Jake & Grace: My Pai Pals!
Thailand: Pai & Cambodia: Koh Rong
I remember meeting both Jake and Grace by one of the communal tables in the big open space of the hostel that looked out onto the rice fields. That was a good word to describe both the hostel’s atmosphere and the general feeling in Pai: open. It was a very easygoing place and people seemed so open to get to know one another, up there in the mountains away from the touristic chaos. I was feeling a little shy as I was still getting used to travelling and biting the bullet to sit down and introduce myself to new people, but Jake and Grace were so friendly I didn’t really feel nervous at all.
I went and joined them at the table and they were sat with a friend, Mani. I remember him being a good laugh. We were discussing the barbeque we were going to have one night, and people seemed to join our table til there was quite a big group of us, chatting, getting to know one another, while periodically getting up to buy a Chang beer from reception and continuing the conversation. To be able to do that again one day: drinking beers in the middle of the day, meeting new people…
At some point, Jake chipped in with some of the leg work and helped one of the hostel workers do a bit of digging – with a spoon. It was very entertaining as we laughed enjoying this impromptu comedy sketch.
I remember us being quite the gang in Pai. There was the lovely Swedish couple, the Canadians guys, a sweet Finnish girl staying in my room, Mani the fellow brit, and Jodie from Texas (who you can read about here). We drove to the canyon for the beautiful sunset one night, visited the epic land split, took our entourage of mopeds to the caves (which as a brand new moped driver having only learned how to drive the thing the day before, I was quite impressed I didn’t drive myself off the cliffs we were snaking around).
We made it to the sunset at Pai Canyon and it was beautiful, everyone watching this burning orange blob in the distance sink into the horizon in collective, peaceful silence.
That was of course, until a man dressed in a Spiderman costume, fell down the side of the slope while taking a selfie. He was fine, but I’m afraid to report, one of his shoes did not survive.
As it sometimes happens, our paths strangely crossed again at the most liminal of moments. Very Sliding Doors. If I hadn’t have stepped out onto the deck of the boat I was on, heading to Koh Rong, Cambodia, I wouldn’t have seen them again. But as I went to get some fresh air from the sweaty speedboat, there they were, stood on top of the harbour port! I didn’t quite believe my eyes at first. I shouted their names and – equally shocked – laughed and came over to the bobbing boat. We had about 2 minutes of conversation before our boat took off again, but it was so nice to see them, even if for that long (or little).
I think they both headed back to Wales not long after, but I was heading on to Australia. Jake’s sister, Emilia, was also going there too to be an Au Pair, so they put us in touch and we met in Bronte, one of the Eastern beaches in Sydney, and became really good friends. It’s funny how a chance encounter can actually lead to multiple friendships.
I caught up with them lately and asked them about their time teaching and travelling in more detail.
“We travelled in South East Asia – we lived in Thailand as English teachers for 4 months, and then travelled for another 4 months.”
I asked them if there was a place that was particularly special for them:
“The Thakek Loop in Laos! We went on motorbikes for 3 days and rode a loop in rural Laos. The scenery was incredible, it’s not a well travelled path so it wasn’t massively touristy, and the people we met were so friendly. Definitely got to see a real, unspoilt part of Laos.”
And if they experienced anything that impacted them greatly:
“In Phnom Penh in Cambodia [we] learnt so much about the Cambodian genocide which is not widely discussed/known in the western world. It was apparent the country still hasn’t recovered from the Khmer Rouge and it’s something that stuck with us.”
I asked if they met any special people along the way:
“We made friends along the way who we still see today – yourself included! It was so lovely to meet people from home and get on so well, to the point where we’ve seen each other since being back in the UK!”
I remember them being keen travellers, so I asked if they had any future plans to go exploring once again:
“100% we are going to be going travelling again – probably in a few years! We’d love to travel in South and Central America for 6 months to a year.”
And finally, the 3 things they learned while away:
- “Be VERY careful where you eat meat (Jacob learnt the hard way when getting severe food poisoning from some dodgy chicken – I played it safe and had a vegan option!)”
- “Research ahead to ensure you make the most of the places you visit!”
- “Make sure you’ve got enough entertainment to get you through the numerous long bus journeys.”
I’ve actually stayed in touch with them both and saw them recently after they moved to London – a mere 30 minute walk from my place! Emilia was also visiting too so we went for a few drinks to catch up, then we joined Jake, Grace and Jake/Emilia’s parents for a few beers before we parted ways, promising to get together again when Covid is more under control.