All the names in this story have been changed (and their real names are a lot less ridiculous than Bors and Hernandez)
One of the things I love most about travelling solo is that you’re exposed to people from all walks of life – including a lot of people that you’d never otherwise come into contact with – and they can really challenge a lot of your preconceptions. I definitely experienced a lot of this in Pai.
It all started when I ended up in Pai with nowhere to go because the Circus School had cancelled my whole reservation on account of me being too sick to arrive the day before. It was fair enough, but I still only found out about this when I called them after getting off the bus to be picked up, which left me with nowhere to go and no idea of my accommodation options.
Which was the point at which I was approached by a random stranger who asked me if I needed a place to stay.
This is the part in the movies where a serial killer or con man convinces the hapless little girl to follow him into an alley where he mugs/kills her, or takes her back to a cockroach infested place where she gets her passport stolen and forced to pay thousands of dollars per night. I was a little wary.
But my stranger introduced himself as Bors, looked around the same age as me, and he had such an angelic, trustworthy face that I decided to follow him – besides which I had my Swiss army knife in my pocket .
As it turned out, he’d been looking for a place to stay earlier that day, when a woman waved out to him from these bungalows across the river and told him to come stay with her. She said that he could even stay for free if he slept in one of the tents she had set up and helped her with a few chores. So, he explained, he was trying to repay her kindness by bringing her more (and hopefully paying) customers.
Which was cool, but I didn’t think I could afford an ensuite bungalow on the river front to myself. Luckily for me though, there was one bungalow whose bathroom had gotten damaged in a recent storm and hadn’t yet been fixed or cleaned up, and so was on offer for only 150 THB/night (about 6 AUD).
I’d get my own room with my own bathroom, in a gorgeous river front place with hammocks, a bar, a huge fire pit, free drinking water (which doesn’t sound like a big deal but it’s rare in Thailand,) and all just off the main walking street. I was sold.
Little did I know, however, what I was going to be in for.
The owner, you see, was a trans woman named Jane, who abhorred being called a lady boy, and who seemed pleasant enough at the start, but who I later found out was – to put it nicely – absolutely batshit insane. And she was also really into Bors.
This wouldn’t have been an issue except that Bors and I, after promising to meet Jane at an open mic night at Edible Jazz, ended up spending the whole evening wandering around town – accidentally, after we got lost – and having dinner together. By the time we ended up at Edible Jazz, I was exhausted and ended up leaving early – as did Bors, which Jane took to mean that he was into me.
Jane was the sassiest individual I have ever met, and possibly the meanest too, and now she’d decided that I was trying to steal a guy she’d earmarked for herself (never mind the fact that I wasn’t, or that nothing was happening between us, or that even if I hadn’t been there, he wasn’t into her at all). She continued to let me stay there, but she’d make snide comments about how they all hated my high pitched voice, would tell me to “stay away from my husband bitch, he’s mine!” whenever I talked to Bors, would glare at me and be really curt and more or less just tried to keep me and Bors apart.
Bors was really nice about it. He’d always tell her to stop (which she ignored) and he still hung out with me, although he was busy most of the time going places with Jane and Nikita (her best friend) and helping out with the chores, along with Peter, the other volunteer.
And yet Jane would have little fits moments of treating me civilly as well. One afternoon (at Bors and Nikita’s insistence) she invited me to noodles with them, and we went to this little backstreet place where they did the best noodle soups I’ve ever had in my life, all for just 35 baht (less than $1.50). Another night she deemed my dress ‘not sexy enough’ to go out in and lent me one of hers which was much prettier. She also mentioned – and I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad – that I should meet someone named Mark, who, she said – and I quote – “is just like you Desiree, but with a dick.”
Most of the time that I was there was still amazing. I could avoid Jane for the most part, and Pai was gorgeous. Some people tend to put down Pai because they say it’s not authentically Thai, which is a bit ridiculous. Pai is definitely a very hippie place, with lots of cafes where you can order kefir and kombucha, but it’s not just for tourists – the people who live in Pai are actually like that. They’re chilled and quite quirky, and despite the fact that some of them like yoga and growing their hair out, they still cook and eat Thai food, and maintain a lot of other Thai customs. I guess it begs the question of what informs cultural identity but I thought it was just a more progressive version of Thai culture.
And Pai was the kind of place where you could just lose yourself and completely relax. It was the vacation part of my trip, where I would meander around, sit in coffee shops, and read and write a lot. The town was small and very walkable, and had absolutely no ugly bits to it. Everywhere in Pai was quaint and pretty, with cool graffiti on the walls, lots of greenery, and heaps of quiet backstreets with hidden little shops behind the main strip of the bustling walking street. The nicest part of it all was the accepting, friendly atmosphere – you could go into shops and restaurants and chat to the owners and workers and other customers and it never felt awkward.
Part of my stay overlapped with Katie’s time there too! We had one amazing night in particular, where I met up with her at Darling’s Hostel, where she was hanging with this big bunch of backpackers who were having a swinging little party on their porch. And that’s where I heard a particularly entertaining story from this guy named Mark about his friend Alan, who’d just left Pai.
Apparently, on Valentine’s day, Alan and Mark were having Mai Tai’s down at a bar near the river, and ended up chatting to a lady boy. She’d had ‘free blow jobs’ written on her arm, which, when they asked her about it, she explained was because it was Valentine’s Day, and she was giving away a free blow job every hour.
Alan made a joke about getting one, which she challenged him on, saying that foreigners were all talk but rarely followed through, and that in turn prompted him to stand up, proclaiming that he was Canadian, and if a Canadian said that they would do something, they would do it. He let her blow him for the honour of Canada.
There’s a lot of further details that I’d love to share here but it’d get fairly R rated, so I’m afraid I’ll have to leave them out. What I can write here is that Mark had a seriously fantastic story that had us all in stitches about how the whole thing went down, with a few mishaps, and how at the end, after he had left awkwardly, Alan had realised that he’d accidentally picked up the lady boy’s phone, and had to go back there the next day to return it.
So anyway, we had a killer night, Katie and I had a good little boogie, and once Darling’s closed we headed off to Don’t Cry – which is where everyone goes after midnight, because it’s the only place that stays open really late. Eventually I got tired and wanted to head back, and Mark ended up walking me back to my bungalow…. where, it turned out, he’d been before – because that bar where he and Alan were drinking Mai Tais? That was the bar in front of my bungalow. And the lady boy who’d given Alan the blow job? Yea, that was Jane. And you might have guessed by now that the Mark that Jane had said I should meet was the same one telling me these things. What an amusing set of coincidences.
The next night got more complicated when we were joined by two Belgians and three English people. The Belgians, Mona and Tobias, had started travelling as a couple and had broken up mid trip but were continuing to travel together. Amanda and Clark, two of the English people, were platonic friends travelling together, and Hernandez was a guy Clark had been having a little holiday romance with and had convinced to come to Pai with him after they’d gotten interrupted in Chiang Mai by Hernandez’s ex-boyfriend….who, we found out later, had also ended up in Pai.
Jane fell instantly in love/lust with Hernandez, which kind of tossed a spanner in the works for him and Clark. At first it seemed great. She told Hernandez he could sleep in her bungalow, for free, and that Clark and Amanda could stay in another for free because they’d been housing a cat and it’s newborn kittens in it and so had to keep it unlocked.
Besides which, with Jane focused on Hernandez, she was way nicer to me, and we all had a really good time hanging together. We’d chill in the common area, and Jane started to cook up little feasts every night, where we’d all chip in money and would help with the chopping and peeling while Hernandez would be her sous chef. And Hernandez was worried about having enough money to last him his trip so Jane said he could stay there for free for the next month until his flight to Melbourne, and help her run the place.
But then she started on this insidious campaign to turn Hernandez and Clark against each other – in fact, to turn all of us against Clark. She’d keep telling us these stories about how Clark was stalking Hernandez, and that whenever Clark would come around, Hernandez would grab her and ask her to get rid of Clark and to keep him away from him.
And then she’d tell Clark these stories about how Hernandez was using him and playing him and that he was really manipulative. It was awful.
I didn’t know which of her stories were true or not and I really didn’t want to be part of it. Unfortunately, I’d brought the wrong converter to Thailand (three pronged, not two) and the only plug I could charge my phone with was in the common area, where Jane would grab me and tell me these long convoluted stories until something else distracted her.
We still had a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. Everyone was interesting and had fascinating stories to tell, although not all of them were happy ones. Mona was really struggling, for example, with having to keep travelling with Tobias, and she wanted to go off on her own but her family told her it was safer to keep travelling with him.
Clark on the other hand would talk about how he’d only recently started to become comfortable with being gay, and that he hadn’t told most of his friends back home because he wasn’t sure how they’d react. Clark was not the kind of person you’d assume was gay either – the idea that there is a gay ‘type’ is just stereotyping of course, but it was also something to think about: are a lot of gay men camp because it helps identify them to other gay men, or is it that if you’re camp you’re more likely to be gay?
One day we all rented motorbikes (I sat on the back of Leo’s) and went to Pai Canyon, where Lewis was a bit of a daredevil and went way off the path and onto some fairly precarious little ledges.
Another night we played Never Have I Ever and Jane told us the story of how, when she’d still identified as male, she’d run away with an older Western man and lived with him like a housewife until the day he bought another young Thai boy home and told her that they should have a threesome. Whereupon she’d stabbed the guy 52 times with a fork and been arrested, until her father bribed the police to get her out.
I kind of understood why she was this way. She read us a story one night that was kind of heartbreaking, about one of the first men she’d fallen in love with, an English guy who she’d gotten into a relationship with online, who she’d presented herself to as a girl. It was heart wrenching to hear about how scared she was that he wouldn’t understand that she was a girl in a boy’s body, and how he’d run away to Thailand to be with her and then absolutely freaked when she confessed her secret to him.
It definitely can’t be easy being trans, even if it’s kind of accepted in Thai culture. They were still so objectified and fetishized. Mark told his story to everyone we hung with in Pai and they all thought it was hilarious not because of the sexual favours so much as because it featured a trans person. When we’d go out, people would look at Jane strangely and would inevitably start talking about her, a lot of times within her hearing, and most of what they were saying wasn’t nice. When the world treats you that harshly, it’s only normal to be mean back.
She could definitely take it too far though. We went out one night and some random made a derogatory comment about Nikita’s weight, and things went a bit insane. There was a bit of a fight, the climax of which was Jane trying to break a chair over the guy’s head and then chasing him down the street throwing her shoes at him. It turned out he was friends with the best Muay Thai fighter in Pai though, who almost got into a fight with Clark later on.
The next night things were worse. Jane absolutely lost it, went off at Clark, and threatened to kick out everyone. Nikita, who’d been staying for free – being Jane’s best friend and helping out – was just over all of it, and she packed up and left. Bors, Clark, Amanda and Hernandez were also ready to leave. Then in the morning she cooled down and apologised to Clark, and everyone ended up staying.
That day she was a lot nicer than usual. She spent ages putting a hair wrap in my hair, with bells and feathers and beads, which was super cool, and she started teaching us how to make macrame jewelry, which she makes and sells.
Clark and I wanted a break from her one night though, and we went out with Mark and his friends, which was great until we ran into Jane and the others at Don’t Cry anyway (bound to happen, everyone goes there). Hernandez’s ex-boyfriend was also there, who Jane tried to fight (actually she said she wanted to destroy him), and after she confronted him, he ran off, Hernandez ran off after him, and Jane tried running after them but lost them. And while she was fuming about that, she heard Mark call her a lady-boy (he didn’t realise she hated being called that) and went and punched him, and they started yelling at each other too.
Clark and I, not wanting to be a part of all that, instead ended up running around trying to convince randoms we were half-siblings whose parents had split up and who’d grown up in different countries, which was why we looked and sounded so different. The strangest thing was that people believed us.
And then Clark went up to the really drunk people and convinced them that we were twins. They also somehow believed us, but that was indoors where it was dark and they couldn’t see us so well. Also, they were really, really, drunk.
Then there was the hilarious incident of another English girl who had a thing for Clark, who was shelving a large number of valium, drinking heavily, and, thinking I was his sister, spent ages buttering me up to try to get in with him. It didn’t work, but Clark was nice enough after rejecting her to pay for a cab to take her home.
The next day we all tried to avoid Jane. The Belgians and Bors left, Nikita was still staying away, and Clark, Amanda, Hernandez and I went off to the circus school. We had a great day swimming and learning to slackline, completely ignoring our phones, then went to this bar in the evening where we had an awesome barbecue with chicken skewers, haloumi, capsicums, mashed potatoes and pumpkin chips.
But, when we got back Hernandez found that his passport had gone missing. Jane said someone must have stolen it, but they hadn’t stolen his macbook or anything else that he had which was valuable, and had known exactly where his passport was…. which kind of suggested that it was Jane, who was pretty angry after we’d run off without her – and without messaging her – all day. Hernandez and I still went asking around just in case he’d forgotten it anywhere or someone had handed it in, but without any expectations.
Of course Jane grabbed me the next day and had a long whinge to me about how irresponsible Hernandez was and how she was trying to help him and about how everything she’d done was for him. She almost cried when she told me that they were sleeping together and in a relationship and that it really hurt her that he wasn’t being more open about it.
Poor Hernandez. The reason he’d been sleeping in Nikita’s bungalow instead of Jane’s was because he’d woken up in the middle of the night a few times to find her masturbating in bed next to him. And he’d never knowingly slept with Jane, but he thought she might have drugged him and raped him in his sleep because one night when Jane had been buying him drinks he passed out after just a few drinks, unexpectedly – in her bed, which she’d led him back to.
We’d heard stories that Jane had planned to plant drugs on another guy she’d wanted to get with, if he hadn’t agreed to let her have her way with him. She’d told Peter she’d kick him out if he didn’t let her into his tent. Who knew what lengths she’d go to?
Add to that that Clark and Amanda were meant to leave that day but that Amanda had awful food poisoning so they were stuck there for a little longer, and the mood around the bungalows was decidedly sombre. And that was the day I left. I was meeting Bea in Chiang Mai that night and I had no idea what to do or how to help.
The good news was that in the end Hernandez managed to get his passport back from Jane, and he did make it safely out of her clutches and eventually got to Melbourne. Clark and Amanda took the slow boat to Laos once she got better, and they never ran into Jane again. The last I heard of Jane, she had a new boyfriend (also English), whose whole family she had met, and she’d sold off the bungalows to start a tea shop with him. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I sincerely hope she’s happy, but that I’m also glad that I’ll never run into her again.