What I originally planned as a couple of days in Pai has turned into over a week. I boarded this minibus at the terminal in Chiang Mai on Monday. You can see our luggage on the roof. It was about a three hour ride shared mostly with Chinese tourists.
The road to Pai is paved with many curves. Apparently some people find it akin to the road to hell, as in the 762 sharp turns through the hills may induce vomiting. Not an issue for me or anyone else in my company, although anything not strapped down or held tightly inside the van was likely to go airborne. Most of the pictures I tried to take through the window came out horrible. This one at least gives you a sense of the breathtaking scenery. At first sight, I literally gasped. By literally, I don’t mean figuratively, which seems to be the contemporary (incorrect) usage of the word. No, I was not literally glued to my seat, although that probably would have been helpful. Sorry, grammar tirade over.
Pai has the reputation of being a little hippie town. Before I arrived, I was skeptical. Google Pai, and you’ll find that some love it and some don’t care for it. I can understand why. While the atmosphere here is laid back, it can feel manufactured and commercial. I’ve seen it described in some guidebooks as a beach town without a beach.
Even so, you can put me in the “love it” category. For me, it has the right balance of creature comforts and unspoiled nature. However, if there are this many tourists here during the low season, I can’t imagine what it’s like during the cooler months when guesthouses often double or triple their rates. The first place where I stayed, called Breeze of Pai, was pretty chill. Except that it was super hot. Should have paid extra for a room with A/C.
If there are enough good vibes in the air, rainbows spontaneously burst out of the sky. As far as I know, you can’t manufacture rainbows. That would be a real moneymaker.
Take a short walk from the bustling “walking street,” and you remember you’re out in the boonies. How do you “moo” in Thai?
The first night I spent in Pai, I took a songthaew a few miles outside of town to Open Mind Centre. I went for an hour-long lovingkindness meditation and was craving a feel-good session. What I found instead was a deep yearning in my heart for my true path. Sorrows and fears poured out, as if to remind me not to cling to expectations. On the way back, I witnessed the most gorgeous sunset imaginable. This picture does it no justice. A few minutes after this was taken, the sky erupted into vibrant colors, the pooled water on the rice paddies reflecting heaven on earth. Part of me keeps extending my stay in Pai hoping to relive that moment and capture its fleeting image. Impossible, I know.
My first attempt at going for a hike. I had already resigned myself to dealing with the imperfect conditions of monsoon season. Before I got far, the clouds darkened and released a torrent of rain. My raincoat was practically useless. I trudged forward but when the winds picked up and almost knocked me over, I had to turn around. I reached my guesthouse, soaking wet and looking forward to a hot shower, but discovered that the power was out. New guests were just arriving at the reception desk, complaining about the lack of electricity. The owner just shrugged and said nonchalantly, “Welcome to Pai.”
The next day, I braved the sun and deadly heat to climb into the hills and visit the White Buddha.
More spectacular than the Buddha itself was the view. A second attempt to hike that afternoon was foiled by Mother Nature yet again. I saw black clouds barreling in and said to myself, “Girl, no.”
To beat the heat, I splurged on a room at a resort just outside of town with a pool. (By splurged, I mean paid $20 a night.) Then I rented a mountain bike and went exploring. The rice paddies make me swoon.
This is Memorial Bridge. It’s a must-see in Pai, but in my opinion, it’s not much to look at. The history is kind of interesting. During World War II, Japan stationed soldiers in Thailand and had an eye on attacking British Burma. They built the original bridge in order to transport troops and artillery across the Pai River, using elephants to bring lumber from the jungle. By 1944, the Allies were gaining ground, and the Japanese torched the bridge as they retreated. It was rebuilt after the end of the war, and yet again after it was destroyed in a flood in 1973. Today, the bridge is open to pedestrians only. You can see a second bridge for vehicles to the left.
This is Pai Canyon.
Look Ma, no hands! If you’re as daring as this girl, you can tiptoe to the very edge of these strange rock formations. Of course, you’ll need a friend to take your picture and post it on social media, otherwise how will anyone know you did it? But it’s alright, Ma, I didn’t do it.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music…
My third attempt at hiking was a success. I met up with Ben Schaye of the awesome travel website It’s Better in Thailand. Our mutual friend Matt Lief Anderson put us in contact, and Ben happened to be in Pai for the week. He invited me to hike to Mae Yen Waterfall with some of his friends.
Getting to this waterfall is not for the faint of heart. It’s a two and a half hour trek through the jungle each way. The trail traverses the river many times and also climbs up a steep incline with not much to grab onto.
We made it to the waterfall with a sigh of relief. If you check out Ben’s posts, like this video of the Sticky Waterfall, the one we went to isn’t that impressive in comparison. But like he said, it was more about the journey than the destination.
After the hike, we had some drinks and enjoyed this backdrop. Thanks for letting me tag along on your adventure!
That night, I moved into my own private cottage by the river. It costs about $10 a night.
To get there, I cross over a bamboo bridge.
Here’s what’s on the other side. I leave you with a typical scene from this past week, hanging out in a hammock at Edible Jazz. I think I’ve come here every single day. Tasty food and drinks are accompanied by funky beats in the daytime and live music every night. A lot of Neil Young covers, how Pai. “Down by the River,” anyone? I’ve still got at least two more nights of this. Next time I see you, I’ll be back in Chiang Mai with Natalia, who is currently enjoying her first day in Bangkok. Peace out, dudes. Yeah I know, I’ve gotta work on my sandal tan.