The 3 Year Road Back To Pai
It’s February 2014, I’ve just swallowed a few vallies and I’m on a cramped bus on the most winding road in Asia. We’re heading from Chiang Mai to somewhere called Pai in northern Thailand. Sat beside me are Zak and Tom, we’re all pretty worn out from the jungle trek.
I’d taken to writing about our travels for my Tumblr blog (lol) during the long bus journeys from place to place. I sat their squinting at my phone whilst trying to write in my notes about how me and Zak somehow fell off our scooters in synchronicity whilst driving on a straight road in Sukkothai…Don’t ask.
Even so, it’d been a great start to a trip that I had no idea would shape the next 3 years of my life.
Arriving in Pai you suddenly feel at ease, gone are the big buildings and city noises of Chiang Mai. Instead you feel that you’ve gone relatively “back to nature” in this small bohemian town of stark difference to the likes of Bangkok.
This welcome change of pace is complimented by features such as the rickety yet quaint bamboo bridge we had to cross to reach our guesthouse. Darling viewpoint hostel is built into the side of a hill overlooking Pai. It has some of the best views (well duh, the name) and is home to travellers resting in hammocks or sat around the fire pit chatting shit pretending to be hippies.
We made loads of friends that night as we had a few drinks and smoked some of the notoriously weak Thai weed together (much better for you than the dosile skunk back in England). The next few days were a blissful experience, all of our friends from the hostel, around 15 strong, headed out together on our scooters to explore the likes of Pai Canyon and the hot springs.
It was pretty cool, out of nowhere we had suddenly become part of this spontaneous scooter gang, exploring the surrounding hills together and getting lost in tiny villages, much to the bemusement of the locals.
Pai was the perfect backdrop for some prime bonding time with interesting people from all over the world, many of whom we carried on traveling with or who we’re still in touch with now.
With its amazing food, chilled out nightlife and stunning scenery; I already knew that it would stand out as one of my favourite places in South East Asia. The free and easy life it offered had totally pulled me in but unfortunately we only had 3 days there.
Maybe it was better that way, maybe I’d start to notice the inevitable negatives if I’d stayed longer. But what i experienced was the best place I’d ever been.
We carried on to Laos after, then headed to Cambodia and the Southern Thai islands. Although it was all great fun, nothing could trump Pai and I was already longing to go back before the trip was over.
6 weeks later when I got back to a miserable and rainy March in England, all I could think about was going traveling again. I’ve been obsessed with various things in my life, some I’d thankfully grown out of like Thomas the tank engine, Mortal Kombat and even house music by now. As you’ve probably guessed it was the turn of Pai to inherit the sole focus of my obsessive mind.
But how could I go back? I was broke, had massive overdrafts and owed people money. I struggled to find a job back in England and had to go on the dole and housing benefits for a while. That £30,000 politics degree certainly wasn’t turning out to be a great investment. I tried to find ways I could get back to Thailand as quickly as possible.
I didn’t just want to go back and visit though, I knew that after I’d spent all my money I’d have to come home and struggle to find another job. It just seemed like a cycle, to work a shit job to save money to travel, to spend it all and then repeat?
So I started reading into location independent jobs or a term that has arisen in recent years: “Digital Nomads”. It was the idea that you could perpetually travel the world so long as you could make money from your laptop.
I’d flirted with a little bit of writing in the past and started imagining a future where I could sit in a hammock writing articles all day sipping on coconuts. I started writing loads about current affairs, geopolitics and other boring stuff. When I finally got a little office job i’d keep on writing on the way to work, at work and after work. I got hundreds of pitches straight up ignored and failed to ever really write for any respected media organisations.
Feeling a little disheartened in early 2015 I decided to increase the chances of becoming location independent by learning how to “make websites” on WordPress. A friend wanted help with his site so I offered to learn all about it and do it for him for free after work. I learned a hell of a lot but I was definitely no professional web designer, still I managed to pull in a few clients and make some money but I really grew to despise the mundanity of coding and plugins.
I even started making a dating app, pretty much Tinder but for Serbian people. There’s millions of us dotted around the globe and a lot are obsessed with inter-marrying with other Serbs so it had potential to go off. (Still might do this one day so if you’re a serb, fuck off and don’t steal my idea)
Anyway, after a year of wanting to get to Thailand, it all seemed to come together out of the blue when I thankfully got offered a really well paid job in a bank. I could work for 3 months and save enough money to keep me going for nearly a year in Thailand where I would try to become a shitty writer and faux web designer. I quickly left my office job and took the new bank job which was more than double the wage. Thailand here I come?
In a way I felt like I was selling out what I believed in…REVOLUTION COMRADE, power to the people blah blah Marxism. But in all seriousness I couldn’t hack it. I’ve always hated numbers, maths and banks so it’s no surprise that I got sacked after a month really.
Oh shit. No job, no money, no Pai. But what I did have was an immense feeling of liberation after being fired from the bank. I decided I had to do something I was actually passionate about. What’s the point learning to do something you gotta’ to do for a living if you don’t actually enjoy it?
I spent my newfound unemployed spare time on going back to doing something I’d always wanted to do – making videos.
I didn’t even own a camera or know how to use one, but as it’s pretty easy to teach yourself how to edit so I asked friends with cameras if they’d like to film and I’d do all the editing with all the spare time I had.
What followed were 3 extremely amateurish pieces of work: We started off interviewing racists and anti-fascists at a march in Newcastle, a video of stoners in a park high on 420, followed by a short “documentary” about the rise of vaping culture in the U.K which I regrettably presented and narrated with my daft broad Yorkshire accent.
Even so, that summer I started sending my videos out to bigger companies who could possibly share it or want me to work for them. One that sprang to mind was UNILAD, I gave them an email on the off chance they might be interested in offering a little bit of work (definitely not a narration job though).
To my amazement I was asked to go their office in Manchester. Yep, Unilad had an office – who knew? I thought it was a 2nd year in a grotty student house somewhere eating pot noodle sandwiches whilst sharing memes and tit pics.
UNILAD was a fairly sizeable company surprisingly, they decided to offer me a job which I snapped up immediately. Travel would have to wait – this was too good of an opportunity to pass up on. I was pretty buzzing but I didn’t even own a camera or know how to use one when I accepted the job as their only video guy in Manchester. Oh well, I’d work it out right?
Thanks to YouTube I gave myself the quickest crash course ever on how to use my new camera and I had a great time at UNILAD expanding my skills, working with awesome people and going to places such as refugee camps to make content I was truly passionate about.
After 6 months I made the switch to rivals Lad Bible which didn’t go down too well at the UNILAD office. Still, it was the right move to make to keep on learning more about making videos. I hadn’t forgotten about Pai but I saw the skills I was learning as a possible way to become location independent and doing something I care about instead of churning WordPress sites out.
Then another 6 months went by while I was at Lad Bible. I was lucky to have such a fun job and work with some cracking people on projects with the likes of Stormzy, Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Seth Rogen and more. Although I was more interested in the projects with guys who used to be in the Boston Mafia or youth homelessness in Blackpool.
So in May 2016 I was in finally position where I had saved enough money to keep me afloat for a while and I’d just bought the essential weapon in every location independent worker’s arsenal: a shiny new MacBook Pro.
Armed with this and my camera, I felt it was time to finally hit the road again and chase that dream of financing long bouts abroad whilst abroad.
So, time to go to Pai right? Wrong. English summer meant rainy season in Thailand. My triumphant return would have to wait, I decided to head to sunny Bali instead where I was based for the latter half of last year.
Here I really connected with film making and worked on projects that I’m really passionate about like animal rights, humanitarian issues and environmental problems #SAVETHEWORLDBRO I was spurred on to see that I could make an ample amount of money from these personal projects and also editing videos for great Facebook pages like Collective Evolution.
After 6 months in Bali I went back to Serbia to visit family and to England for a break over Christmas, but now i’m back on the road again and bet you’ll never guess where. (No you will definitely guess)
So here I am now exactly 3 years later in February 2017, back on that god damn winding road, in a cramped bus to Pai, finally coming full circle (full retard) and finally achieving what I set out to do back then.
But it’s not exactly the glorious return I’d imagined so many times in mind. This is due to the fact that I’ve had a stomach bug since landing Thailand. As I’m sat here trying to concentrate on not having an accident for the next 3 hours, it’s hard to feel jubilant – I think that’s why I decided to write this, to distract myself from possibly having a situation (turtling).
Oh well, if you’ve stuck with this ramble you’ll no doubt have a lovely image in your mind but perhaps you’ll be happy to know I’m heading into Pai armed with a few packs of wet wipes and a little smile on my face. So don’t worry about me disgracing myself. It’s been a long and unpredictable journey but I feel very fortunate to be in a position now where I can make a living from wherever I want by doing what I love.
Some obsessions in life are beneficial and some are incredibly destructive, thankfully this has been a positive and creative road.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Pai has in store and I hope to meet some great people again, along with having the opportunity to make some nice films.
If you fancy coming then come say hello, you’ll find me in that hammock sipping on a coconut.
(Or on the toilet)