Pai is a small town in Northern Thailand about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. I had heard from fellow RPCV Philippines people that has a similar vibe to Sagada, my favorite place in the Philippines. So as soon as I felt recovered from our Hike and bike that wasn't leisurely at all, we booked a mini bus to Pai. Now, I had also heard that the road to Pai was crazy. They boast there are over 700 turns, most of them hairpin turns, and people are prone to car sickness. You can actually buy a shirt in Pai bragging about the turns your survived on your way there. I wanted so badly to rent motor-scooters and do the trip that way, but since I have zero experience driving one, we opted for the bus with the plans of getting me a front seat.
Since chemo, I get car sick so much easier than I ever did. For the first time in my life, I actually got motion sick on an airplane, I knew this was going to be rough trip so I knew I needed a front seat.
We get to the bus station and the driver points to two seats in the way back seat, the farthest back you can go. I point to an empty seat closer to the front and he shakes his head no points to the back seats. I then motion to my stomach and make a sad, sick-looking face. Still no, then I do the motion of vomiting to really drive the point home and he hands me two plastic bags and points to our seats in the way back.
I had to go to the bathroom and when I came back, Kimberly was sitting in the seat I wanted and insisted I sit there. She said, "don't worry, you get this seat." and a Thai women gets in the back with Kimberly. All the Thais were up front while all the foreigners were in the back. I though, what a scam. And we probably pay twice as much as they do. Near me were two brothers from Australia and one hands me some motion sickness pills. So armed with the pills, my 2 cans of coke, and a decent seat I was ready for this ride. I was very thankful for Kimberly's persistence in getting me a closer seat as the road was crazy. It reminded me of the road I would take from my site in the Philippines to the closest city, Baguio. I always left that ride dizzy and needing a few hours to recover. Luckily, I was able to see out the front window and I actually enjoyed my ride.
When we got to the bus station, I immediately booked my ticket back in 2 days at 10am to make sure I had a spot as I didn't want to miss my flight out of Chiang Mai. That's when I realized, the bus wasn't a first come first serve deal with seats, you actually choose a seat when you book, but since my guesthouse had booked for me, I didn't know this was the case. I suddenly felt guilty for kicking the Thai women to the back seat and making such a fuss.
We then called our lodging to figure out how to get there and they came and got us. We stayed at a cute little place called Heart of Pai, just outside of town, but close enough to walk to town. We splurged a little, paying 500 baht a night (less than $20) because they place had great reviews online, A/C, and nice comfy beds. The guest house in Chiang Mai was very basic accommodations, hard beds, no A/C, but a bathroom in every room with hot water for only $10 a night. I liked that guesthouse, Mountain View, mostly because the staff was so helpful and so I didn't see a need to look for another place.
We dropped off our stuff, grabbed some lunch and went to inquire about renting scooters. First question was, "Have you ever driven one?" To which I replied no and the lady told me it was no problem because they will give me a tutorial and she yelled over to another staff member. They spent about a minute yelling back and forth and then she told me that they cant rent to me as they have been getting a lot of complaints form the police and so now they are under restrictions. I was bummed :(. I was so excited to try one out. So we decided to just rent one, and I would be the passenger. But first we rented bicycles, 50 baht for 24 hours (a little less than $2) to peddle around the town to get oriented. It was a small town and only took us about an hour to do the entire thing. I loved the town so much that i returned to the bus station to change my 10 am ticket to an afternoon ticket. I wish I had come to Pai earlier.
|Giant Buddha in Pai|
That night we found a cute little Jazz bar called Edible Jazz, which was having open mic. It was a mellow bar with a mellow crowd mixed with hippies and older travelers, both locals and tourists. It was a space that was mostly outside with various comfy chairs and right in front of the stage were short Japanese style tables with pillows to sit on. We had a great time listening to the music and sipping on a few drinks.
Pai is an interesting town. I loved the town itself, but I quickly realized I wouldn't have lasted long because of all the hippies. Now, I have nothing against hippies, especially since I'm part hippie myself, but there were definitely 2 distinct groups of travelers. The people who you saw in the day time, the ones genuinely curious about the town and what it had to offer, you would see the same people at the same tourist attractions and soon you would start saying hello to each other. Then there were the night time people, the people who only came there to party. Pai is notorious for their drug scene, especially marijuana and opium. These people get stuck in a town like Pai as they party all night and then spend the day trying to recover so they can go out again at night. So around dinner time, that's when you see both groups collide. In the town, every night they set up a night market. And for as far as you can see, you see mostly white people with dreadlocks or hair that looks purposely unkempt with an arm full of bracelets and wearing pajamas.
Ok, not really pajamas, but that's what they look like to me. At some point in time, SE Asia became known for baggy printed cloth pants with elastic at the ankles and elastic waste bands. Many of these pants have a crotch that extends down to the knees or even further. To put it simply: they are ugly, almost as if you crapped your pants. But for some reason they are extremely popular, especially among the young 20 something hippies. It is similar to the crocs craze. Everyone wears them, yet they are beyond ugly. The first time i saw crocs was when I was returning to the US from living abroad in Chile for a more than 2 years. I was at the airport going through Immigration when I noticed all these people were wearing the same shoe, but in different colors. All I could think of was these poor people must have been on some sort of vacation together and somehow lost their shoes and then had to buy the only shoes available at whatever resort they were on. Then I get home and my friends were wearing them. "They're so comfortable!" is the reply I got when I asked why they had those shoes. These hippy tourist pants are the same, people tell me how comfortable they are. But why are these pants in SE Asia. Through observation, I tried to figure out this phenomenon out. Maybe the locals wear them? No, I couldn't find any evidence of that. Maybe they used to wear them? They did sell a pant they called fisherman pants that the locals used to wear. They were big and baggy, but instead of elastic waste they had a string you would tie together to hold them up. Also, the crotch didn't reach your knees. When I did my meditation retreat, these were the pants they gave us. So, my conclusion is I don't know why you can buy baggy, saggy-crotch, pajama-like pants in SE Asia, but you can for real cheap and every body buys them. Except for me.
The next day, Kimberly and I hopped on our scooter together to tour around Pai. We start off in search of one of the local waterfalls, but it was dry season so it was a rather wimpy waterfall.
Then we set out for a viewpoint, which when we arrived we were the only ones in a massive parking lot with a supposed viewpoint at the end, which wasn't much of a view and what view there was was masked by the smoke of nearby burning rice fields. After that disappointment, we then decided to go find some coffee at a cute coffee shop called Coffee Love.
|I love Thai iced coffee|
From there we headed towards another waterfall without intending to go the waterfall to search for Land Split farm, which is on the road to the waterfall. I think Land Split farm was my favorite. it literally has a giant split or crack in the middle of the farm. One morning about 5 years ago, the farmer woke up to find this giant crack on his land, making that portion of the land unfarmable, so they decided to try to turn it into a tourist attraction. You arrive and are immediately greeted with smiles from the family and they gesture for you to sit at one of their picnic tables. Within minutes comes an array of delicious food they grow on their land. They served hibiscus tea, hibiscus wine, dried bananas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, tamarind and papaya. They do not ask for any money for the food, but there was a donation box on the counter and therefor could leave as much or as little as you'd like. The farmer came over and sat down with us and in very little English and a lot of hand gestures and smiles, tried to explain what happened on the farm. He then motioned for us to walk around the farm and look at the crack and the crops. I think I liked this farm because is showed Thai hospitality and culture and it was something very different from the typical super touristy Pai scene.
|Kimberly with the farmer at Land Split Farm|
We ended our day at the Canyon, as multiple people told us it was the best spot to see the sun set, and it was magnificent. I was glad to have made it to Pai, but realized 2 days was enough time to see everything there before the town got tiring and boring. I think that's the trick to enjoying traveling, staying just the right amount of time to be able to see a lot of things while still wanting a little more. That way you leave the place still in awe and wonder.
|sunset at the canyon|
I then took the afternoon trip back Chiang Mai the next day, and was in the front seat of the van, so that made me a very happy girl. The next day I flew to Bangkok to spend a couple more days with Justin and Marlo before heading to Australia and New Zealand.
In Bangkok, Marlo and I went the Grand Palace, which is something you must do Bangkok as everyone asks you if you went there. But the be honest, I wasn't that impressed. I actually thought some of the other wats (temples) were more impressive. Maybe I was wat-ed out, once you see a bunch, they all start to look similar. After we roamed around for a bit, Marlo took me to where they stayed when they first arrived in Bangkok, a backpackers guesthouse. As soon as he turned the corner down the street towards the guesthouse, people recognized him, came over and shook his hand. Our intention was to have a quick bite to eat and get home, but these three old ladies quickly surrounded him with food, fused over him and slapped down bottle after bottle of beer. Even though the ladies barely spoke English, and Marlo barely spoke Thai, their friendship was evident and somehow they were still able to communicate and tell each other stories. At one point one of the old ladies went into her house and came out with 2 necklaces with little gold figurines on them. To my untrained eye, they looked like little Buddhas, but she told me no and tried to explain who it was. From my understanding it was a famous monk who has since passed away. She said to wear him for good luck.
I really did enjoy my time in Thailand, and I know someday I'll back. I left a lot to be seen.