We walked to the shop just after sunrise. The guides were waiting by an old pickup truck. The two other travellers joined us soon after. One, a Thai university student living in Bangkok, the other his German classmate. They were on vacation.
We climbed in the back of the truck and it drove us far outside of Pai. After some time, the truck stopped and the four of us hopped out. The two guides loaded their guns and told us it was time to start moving. It was a very strange feeling, one older man walked ahead of the group with a large shotgun, the other a little younger, followed in the back. He had a rifle.
Apparently the jungle isn’t a place you go without protection. Back at their shop, there were photos of some of the animals they’d shot in the past. Some fairly large cats, the type you wouldn’t want to encounter unarmed.
We marched on.
After several hours, we were chatting casually with the other two travellers. They were both soon-to-be architects. The guides mostly kept quiet.
Soon, we stopped for lunch. The younger guide started a fire and took some slices of pork from a sac. As the flies buzzed around the meat under the hot sun, our leader cut some bamboo, filled it with rice and water, and set it over the flames. He then grilled the incredible smelling meat over the coals.
We ate the hot, sticky rice and the spicy, salt pork with our fingers. There’s something so amazing about Thai food. This was so very simple, only a few ingredients, yet the flavour was so intense. Thankfully, the German was a vegetarian, so there was more pork to go around!
Walking for several hours more, we soon took rest once again. This time near a small waterfall and swimming hole. The mid-afternoon temperatures were in the high 30’s. This cool-down couldn’t have come at a better time. Soon though, it was time to carry on. Camp was still several hours away.
The rain came hard and fast that afternoon. The thick canopy of the jungle offered some protection at first, but soon the water became too heavy even for it, and we quickly became drenched.
Following almost nine hours and over 15 kilometres into the jungle, we arrived at a small, bamboo shelter. No walls, just a roof over a raised platform and a small cooking area in the centre. As the sun began to set, our guide taught us construction techniques using bamboo. For walls, poles, roofing, water filtration, and cooking. Such an impressively versatile plant.
Another Fantastic Meal and the Guide’s Dessert
The two men prepared a stew of mushrooms they foraged as we hiked. We had no choice but to trust their judgement, there was little else to eat. Once again, the meal was outstanding, and once again, prepared completely with fresh bamboo. And once again, the food was mind-blowingly delicious.
The older guide set off after dark, hunting we were told, though not sure for what – or why he went alone. The other guide began preparing a mixture on some wood. He massaged the brown tar with flour of some sort, to thicken it into a gum. He asked if I knew what it was.
I assumed opium. I was correct.
We did not imbibe however. The man handed us a litre of rice whisky he had in his backpack. The four of us swapped travel stories under a clear sky, deep in the jungle. Our sole protector passing into unconsciousness in the corner, puffing away at the small bamboo pipe he crafted for himself.
As the opium went to work on our guide, the moonshine did to us. Soon things became more and more blurred, and any concerns of leopard attacks were either forgotten or left to fate. We slept hard.
The following morning, all were still alive. A breakfast of simple baked potatoes fuelled us for the long hike back to civilization.