Some of the most beautiful and memorable occasions of my life have been those which were spontaneous and without planning. We often have an image of how things should be, and how they are presented, so when things appear to be different or eclectic, it can create a pleasantly surprising reaction.
Last month, I was travelling along an empty stretch of the road heading to Pai with some friends when we discovered a middle-aged man selling drip-coffee by the roadside with his dog sleeping next to him in the sun. We had a list of coffee shops and venues we were planning to stop off at along the way, things social media had been prompting us to check out, but we couldn’t resist, we had to stop and see what this man and his dog were all about. The tiny one-man cafe is a perfect example of simplicity being effective. It was also a perfect example of how lives can change or divert when stepping off the planned path.
There were only two chairs and a small bar where the drip coffee was prepared, but it was more than just that. Even though it was humble and plain, I felt a great appreciation for the value of what he was doing. It felt real. It felt as though this was one man doing something different. What I didn’t know was that this chance meeting would lead me down a path I hadn’t expected to follow.
We sat down, ordered some coffees, and started chatting. His name was Kraison ‘Tong’ Upanundh, 53, and he was utterly charming. “I wanted to do something that made me happy,” he told my friends and I.
Just simply talking to him made our group happy. Maybe the creation of a shop offering simplistic, high quality coffee, and a bohemian owner was enough to have us captivated, maybe it was that moment in time when everything came together just so. Everything about the experience had a presence of love and companionship; Tong’s faithful dog being part of the shop, and his life.
“Lucky is my first dog, the best gift I ever received from my friend. I used to think that I didn’t like animals, but when I met him sixteen years ago he became one of my great loves and everything in my life.”
Tong is from Chiang Mai, but has moved around a lot.
“Old people like me do not and should not stay at home, I love nature and I’m on a journey. I have a few successful coffee shops in Chiang Mai but I want more from life. My staff run the coffee shops and now I am free to do what I want. And Lucky and I like cooler weather, so we decided to move to Pai.”
“Importantly, Lucky loves Pai. Every morning, he comes to wake me up to jump on the bed and licks my face. I get Lucky to run since he is losing something of his strength, so exercising him is good for his circulation and wellbeing. Lucky is also fond of my neighbour’s dog so it is even more comforting for me to know he has friends close by him”
The two come in a pair, he told us, sticking together most of the time. When Tong is out of sight, Lucky will seek him out and follow, and when Lucky is not close-by, then Tong will call out his name, and he comes running back.
Pai’s slow drip drip
I looked at the watch and realised that we had been sitting there for four hours! The sun was setting and we hadn’t even reached our destination. Tong then asked us if we wanted to visit his house, which turned out to be only a short walk away. As we stood on the rooftop of his home overlooking the entire mist-shrouded town of Pai beyond, Tong and Lucky by our side, we continued our chat.
“I opened a café in front of my home in Pai because I love to drip coffee, both for myself to drink as well as for my friends, and customers. My café is a small simple bar and I love to service and meet new friends, talking about coffee and happiness. My coffee is also delicious.”
“Every time I leave the house, though, I bring along my coffee equipment! I never know when I am going to end up. That is, I bring with me my kettle, coffee dripper, coffee filter paper, and coffee grinders.”
Tong says that he has a lot of support from tourists as well as locals in Pai. He insists that he uses the best coffee beans and that is one of the reasons he has such a following.
After an hour, we felt that we had to go as we had already booked a place to stay for the night. As we left, he turned to me and said, “Come back tomorrow. Stay here. All four of you.” Shocked, we soon learned that he had built a whole house next door to his own just for friends, old and new, to come and stay. Apparently we were already in that category. So, overwhelmed, we agreed to return.
“I don’t want money, reputation, a big house or new cars. All I want now in life is to enjoy my journey with Lucky by my side. Whether I outlive Lucky or he outlives me, it is the memory of our togetherness which will last beyond my existence on this planet.”
We ended up returning the next evening and found that he had invited a few friends over for a party. We had a barbeque and sat, talking deep into the night under the stars around a camp fire where Lucky sat warming his old bones.
“Don’t regret anything you do, because in the end it makes you who you are,” Tong told me as we headed to our beds that night. “Who knows, Lucky and I may pack up and set up our drip coffee somewhere else by the next time you come here.”
I have been to Pai dozens of times with various friends. But it was this chance meeting, this deviation from our structured and planned trip that has made this journey so memorable. I have new friends in Tong and Lucky and have taken away not only a slice of his philosophy, but also a comforting and warm feeling of friendship and love I will cherish.