There are some places in life that you fit into seamlessly, like a hand in a well-fitted glove. We’d been told by many travellers that Pai had been a favourite in their South East Asian travels, but we’d dismissed this- if that many people had held so high a regard for this place, then surely it would be far too touristy and populated for our liking. We were undoubtedly wrong. We knew as soon as we cruised down the last stretch of the 1095 highway that we’d found a little slice of paradise. Although, having said that, we’ve managed to find so many pieces of paradise on our trip so far that I sometimes can’t help wondering if we’ve found enough to make up an entire heaven.
Pai is a tiny, hippy town surrounded by lush green mountains on all sides, through which a quaint river flows- a river is so small that it should probably be classified as a stream. The sweeping green fields and rice paddies that skirt the town are broken up intermittently by wooden shacks and tree houses. The weather is temperate at around 25 to 30 degrees, meaning that nighttime brings a cool breeze and a bite to the air that I haven’t felt since English winter exactly a year ago.
We were given the only option of camping here on our first night, since all the dorms were full, and we embraced it in true Pai style. The tent was tiny- microscopic even, and I’m pretty sure most of the guests thought we were lesbians. The night passed in waves of cold that permeated my body, and I woke up around ten times to re tuck the thin blanket around me. It was a great experience though, but I was keen not to repeat it.
The next day we found a truly wonderful hostel- my favourite by far. Made entirely of wood and bamboo-including the beds, the treehouse like hostel is situated right on the river and confusingly named ‘Up2U’ guest house. I’ve lost count of how many times someone would ask where we were staying, and we’d reply ‘up to you!’ We got a few strange looks, before we’d explain and laugh off the whole awkward situation. I think the hostel did this on purpose, since the wifi password is ‘idontknow’. I like it. My kind of place.
What we didn’t realise was that the structure of the place is so rudimentary that none of the rooms are properly sealed off from the outside. Our six bed dorm was probably the coldest of all of them- made worse by the fact that everyone kept forgetting to close the door. And so our second night was spent colder than the first, waking up every few minutes to numb feet and icy breath. I exaggerate, but I haven’t been this cold in a while! We learnt our lesson last night, putting on all the clothes we have (which is very few), and covering up with two quilts, a towel and a sarong.
Life here is so relaxed that I finally feel peaceful, which is a stark contrast to the manic feeling I’ve had during the trip so far. We’ve been doing so much- getting up at 7 o’clock and cramming as much as we can into one day- that we haven’t had time to properly chill and get to know a place. Usually, after one night in a place we’ll move on to the next. But recently, both here and in Chiang Mai, we’ve properly explored the places and wandered around to our hearts’ content, getting to know the town so well that we have ‘favourite’ places to go to. This probably only happened because April was ill and we were way ahead of schedule, but I actually feel like I’m on holiday now.
In Chiang Mai we stayed in a wonderful boutique hostel with a pool, and spent the days wandering around the old city, ambling down streets and sampling the delicious Thai food. Known as of the finest cuisines in the world, Thai food certainly doesn’t disappoint. I won’t be surprised if I’ve put on about a stone by the time I leave here- but I don’t even care because it tastes so good! We also went to a Muay Thai Boxing match, an experience I certainly won’t forget. The stadium was located in the hooker and lady boy part of town, and as we wandered the streets waiting for the match to begin we heard a Thai woman ask a sleazy western man ‘so do you want to sleep with me?’ Safe to say I was rather scarred by that experience! The actual match was very entertaining and fast paced, but the highlight was the ‘special round’, during which three men were blindfolded. The poor referee guy kept on being blindly hit as he tried to guide the boxers around the ring, and often they would just punch the air as they turned in circles, hoping that their fist would make contact with human flesh.
On our second day in Chiang Mai we took a Thai cooking class, and learned to cook curries, stir fries, soups and spring rolls. My favourite was the Panang curry that I cooked, and have been hunting for ever since at every restaurant I pass. It had a base of coconut milk (which I can’t stand), so to blanch out the taste of coconut I added a ton of fish sauce. This was a huge mistake as my curry was disgustingly salty, but behind the salt there was a wonderfully rich hint of spice and peanuts. I’m keen to sample a properly cooked version of Panang curry. Making the spring rolls made me realise how horribly unhealthy they are, but there was something hugely satisfying about rolling your own spring roll and dunking it in a huge vat of fatty oil until it turned a crispy golden brown. Our ‘masterchef’ was a charming, funny, Thai woman, who told us to ‘cook with our emotion’, jokingly accusing us of having too much emotion when we put too much of an ingredient in. She also encouraged us to make our dishes ‘sexy’, as the more spice you added the sexier you became, as your cheeks and lips would go red upon eating it!
From Chiang Mai we journeyed by bike with an American guy to where we are now, a gruelling 150km of potholes, dust and close calls. We spent around 2 hours on the infamous 1095 highway, which is renowned for being a horrible highway with 762 curves. We lived to tell the tale though!
We planned to stay around a week in Pai, but like the restless travellers we are we decided to ditch the Mae Hong Son motorbike loop we were thinking of doing, and head down to Krabi! This was a rather spur of the moment decision, and knowing us we’ probably change our minds again, but wish us luck on the deadly 1095 highway back to Chiang Mai!