Chiang Mai --> Pai
“There are a lot of curves”
Said the driver. And so there was…
The road to Pai was a long and winding one. I guess the journey from Chiang Mai was about 3 hours with a stop half way. There was the usual rag-tag of travel folk in the minibus… the Japanese contingent, the American girls and seemingly boring travel partner (not boyfriend I would surmise from their body language). Then there was the Belgian guy who reminded me a little of someone from home but a spicier, foreign version. I can’t quite remember his name (Karim?).
For our purposes we’ll call him Tristan. Far from merely being a travel companion on that little leg of the journey, he would go on to play a role in the life of Pai episode.
The driver was a bit of a character. That old thing about not overtaking on corners didn’t seem to apply here. He offered me to drive for a bit much to the dismay of the other passengers. I sat in the driver seat briefly after he had sat in my seat in the back but we swapped back before I could get going. Would have been a bit weird, and I suspect no-one’s insurance would cover such a scenario.
After getting off the bus in the centre of Pai, the smart thing to do would have been to simply take a taxi, show the guy the address and get there easily. Shell out the few measly Baht in order to arrive asap without any dramas. But I thought I had it sussed and decided to walk.
I thought I knew the general vicinity but you have to bear in mind that what is on a map doesn’t always completely correspond with reality… there are quirks and variables… and very few helpful signs into the mix.
So clever boy here thought he knew best. And off I walked. And walked. I didn’t mind the fact I had a backpack and my other rucksack, it was a little much needed exercise… but it was still quite hot which added to the strain.
It started to get boring so I popped into a guest house (with a similar name incidentally) along this road I was on. I’m not sure if this place was open for business but I found some people who appeared to be painting and decorating.
The woman I spoke to called the number of the actual guesthouse (which I had luckily scribbled down along with the address, lesson: always be prepared!) and told me that a woman was coming to pick me up.
A young Thai woman did indeed appear…on a moped. Or ‘scooter’ of you prefer. Motorised bike. She also had a child with her on the back. She told me to ‘saddle up’ despite the obvious overpopulation issue along with my various bags. Let's give it a go I thought. The little girl that was with the older girl stood on the front and I sat on the back and off we scooted…
Passers by were treated to this scene where there’s a little kiddie popping her little head up at the front, a Thai girl driving and this confused, white, 'farang' on the back desperately trying not to let his bags fall off his shoulders. When I did indeed try to adjust said bags it would rock the moped which didn’t help so it became a delicate balancing act.
I recognised where we were going. Turns out we went right back to where I had started from! I had even originally walked down the correct road.
C’est la vie.
All I needed to do was go a little further left and cross a bridge. So near and yet so far.
Anyway, checked in and went on the hunt for food.
This was about 6pm by this point so had a little meal washed down with a fresh Singha beer. As I was strolling around town after trying to get my bearings and assess what we were dealing with, I ran into Tristan (remember, our old Belgian friend from earlier). We had a short, small talk conversation and carried on our separate ways. By coincidence we ran into each other again as we continued our respective circuits.
I told him we must stop meeting like this. He didn’t quite understand the quip.
We decided to go for a beer.
Before we even reached the bar he saw an American girl he had met in Chiang Mai as they stayed in the same hostel there (same dorm in fact I think). She also had a few people with her. Party on.
Having reached the bar we ran into another American girl, known to some of the group… she was heading to Laos on a slow boat the next day. Then 2 larger than life South African characters who are living in London appeared having the time of their lives. Then a Dutch girl who was traveling with the Dutch guy, and an English lad. We got chatting to another couple of young Dutch girls at a nearby table who then joined us too.
We had a party posse of about 12 of us at that stage and ended up at a bar with a fire in the middle, so we were all sat around that. By coincidence about 4 of those people were staying at the same place I was for the first night.
A solid opening and a nice community feel about the place.
What About Pai Itself?
Pai itself is quite a nice little town. You could call it a hippy kind of place, it has an element of that. Campfires, hammocks, Reggae, that kind of gig.
Thing is; first day I loved it. Thought I could stay a while, met loads of people which is easy to do there and it seemed to meander nicely… a good vibe.
However, second day I was a little bored. This isn’t necessarily a commentary on Pai, it’s as much about me. Third day I was planning my next leg of the journey and buzzing round on a moped.
My sister had said that 4 days there would be enough. Some other people said they went there for a few days and stayed longer. It means different things to different people and depends on what you’re looking for at that moment in time.
And as a traveler those feelings are always in a state of flux. One day might be that you want to live in a place, the next you want to move on.
And moving on has something of a buzz about it.
Take Extra Layers!
One thing worth mentioning is that it’s quite cold in the evenings. Daytimes aren’t too different to the rest of Thailand but after about 8pm until about 8am is pretty nippy. If you find yourself out at night still in just t-shirt and shorts you know about it.
As referenced, I hired out a scooter for a couple of days. A poor Chinese girl had the same idea…
She drove it straight off the forecourt and into a jewellery store… merchandise asunder.
It was quite a scene.
Be careful out there kids. She seemed to be ok if a little shaken but I hear there’s some jewellery going at discount, presumed damaged.
Next up, another Chiang… this time of the Rai variety!
* All images my own or otherwise linked to source