Day 43: Return to 'erotic' Thailand
The piece of art was inspired by Bruno Zach's erotic bronze sculpture of a German flapper. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
ANXIOUS, I ask Emma if she wants to stop for food. Joe, bless him, couldn't let us go this morning, which lead to a wealth of knowledge going into one year – far too much going out the other, despite my best efforts – and me running behind schedule.
My time in Thailand is quickly evaporating. Even before meeting Joe, I had a full plate, now with a number of recommendations and even a hand-written letter of introduction to archaeologist Joe Spis. My permit to stay on my visa runs out on July 10, while the Gazette officially cancels my work permit on July 9.
Given my fears of something going drastically wrong at the border, I want to be there a day or two ahead of time. So, if shit does it hit the fan like a guano tornado, I can still zip across the country to either Laos or Cambodia (after stepping into Myanmar to fulfill the will of the die).
We arrived at the Erotic Garden at about 9:30. However, the Penis Lady, needed to take her daughter to the dentist after pouring as “erotic” cappuccinos, which seemed exactly like any other cappuccino, though perhaps with a lighter roasted bean.
Much like yesterday, Joe launches in to a wide array of topics, starting with how quartz is often overlooked as an archaeological object and finishing, well almost finishing, with the perfect breasts.
Submissive Woman was the only piece that felt "challenging", which is what can make art so powerful. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“Researchers did an online survey to determine the perfect breast,” he explains, his pinky finger unconsciously hooked over the nipple of a statue he's standing next to during our tour. “Starting at the curvature of the breast, the nipple is 45% down. The top part is concave.”
When reviewing the sculpture of a woman who will eventually be partially exposed as she steps through a screen of vines, which at this point is a single vine tickling her foot, Joe notes that the sculpture was making the breasts were unreasonably big. So, before it was finished, he dug up the research by Dr Patrick Mallucci and Dr Olivier Branford about the perfect breasts, which also determined that the most aesthetically pleasing nipple is resting at a perky 20 degrees upward.
Joe gives us an interesting, convivial tour of the Erotic Garden. One that I imagine would be given to friends, with his asides about future plans, rather than standard guests. Then again, Joe isn't usually here, so a standard guest won't hear any off-record stories about the Danish Ambassador.
Unfortunately, Joe doesn't know much about the plants themselves, which is the forte of Katai, the Penis Lady, and her true passion. Most of the flowers aren't in bloom, so it's difficult for Emma and me to even guess why any particular well-manicured shrub is included on the grounds.
But that hasn't stopped the local police raiding the garden.
“Katai Kamminga erected what is quite possibly the first erotic garden (and teahouse!) in Southeast Asia, blurring the oh-so-thin line between sex organs and stamen. The Erotic Garden and Teahouse in Mae Rim, Thailand features suggestive vegetable sculptures, landscaped breasts and all the phalluses your eyes can handle,” wrote Andy Campbell for the Huffing Post for the story The Rise Of This Erotic Garden Will Come Hard And Fast, Breast Assured.
Shortly after the piece came out, the garden was raided, Joe explains. But, as Coconuts Bangkok pointed out: Sometimes a garden full of dicks is just a garden full of dicks.
After several attempts to find the new tourist attraction, which technically is still a private garden, a couple patrol cars of police arrived to see if there were “other services” being offered by the proprietor of the erotic garden.
To be honest, “erotic” seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. There is a huge different between something being suggestive and something being erotic, which “tends to arouse sexual desire or excitement”.
The giant onion statue and other suggestive fruit that appear to be lush apple-bottom booties is incredibly tame, something Joe admits.
Close to the entrance is the Hindu sundial of dicks, which originally was to be part of a penis forest that would rival the local cock collection of Mom Tri – the man who kicked-off tourism in Phuket decades ago. However, a crack down on illegal teak sent the legal teak prices through the roof when the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took over in the coup, erecting an unyielding cock block to the Erotic Garden.
“Everything is erotic!” Katai famously told Chiang Mai News during a walk through of the garden. “[Even the] onion can be sexy -- maybe for some people ... Mmmm, sexy plums.”
I'm not convinced that 'everything is erotic'. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
From the short amount of time we spent with Katai in the tea house yesterday, it is clear that she does approach the garden in this way, finding the sexual beauty in everything around here, opening up people's eyes and providing a new perspective on what might moisten their lips.
However, standing in the sun listening to Joe talk, the only action in my pants are droplets of sweat beading up and trickily between my cheeks, a warm reminder of why underwear can be such a pleasure, if only I was wearing a pair.
Joe explains that the large white sculpture of a woman hugging a man-sized dick caused the most consternation with the police. Though the piece of art inspired by Bruno Zach's erotic bronze sculpture of a German flapper was controversial when it was created in 1930, the version in front of us doesn't raise my eyebrows, or anything else for that matter. Nonetheless, it is truly erotic art – unlike the onion.
The only piece in the garden that does stir something inside of me, as art is designed to do, is the statue of the “Submissive Woman”. The white statue, now partially brown from iron-oxide during the drought, is folded on herself, her expressionless face pressed against the ground, her bare ass and vagina pushed up above the rest of her body.
New perspective of the Erotic Garden and Tea House in Chiang Mai. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The tour went and went with Joe confidently ignoring or nonverbal and verbal signals that we needed to wrap up things up so I could get on the road to Pai.
Despite Emma and I not arriving back at her place until after 1pm – I had originally hoped to be on the road by noon – I refuse to rush.
Emma makes me a coffee to drink as I slowly sift through the piles of gear – mostly magic – splayed out on the guest bed. After yesterday's packing disaster, I re-think exactly how I pack each item.
Emma balances herself on a inflatable ball, smoking and laughing as our banter continues and I get my bags ready to go.
Nearly two hours later, the motorcycle is packed, just as the light rain outside picks up its pace.
I thank Emma for her amazing hospitality, putting me up, making tacos for dinner, being available to hang out and offering some top quality banter.
On the road, I'm decked out in my rain gear. However, the rain starts to subside as I turn off the main highway onto the 1095, which leads to Pai.
Pai is a main-stream tourist destination with a cult-like following. I've been hearing about Pai since I arrived in Thailand, usually in the vain of the following conversation.
“I've been up to Chiang Mai,” I say.
“Yah? What about Pai?”
“It's amazing. You'll love it in Pai.”
These are people who know next to nothing about me or my interests, but religiously uphold the theory that I, like any other young backpacker or white person in Thailand, will love Pai.
Having done no research on the place, I always pictured Pai as this small chilled-out hippie town nestled into the mountains. A tight-knit community of foreigners getting stoned, while seeking enlightenment through yoga, meditation and crystals.
Pai is a place that consumes days of people's lives. They come for a few days during their holiday and stay for weeks. The British girl I went butterfly shopping with in Chiang Mai spent her entire vacation in Pai – happily swinging in a hammock stoned.
I, of course, am skeptical. Doing nothing is one of the things in this world I am not good at. Nonetheless, I picture these tiny, primitive bungalows near a stream with a small crowd of tourists meandering about like lost elves.
The road to Pai is being widened, the shoulders broadened as the destination comes of age. It's beautiful riding. A bit hot in the rain gear, I carve my way up the mountain, thick, healthy forest on both sides of the road. Occasionally, the lush undergrowth and trees will part, the veil dropping, as swaths of forested mountains fade into the distance.
Coffee shops crop up here and there along the roadside. So preoccupied with Witch's Cafe as I pass the Halloween themed establishment, I nearly overshoot a bend in the road crossing into the far lane, narrowly dodging a lorry working its way down the hill.
Up and up and up the bike and I go, taking tight turns slowly and steadily, keeping it tight on the inside of the turns and going wide when driving the outside of the turns. They aren't the racing lines, but even if a truck crosses the center line on a tight turn and demolishes you, it doesn't really mean much to have technically been on your side of the road. So, I give up the fastest angles on my turns and do my best to keep safe.
As I ascend, the forest starts to change: up slope there are groves of pine trees, their smell sweet in the wet air. Slowly, but steadily more and more of the jungle trees are replaced by pines until I find myself at the top of the mountain ridge.
The road snakes along the ridge.
As it is Drone Week on Dice Travels, I pull over at one of the lookouts. I'm making good time.
In the muddy, cleared area, I set up the drone. Putting the little flier up in the sky before getting on my bike to ride a section of winding road it's video taping.
Not wanting to get stuck behind a fuel transport truck on my way back up, I wait as it goes by and then make my run on the bike back up to where I left my bag and the remote for the drone.
Back on the hard mud, I fly the drone home, half chatting with two Canadians who are taking a rental scooter up to Pai from Chiang Mai, both wearing plastic brain scoopers for helmets.
“It's the most expensive way to take a selfie,” I joke as I land the drone. After taking pictures of the young couple with their iPhone and GoPro, I'm back on the bike.
A small cloud appears on the road, like a puff of smoke from the mouth of a giant. I savor the cool feeling of the cloud as I pass through it. A larger, transparent white cloud seeps into the top of the forest and across the road.
I pass a road sign with a stick figure on its knees heaving into a toilet bowl. The roads been curvy, but I assume the signs joke.
Fifty meters further up the road, past another bend, a large tour bus has pulled over to a little rest area. Two Chinese women are bent at the waist, presumably recovering from having vomited up a serving of instant noodles mixed with some stomach acid.
Apparently, the sign isn't a joke.
According to mile marker, Pai is further away then it was several kilometers ago. Concerned, I pull over and check the map.
Ah, I'm in Pai district, which is what the first set of signs were marking, not the town of Pai.
I brake as a few lean cows make their way across the road. Large bells attached to their necks.
Smiling, I laugh, recalling that Emma's parents use to tie a big bell around her neck when she was about five so they wouldn't lose her during Folk music concerts.
I then start the long, descent into the fertile agricultural valley that houses Pai.
A truck ahead, grinding downward in a low gear, flashes its turn signal, letting me know it's safe to pass. I zip around him, taking the next turn slow and tight as a minivan cuts into my lane.
A large “Welcome to Pai” sign stands in front of me. Pulling over, I check my phone to develop a list of possible hostels.
My Pai in the sky turns out to be a crowded tourist-dense Pai in a valley. What was once a remote Shan town is now the backpacking cultural center of Northern Thailand.
“At last count Pai district had 400 or so resorts, guesthouses, hotels and homestays including those in town itself, scattered along the river bank or situated in outlying villages,” I read on TravelFish.com.
There are so many choices, and so many poorly rated hostels, that I decided to drive into town and figure it out, maybe rolling “Yes / No” options as I spot places.
After crossing Memorial Bridge, I pass a number of strange accommodations with large concrete objects out front. One boasts a windmill, another strawberries, while a third disfigured humans. The road, and air above it, becomes brown with dust from the construction that is underway – they are widening the road here as well.
Pai looks like a dirty little town. I didn't think it would be my place, now I'm very sure it won't be. I am momentarily excited about the Circus School hostel, until I read the reviews, which make it sound like a shit-hole that's tough for solo travelers to make friends at. So despite having fire juggling clubs and some made juggling skills, I don't even give it a chance.
I was told that Pai is basically two roads. Having now arrived, I can confirm that that is incorrect. Pai has lots of roads.
On a road cluttered with vendors selling hippie jewelry – crystals wrapped in wire – and all kinds of fascinating fusion street food, I weave through the crowds of Asian and Western tourists. If this is low season, I don't want to be here in high season, even if there are strawberries that time of year.
Apparently Pai is a major destination for Thailannd's Korean, Japanese and Chinese in-bound tourist markets. During high season, it's also a big deal for domestic tourists. Now, there seems to be a bit of everything.
I park next to Breeze of Pai, which has been recommended by Lonely Planet since 2007, something that I hold against it rather than seeing as positive sign. Lonely Planet sold out a long time ago. It is no longer a backpacker's guide.
I walk down to the river, peering across a bamboo bridge at some rustic bungalows on the far side. With no way to get the bike over there, or at least no way that I'm aware of at the moment, I roll the die.
It votes Breeze.
The young, plump woman at the counter checks me in. Rattling off lists of rules after having already soured my mood with the outrageous 500 baht a night low-season price. The only room they have is two twin beds. It's 7pm, but no discount or anything is coming my way. They do have free water re-fills at the front desk and free WiFi – I'm unimpressed, to say the very least.
The woman says it all with a shit-eating grin that does little to improve my distaste for the establishment.
After several hours in my room, working, browsing porn, showering and playing on Tinder, I decided to check out Edible Jazz.
Cocooned up in a hammock, the die orders a spectacular Penang Curry and I have a Mojito. Back in the room I had two glasses, four-fingers deep, of whiskey.
I had proposed dumping the alcohol at the hostel two nights ago, but the die was against it. Had I rolled a 4, 5 or 6, I was to leave it all. A two I was bring the whiskey. A one I was to bring both the bottle of whiskey and vodka and three, of course, just the vodka. I rolled a two, so I gifted the hand-me-down vodka to a 19-year-old American kid on a volunteer trip with his sister who was staying at the hostel in Chiang Mai.
Soaking up the live music and eves dropping on the conversations around me, I practice my Hindu shuffle, classy false cut and a number of other card tricks – blissfully sinking into what people love about Pai.
At about 11pm the bar shuts. Back out on the street, I wander with the crowd, uncertain if I have it in me to explore more tonight.
One bar is overflowing with college kids from all over the world. The black-light sensitive paint is ablaze, the cacophony of voices like the unsettling crackling of a house burning down.
Nope, not going to happen, I think.
However, outside there is a blackboard with specials – free shot for every drink order in celebration of America. I check my watch. It's the Forth of July! Well, it is for at least for another 45 minutes.
Inside, I order a Sambuca with Red Bull, chatting with a girl about what she should do when she visits Phuket. I add her on Facebook and tell her to let me know if she needs anything, before we part ways.
It's less crowded near the pool table. On the far side is a tall man about my age, who's taking a large hit from a small metal pipe.
He holds it out to me.
I hesitate for a second. Fuck it, I'll be social.
I sit down on the table next to the guy, Ed, the weed glows red as I hold the lighter to it and inhale deeply.
Ed's been living in Pai for the last 11 years. I can't imagine. I can't imagine sitting here, smoking weed with strangers and drinking for 11 years. I can't imagine doing it for an entire week.
Ed claims that Pai's missed the western tourist boom, which I'm surprised to hear, given that we are surrounded by a mob of white people. However, he's been here just a bit longer than myself, so I don't challenge the idea.
After plenty of chit-chat and a few magic tricks, it's time to move on. We're supposed to meet at the next bar up the street. However, he's not there when I arrive. The bar is pretty much more of the same, which perhaps I'm getting too old to fully appreciate.
Pleasantly drunk, I meander back to my room, enjoying the fact that straight lines aren't needed at this particular time of night.