons and single-headed Hmong girls:

You have to fight one of us…

…and you should’ve chose the dragon.

Those last 300 steps are a killer, so the kindly monks have installed a tram you can take instead. But if you have two working legs and take that tram, I disown you. Instead, follow the 70 year old Thai grandmas up the steps. There is an awe and a joy that comes with the final ascent.

(Also, it costs 30 baht to enter—US $.95—if you’re farang.)

“30 baht? What the hell are they doing that they need my 30 baht? …Oh.”

The layout of the temple is simple, but quite large. I won’t describe it here because exploring it was my favorite part of the whole trip. It was like unlocking a new area in a video game. You know there’s a treasure or a secret there, you just need to go find it.

Though you may need the hookshot.

In my case, the statue of Ganesha was the treasure to seek. I picked my way around the temple grounds, barefoot. I left my shoes and my entire backpack unattended for about two hours at the temple entrance—I have a hard time imagining theft at a temple in rural Thailand.

Though you notice I didn’t leave my camera there.

I purchased three candles, two incense sticks and a lotus (these come bundled altogether for about 20 baht—I recommend purchasing inside the temple so you know the money supports the monks). I perambulated about the chedi three times saying my prayers, observing careful etiquette. Then I went before one of many oblatories and made my offerings.

I’m not a big fan of asking for stuff in prayer, least of all from Buddha who would’ve discouraged the practice. But I figure my sister, who is in a monastery becoming a lama, has worked pretty darn hard for this Buddha fellow. I told him to look out for her. I offered the second candle for my late friend Jinpa, a Kagyu/Nyingma monk who traded practices with me. The third one was for Ganesha.

The Thai seemed surprised that I knew proper etiquette in how to make these offerings, but if you just observe it’s easy to pick up. There are going to be a hundred people or more around the chedi at any given time, so just watch for a few minutes and you’ll understand the procedure. (What you say in your heart when you pray is up to you, but I think it’s rude not to follow the physical gestures of respect in a place like this.)

After all that I still hadn’t found the Ganesha statue anywhere. I had been through every nook of the main temple, but no elephant-headed deities to be seen.

But the art was alright.

I went back out of the main temple and circled the temple grounds. In an amphitheater, about 150 Thai people listened to some jokester monks putting on a show. They drew names to give away presents. Better yet, just like at every church raffle in America, the monks could not figure out how to pronounce any of the names they drew.

Look at their faces!

It took some looking but eventually I did find Ganesha. He is outside the main temple, in a garden behind the building.

He’s so hard to find he only got in this picture by accident:

There’s another, stone statue of him a little deeper in the garden. That one has a place to leave offerings, though no place to kneel. There were signs of a few offerings left there but they seemed like an afterthought. Compared to the 108 Buddha statues inside the temple, each teaming with a trove of gifts, Ganesha looked neglected and forgotten.

It gave me a bad feeling. The fact that Ganesha has a statue here at all means it was likely a Hindu sanctuary long before the Buddha even lived. In the West, we know that Christianity often destroyed or took over the sanctuaries of older religions. People seem to think Buddhism is all peace and flowers, but it has done the same thing. Many Buddhists in Thailand worship the gods along with the Buddha, but Buddhism takes pains to make sure it’s on top.

I made my offering to Ganesha and, with a heavy heart, I finished my exploration.

Eventually it was time to go. It was nearly dark, so walking back to town was out. I had a chance to hitch a ride, but I didn’t like the feeling of the person. Instead I joined a songthaew and, for the low price of 70 baht, got a ride all the way back to the Old City.

I didn’t know it then, but even as I snapped pictures and frowned with Ganesh, someone I’d soon meet was less than a hundred yards away—someone who would later become very important to me.

But that’s a story for a different time.

Please tweet or share this post. Wanna know something about the Wat? Just ask!

Spotlight, Thailand, Travel

The Road to Pai: Interview with Dave Dean

My time in Thailand grows short. I’ve come to love Chiang Mai, but what I love even more are the quiet sunlit roads just outside the city. Those roads call to me. So does the Thai countryside, which is invisible from inside Chiang Mai.

The result? I’m planning a road trip, by scooter. I want to see some proper villages, and then scoot through the mountains along the Burmese border.

This is unknown territory for me, so I sat down with fellow traveler Dave Dean. Dave had sold me on the town of Pai with his brilliant photo of the road there, “the road to nowhere.” I asked him what to expect, and he schooled me…

This is the photo that sold me. Ready to go?

Ask the Drifting Kiwi

Drew: Is the road hard to navigate? Is there a chance of getting lost?

Dave: Not at all, if you take a look at a map beforehand and have a vague sense of direction. Basically you head north out of Chiang Mai on the main road, and the turnoff is well signposted about 40 minutes later. From there it is literally one road for the next 3+ hours. If you’ve got lost it’s probably because you’ve driven off the mountain, in which case you’ve got slightly bigger issues to worry about…

What are the roads like? Are these some Ireland-style roads, one lane hugging a cliff and you might come around the bend to see a semi bearing down on you? Or what?

The roads are generally well maintained – a lot more than you might expect for a non-main road in Southeast Asia. I think that’s because it is used by the Thai army if there are border issues. Having said that, it is one lane each way along some very winding, hilly stretches and small potholes aren’t unusual – especially near the shoulder where the scooters ride. Keep your eyes open for them, and also for the minivans that happily pass on blind corners and force you to take evasive action as they bear down on you.

When I get there, what should I expect in terms of accommodations?

The standard of accommodation varies a lot, from basic guesthouses to high end places. The prices vary a lot too – this time of year (Nov – Feb) is peak season as loads of Thai tourists come from the south to enjoy the cooler weather, and accommodation prices can easily double compared to other months.

In the village, can I get wifi? Can I plug in my laptop? How rustic is it?

You can definitely get wifi in several of the cafes and bars, and many of the guesthouses will have it too. The rustic days of limited power and internet are long gone in Pai, for better or worse…

Are there any dangerous critters I should know about? Snakes? Scorpions? Poisonous spiders?

Crazy minivan drivers are probably your biggest threat. Or drunk tourists. Although there was something rustling around in the thatch roof of my bungalow all night squeaking away… I choose to think that it was a mouse rather than anything larger. Really though, I didn’t see anything much bigger than a cockroach in terms of insects, and only one or two of them.

Is there any hostility in the countryside around Pai? Guerillas, rebels, ambushes, etc.?

Not these days – as dangerous as it used to be back in the ’70s and ’80s, the area around Pai has been cleaned up significantly and anywhere that you are likely to find yourself as a visitor is totally safe.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Pai?

Relax! There is a deliciously laid back feel to Pai, and chilling out in with a book in my hammock for a few hours, gazing out over the rice paddies and nearby mountains, was absolutely my favourite activity! It’s not a party town and you can see most of the nearby attractions in a couple of days, so after that it’s time to chill!

What’s the one thing I should avoid in Pai?

Probably the minivan ride there and back, judging by the green faces of the people tumbling out of them at the end. Failing that, I’d suggest not choosing a guesthouse on the main ‘walking’ street—it is a bit of a backpacker jungle—and find somewhere elsewhere in town. I stayed just across the river and it was scenic and tranquil, but only a 2 minute scooter ride / 10 minute walk to the main street.

You can follow Dave @DriftingKiwi and read about his Asia-trekking ways at Please tweet or Facebook share this post. 


Is Thailand Safe for Children?

Let’s say you have a kid. (Maybe you actually do.)

I don’t mean an infant or a teenager. I’m not dealing with that. Kid. Picture a kid.

Okay, now let’s say you asked me to look after your beloved child. I am totally trustworthy, by the way. I can teach the kid drinking games and undo most of their Sunday Schooling. Kids love me.


Now let’s say something unexpected happened. While I’m watching your kid, the heavens opened up. A god descends on his golden chariot and scoops up your child. “I am taking this child!” bellows the mischievous deity.

“Noooo,” I exclaim half-heartedly. I was getting bored with the kid anyway.

“Ah, but I’ll give you a choice!” says the sly god on his slick golden chariot. “I am going to abandon this child all alone, in the middle of a city! But I’ll let you choose which city.”

“Is this like a multiple choice deal, or–”

“YES!” The gods don’t have time for open-ended questions. They always use bubble tests. “Your choices are Saint Paul, USA; or Chiang Mai, Thailand! WHICH DO YOU SELECT!

Your child’s life depends on this. Give this some thought. Saint Paul is a respectable city, a little conservative, one of the lower crime rates for a major city in the US. It has a better reputation than its hipper sister city, Minneapolis.

But would you seriously leave your kid on the street there?

“Chiang Mai! Drop that kid in Chiang Mai!”

I just saved your kid’s life.

And that, my friends, is my answer to the question “Is Chiang Mai safe?”


Adventure, Thailand, Travel

Off Roadin’ with the Buddha

Chiang Mai is located at the foot of a mountain. The mountain is called Doi Suthep.

Near the top of this mountain is a wat (temple) known as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Since Friday is the last day of my meditation retreat, I’ve decided to conclude it by hiking up the mountain Saturday and visiting the temple.

My photos will probably not be this good.

This is a bit of a challenge. It’s the longest hike I’ve attempted on my post-surgery ankle. Each direction is about 8 miles and, with the steep terrain, is estimated to take about 4 hours. That’s a round trip of 8 hours of walking.

I don’t mind the challenge. It’s good training. But I also wouldn’t mind if the trip was shorter. Here’s the route, following the (only) road that goes up the mountain:

(Click for the real deal.)

What do you notice about that route? Yeah, it’s pretty circuitous. Check this out:

Clever clever.

This is my thought. If I’m willing to off road it, I can cut out a significant section of the hike. This will save time, energy, and footache.

There are problems with this. Usually when engineers make a road long and winding it’s for a reason. The routes in red and orange might go up a sheer cliff. Or other difficult terrain. They’re certainly covered in jungle.

But but butit would be exciting!

This is the Rogue Priest here. Do you think I got that name following roads? I really like the idea of forging my own way off-road. It appeals to me to say I climbed a mountain to visit a temple and mean it.

I’m a little torn about which route to try. The red route is close to the downhill end of the road. It’s probably not as steep and it won’t take long. The orange route would save me a lot more time, but it’s also higher up.

Either way, there’s a chance I’ll have to turn back and take the main road. The forest might be blocked by private homes, walls, or who knows what. On the other hand, I might find an easy footpath that Google doesn’t know about. It sure looks like one:

You are not Jesus, Google. You are not Jesus.

Here is what I plan to take on my trip.

  • Backpack
  • 3 litres of water
  • Lunch
  • Bug spray
  • Crudely drawn map
  • 100 copies of the tract, “Why You Should Convert to the Heroic Life”

Okay, that last one is a joke. It’s a joke! I leave first thing in the morning so my wanderings don’t strand me out there after dark. Wish me luck!