Finding Pai – Northern Thailand

After our fun-filled, jam-packed days in Chiang Mai, the plan was to take the bus to Pai, and though we had been warned that the roads were windy, we had no idea how windy and how steep – it was quite the three hours as we travelled further North into the country where it looked like it hadn’t rained in months, and because it was burning season there was a light grey filmy haze in the air to boot. My first impression was the trees lining the hills looked like the bristles on an elephant’s trunk They also looked like they wer ready to snap, clean in two.

We had booked ahead with Bookings in a place called Paitopia – it seemed close enough to everything and had a pool, which was a huge appeal as it had been over a week since we’d seen water.

We arrived at Paitopia late in the afternoon and immediately caught the vibe of chill-laid back-hippy-commune-everyone’s here to help out – the vibe wasn’t far from the truth as we soon learned many of the staff were backpackers trying to earn their keep so they could extend their time in Pai. I got the instant feeling that Pai is the ‘sticky spot’ of the North!

After our incredible adventures in Chiang Mai we were due for some quiet time. One of our days we spent exclusively around the pool – it was hot, sticky and there was nowhere else I would rather have been.

Well not entirely true because my day had started with a run through trails, which led into woods and ran parallel to a small stream – there were sign posts pointing to a waterfall but it was apparently 2 hours away and with the weather being so dry I doubted the waterfall would be there, even if I had run that far. Didn’t matter I had one of my best runs to date. At one point every time I stepped down on the soft clay a handful of butterflies flew up around me – so magical.

On our second day we went on a tour of all the popular sights in Pai. It was wonderful. A little different than some tours we had taken as we were the only ones on the tour, which meant we could dictate how long we wanted to stay at each spot.

The day, and I do what to point out it was a Sunday, began at the Secret Hot Springs – I couldn’t help feeling what an amazing way to spend a Sunday morning – we all felt that.

Our next stop on the tour was the Chinese Village, which was very quiet and deserted as we walked around. The Chinese Village, Santichon Yunnan Village, is a village that was a Chinese settlement turned into a tourist park. Apparently the village is home to about 2000 residents from the Yunnan Province, immigrants from the mainland during Mao’s regime in China. Our highlight was definitely watching Tiah and Abigayle on the ‘manual’ merry-go-round. And by manual I mean there were two ladies literally pushing the girls around on a contraption that looked like it was built in the dark ages or pioneer times at the earliest.

We moved on from the Chinese Village to The Land Split. The Land Split is a 20 meter fault line that resulted from an earthquake in 2011. It is said that the earthquake was an after shock from the 2004 Tsunami. The farmer, whose land the fault is on was resourceful enough to turn it into a tourist attraction. Not only is it a fun walk to see the natural ‘disaster’ but the farmer greets everyone with broad smiles and an offer to sample his crops – he has all kinds of fruits, fresh and dried, a long with jellies and juice. There is no charge just the hope of a donation.

We were treated to lunch at a small restaurant beside the Land Split – yummy Pad Thai and a huge platter of watermelon and pineapple, which we weren’t able to finish so the owner kindly made it into a smoothie for us – one of our other latest addictions has been watermelon smoothies – perfect in the heat.

From The Land Split we headed to Pam Bok Waterfall. Unfortunately, because we were travelling during the hot, dry season, the waterfall was not its usual cascading self but rather it was a steady flow of freezing cold water – and I do mean FREEZING. The only reason I went in was so I could say I did – but it was ridiculously cold and my body was numb for quite awhile afterward.

The most unexpected part of the trip was the Bamboo Bridge (Boon Ko Ku So Bridge). This was one of our usual “no idea what it is, let’s check it out places’. Turns out Boon Ko Ku So Bridge is about 1 km long and runs across an entire paddy field. The backdrop of the mountains is beautiful and as you walk along the rickety bamboo, water buffalo and cows are grazing in the fields right beside the bridge.

Our last stop was probably the most impressive of the tour – Pai’s Canyon, known in Thai as Kong Lan. It is probably the most impressive sight in and around Pai and is definitely a must-see. The Canyon offers stunning views across the Pai Valley but, as the cliffs have been eroded over many years, all that is left are narrow ledges, with a 30 metre plus drop on either side. With the incredibly dry weather the paths have no traction and you really do need nerves of steel to walk them – I didn’t, but I did enjoy the view from where I stood.

There were other highlights to Pai, aside from our tour. Most notably was Maddi and Abigayle renting a scooter and taking each of us for a ride. Best was Maddi drove Abzy and I together, through town, and we stopped at The Purple Monkey for an afternoon caesar (I’d heard from a couple of guys early in the day who were visiting Paitopia that there were caesars to be had!).

We also enjoyed the walking street and twice we went just to enjoy the street food. It probably had the best we’d seen in the sense that the variety was endless – everything from the usual Thai food on sticks to bruschetta, sushi, samosa, Indian, truffles, dumplings – you name it, it was there – and cheap! The only draw back to where we were staying was trying to get a taxi home. After 9 pm the taxis only cater to the party crowds going to the party not trying to get home.

I can certainly see the big draw to Pai, and how backpackers come and lose/find themselves here, but for me, to stay much longer than four days, I’d miss the ocean.

misty glaze
bristling trees –
burning season

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