They’ve got Bird Flu in Vientiane: a woman and a young girl died recently. Chickens are generally to be avoided there: Much of our time in Laos was spent barely avoiding them as they dashed across the roads.

The presence of Bird Flu may in fact explain the psychology of the suicidal road chicken, a common phenomenon across SE Asia. These silly birds dart across the road as traffic approaches, usually barely avoiding rubber in their determination to get to the other side. Why? Are they sick, depressed?

How bad, I wonder, is the incidence of suicide among Burmese chickens, now that Bird Flu has again broken out in Myanmar?

Chicken madness, Laos

The chickens were healthy and not the least depressed in Pai, in northern Thailand, where we spent a few days (too few) before returning to Bangkok. A much greater concern in Pai is the Westerner on a motorbike.

The sidewalk eateries of Pai’s main streets are lined not with chickens awaiting the worst moment to cross a crowded street, but with wounded white people nursing bandaged heads and arms in slings, trying with difficulty to see their breakfasts through puffy, bruised eyes. A reminder of the dangers of navigating the roads and alleys in an alien driving environment – if we needed any reminder after six weeks in this motorbike-crazed part of the world.

It is said, though I don’t believe it, that five accidents a day occur in Pai – a town of little more than 4,000 – caused by Westerners who can’t handle their Vespas.

There are some mishaps, certainly. But the pathetic wounded notwithstanding (or standing at all) I figured there was no better time to learn to ride: Pai is a small, chilled-out town and the roads are generally open, and wide enough, all things considered. Also I’m very safe on the roads, as all who know me will agree. So we rented a motorbike one day and tooled around town, a first for us both, and had no mishaps besides once almost falling sideways off a bridge.

Pai riverside

The countryside around Pai is normally dry this time of year, but this season the aridity has reached drought proportions. Dust and the smell of burning are everywhere. We buzzed up to a waterfall several kilometers outside of town: only a trickle of water spilled over the edge of the rock. Rafting trips, one of Pai’s chief industries, have been cancelled until rain comes – supposedly in April, but no one is confident anymore that that will happen. To the south, Chiang Mai is in a state of emergency because of the health-hazardous dust.

Zooming haphazardly around the sidewalk-like roads of Pai, ignoring the dust, was the most we accomplished in six days. We also mustered the energy to get a massage. It’s a nice town, admittedly overrun by touristic types but ideal for lazing around and eating well – and cheaply. Also for improving your talent for haggling: but all of SE Asia has honed that ability in us.

Not everywhere afforded us a chance to learn to pop wheelies down main street while scattering chickens, roti vendors and crippled Swedes.

Ha, ha. Kidding. About the Swedes.

Marc absorbs some Pai-ness
Marc absorbs some Pai-ness

Pai was a great place to relax after Hanoi, Land of Honking Horns. In an upcoming post we’ll tell you all about our adventures in northern Vietnam, mostly on four feet. In the meantime keep your wheels on the ground and your knees in the breeze. Like they do in Pai.

Places we recommend in Pai: Breeze of Pai Guesthouse; Na’s Kitchen (best food in town); Phu Pai, for coffee and great music nightly; and Bebop, for great atmosphere, and music, nightly.

A little phu pai in your eye
Jammin’ at Phu Pai