I ended up in the mountainous hippie community of Pai much like I ended up skinny dipping in the Mediterranean Sea after a Barcelona rave five years ago – everyone else was doing it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. All the backpackers I was meeting in Chiang Mai seemed to be either arriving from or departing for Pai within days, and although I’d never heard of it, I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about.
There were two options for getting to Pai. First being, jump abroad a minivan at 8 in the morning with six other sweaty, hungover backpackers. We’d heard this was a pretty rough ride and the odds for motion sickness were quite high. More on that in a second. Second option: take a motorbike. The journey takes four hours and the road is comparable to the “Tail of the Dragon” back home: a twisty, turvey, fairly dangerous, biker’s dream ride. Minus the paved road, lane dividers, and any semblance of traffic laws. Plus the opportunity to drive yourself right off a cliff into death if you skid out or hit a pothole the wrong way.
Obviously, I was motorbiking to Pai.
A few of my new friends in the hostel found a motorbike company that would deliver our backpacks to Pai via minibus, so that was one less thing to worry about. I can’t imagine navigating those treacherous roads while carrying an extra 30+ pounds. We woke up first thing in the morning and called the company to confirm that they had bikes available for us.
They did! We packed up, negotiated cab fare with a street driver, and headed to the shop, backpacks in tow. A few young backpackers were in line before us, and we watched as they walked up to the last four bikes we could see. Hopping aboard, the happy kids jumped on the bikes, waved to us, and sped away. The shopkeeper came back inside, smiled at us and said, “Sorry, no more bike today.”
Kicking ourselves for spending an extra few minutes bartering with the cab driver when we might have arrived a few minutes earlier, we had to come up with Plan B. Which is how I ended up sandwiched between some sweaty Canadian backpackers in the back of a van on the way to Pai, clutching my stomach, head between my legs on one of the worst car rides I’d ever been on. It was all dirt road, and none of it was straight. We were either swerving left, or swerving right, or narrowly overtaking other cars, mere feet from head-on collisions. In Southeast Asia, every ride with a local driver is a fantastic opportunity to be in a wreck. Fortunately, I was too busy trying to keep my breakfast down to worry about that.
A few hours later, we made it to Pai, and I’ve befriended the sweaty Canadian backpackers by not getting sick on them. My hostel friends and I decide to tag along and stay where they were staying, since we’d slacked on arranging accommodations in advance, and all the good hostels were already booked. The Canadians were staying at the Pai Hot Springs Resort, an eight minute taxi ride outside of town. There was no foot traffic in sight on the way there, short of the elephants, who were so close we could reach out and touch them.
The Hot Springs Resort was set back in the mountains, surrounded by natural hot springs, infinity pools, and elephants roaming the grounds.
We settled into our rooms, went for a long, luxurious dip in the pool, and then headed out for the night.
The night market at Pai is everything I’d hoped a night market would be, and I’m glad I waited for a small town to try it, rather than brave the hectic masses in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
The main strip was closed off to the public, and I could not stop sampling street food if my life depended on it! Most of it was identifiable…most
The next day we checked out of our resort and into a more backpacker-budget-friendly hostel, Spicy Pai.
The hostel was a collection of several bungalows situated next to rice paddy fields, and so, so beautiful!
We rented motorbikes straight away and began our ride up into the mountains. We stopped to hike and explore waterfall slides.
We passed little local huts and just about every domestic animal you can imagine lounging on the streets.
Local women waved us down, trying to sell us (what we think was) opium. We politely turned them down and continued on our way, as we weren’t quite ready to end up in Thai prison so early into our trip.
We got lost on the way back, but eventually made it back to the hostel for one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
There is so much more I could say about Pai, but I think it’s one of those places that is better to experience for yourself. So if you ever find yourself in Thailand — go to Pai!