When I decided to go to Pai, I only meant to spend up to 3 days there—but I ended up spending 7 nights! The main reason I ended up staying so long was Jimmy. Jimmy is a 25 year old, Rastafarian Thai man from the southern islands. I met him on the night of the Festival of Lights in Chiang Mai and randomly bumped into him in Pai on my first night there.

Jimmy took me all over Pai on his motorbike and introduced me to his friends at Sunset bar. They all became like family to me. I had a great time with them…well, except when I tried a little snack they were eating one evening!

Meeting Jimmy

It started the night of the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai. I had just finished sending off a lantern into the night sky and a krathong float down the Ping River. To continue the celebration, I went with a group of friends to a Rastafarian bar in the old city. We danced all night to a band playing Reggae music covers.

In front of my friend Megan and I was this hilarious Thai man. Picture a huge afro, paisley bell bottoms, jean shirt, and a whiskey in hand. He was such a character!

“Psst, Megan! It’s Disco Thai!” Megan and I giggled at how fun he was dancing around. He must have seen us smiling in his direction because he soon turned to me and pulled me up to the front to dance with him.

I learned his name—Jimmy. Jimmy and I danced and laughed and sang along to the songs for at least an hour together that evening before it was time to go. Here’s a photo I snapped of us before I left.

Meeting Jimmy, again

Fast forward to my arrival in Pai. I had a mission to watch the sunset while sipping a beer for my first night in Pai. A simple google search pulled up “Sunset Restaurant and Bar.” Well that was easy.

I walked along the road out of Pai heading in the direction of the destination indicated on my GPS. Soon, I saw hand-made signs on the road pointing to “Sunset bar.” Surely this is the bar I’m trying to get to. I put my GPS away and started following the signs.

I was heading down a dirt side road as the sun was lowering in the sky ahead of me. The light was blinding as I turned the corner and approached a big colorful sign reading Sunset Bar.

From above on bamboo stilts I could hear Bob Marley's "Jammin'" playing loudly and someone yelling in a Thai accent over music, “Ohhhhhh! Hellooooo! Welcome to Sunset Bar!” Squinting into the light, I saw a Thai man with a huge afro heading down the bamboo steps toward me. His face came into view and that’s when I realized—it was Jimmy!

He looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him! Neither of us ever talked about where we were heading after Chiang Mai and now here we were, meeting once again!

I found out later I had actually followed signs to a different bar than I had found online—but sometimes we’re meant to deviate from the paths we intend to follow. Accidents lead to great encounters. And this was one of those. Both of us were completely shocked we had met again so randomly. We instantly got a drink, clinked glasses, and started talking.

Motorbiking with Jimmy around Pai

Jimmy told me he had just recently moved to Pai to work with his cousin at Sunset Bar. He had not seen a lot of the area yet either. After getting over my own fear of driving a motorbike, riding on the back around Pai with Jimmy was nothing. Like most Thai people, he’s been riding motorbikes since he was a child. He never went too fast for me, always saying, “No need go fast. See more of the world not too fast, and get there same time.” Jimmy and I were on the same page.

On the first day motorbiking, Jimmy and I drove to Pambook Waterfall and then took a detour following signs pointing to a scenic lookout over Pai. We never actually made it to the lookout because the way there became extremely steep and muddy—nearly impossible for any motorbike to get up, let alone his 110cc with the two of us weighing it down!

 
 

Nevertheless, heading down this back road was totally worth the ride! This was the true rice farming back country I had been hearing is so quintessential to Northern Thailand. After asking if it was alright, the farmers at one stop all happily posed for my camera as they worked.

Jimmy and the Sunset Bar crew

Since Jimmy and I were hanging out almost every day, I became a bit of a regular at Sunset Bar. I would go there to chill with him and watch him twirl fire and DJ for the customers.

As he worked, I would also hang out with his co-workers who were a mix of Westerners and Thai folk. Ally was one of the Westerners with whom I bonded. She’s an Australian woman working the bar and living in a bungalow on the grounds. She told me how she never meant to stay in Pai for as long as she ended up staying—but she just fell in love with it!

I spent many nights getting to know the Thai crew, too, who mostly just sat off to the side of the bar drinking. Several of them were the cooks, but they only had to work when the rare food order was made. In the meantime, we played pool and chatted over Sing Sam (a type of Thai whiskey) and sodas. They knew just enough English for our conversations to include making fun of silly, drunken tourists, customs in Thailand, and Thai words and other language nuances. I am forever grateful to these folks for teaching me key Thai phrases including ways to haggle at the markets and sound to the merchants like I’ve been in Thailand for a long time.

Eating bugs

My new Thai friends happily made me full meals and provided endless alcohol every night. But on one fateful evening they shared a snack I was unfit to try. They were sitting around munching on a bowl full of bugs like Americans munch potato chips. Crunchy grasshopper, crispy worms, and squishy caterpillar made up their bowl of “party mix.” Come to find out, their stomachs are made of iron and my stomach simply is not.

I had once watched video of my friend Dasha eating bugs while in Thailand. Also, for weeks all over I had been seeing various types of cooked, creepy-crawlies for sale by street vendors. So I knew I would eventually be eating some bugs during this trip. It was just a matter of when. In keeping with my openness to experience the food of a culture as it is presented to me in spite of my own dietary and cultural restrictions back home, the time for bug eating had arrived.

“Try!” My new group of Thai friends insisted.

One by one, I tasted each of the three options. First, the thickest, most inedible-looking one of all: The caterpillar. It tasted like a meaty, bittery leaf with the texture of a fat, squishy lima bean. It was one of those eating experiences when your teeth tingle with resistance as you bite into it. Then you envision exactly what it looks like as it slides down your throat. As soon as it plopped into the acidic cavern of my stomach, I didn’t feel quite right.

Next was the worm. It was very light and airy and sort of crispy. There was not much to it. It just tasted a bit like the grease it was cooked in. The grasshopper was the best of the worst: crunchy, greasy, meaty, and kind of leafy tasting.

About 15 minutes later, I was talking to Ally with my head down on a table outside her room. “I feel so full or nauseous or something.”

“What did you eat?”

“I don’t know. I ate a bunch of stuff today. Some street food: a fried chicken cutlet and banana pancakes. Also those bugs.”

I can’t say for absolute sure if it was the bugs or not, but something I ate (probably the bugs) sent me into a puking, pooping frenzy (most likely the bugs) for the next 10 hours straight that night (yeah, okay, it was definitely the bugs).

When new friends show they care

After an hour or so at Sunset Bar, my stomach made it clear there would be no end to the nausea. Jimmy was sweet enough to give me a ride back to my guesthouse. I was sad to leave my Thai buddies. After several nights in a row hanging out with them, I had grown to really enjoy their company. But there was no stopping what was erupting out of my body.

Laying in my comfortable little guesthouse in the middle of beautiful Pai in the fetal position, dreading having to get up again to decide whether to sit on the toilet or stand next to it is some kind of hilarious hell.

Jimmy checked in on me several times and took me to the Thanawat Medical Clinic the next day where I got an antibiotic from “Dr. Adam.” Then, Jimmy bought me some instant soup and asked Nu, the woman who ran my guesthouse, for hot water. She was very sweet and brought it to me in a big jug so I’d have it for my personal use all day. Thai people never cease to amaze me with their kindness.

After a day of sleep, soup, and drugs, I felt completely better—enough to go back to Sunset Bar for one last night in Pai. Everyone there knew I had gotten sick and were clearly concerned. “How you feel?” “Was it bugs you eat?” and so on. They were happy I was feeling better.

I was happy I was feeling better, too, if for no other reason than to have one last night to party with them all and say my goodbyes. I was especially glad to have one last night to party with Jimmy who had done so much for me all week and taken care of me when I got sick.

At one point during my stay in Pai, I asked Jimmy what his real name is in Thai. He told me it’s Thawatchai, which means “strong.” Thawatchai, Jimmy, or Disco Thai, no matter what he may be called, he was a great friend to me. I am grateful to him and all his friends at Sunset Bar. I hope to meet them all again when I visit Thailand in the future!