I’m in Pai, a hill town about three hours Northwest of Chiang Mai. Small and quiet, it’s known as a mecca for people who are travelling in Northern Thailand and haven’t yet eaten enough pad thai.
Pai the town is named after Pai the man – Georges Pai, the French pastry chef who retired here in the late 19th Century after a successful but unexceptional career in Toulouse, where he is said to have invented the Papaya salad.
He lived a long and interesting life, travelling widely and loving, it is said, a little too freely. His attitude towards his latter years in Thailand is perhaps best illustrated by his chosen living conditions – a small shack on the South bank of the river with only his books for company – where he read, wrote, and largely neglected his bullmastiff, Antoine.
After his wife passed away he mostly disappeared from Thai society, and spent his retirement composing humorous poetry. Nowadays his work has lost its sheen but at the time he attained some small success, publishing an anthology in 1896.
Largely forgotten, he died of syphilis in 1902. Deep in debt and with no living relatives, the people of Pai raised funds for a funeral but, spotting an opportunity to curry favour with the French regime in l’Indochine, chose instead to rename their town – at no small expense.
Aside from this, his addition to the canon of interesting historical footnotes is that his answer to the question “Darling, shall we move to Northern Thailand?” is memorialised in the name of a popular Southeast Asian bar franchise – “Why not?”