Chilling in the Mountains of Pai
Going all the way back to hiking Mount Batur in Bali, fellow travelers had told us about their wonderful experiences in Pai, a little town in the north of Thailand. As we continued to travel Southeast Asia and told others we would be going to Chiang Mai, continually we heard, “don't miss Pai.”
Our journey to Pai was about a three-hour mini bus ride from Chiang Mai and luckily we were thoroughly warned that it winds through the mountains and has lots of curves. Thus, a couple Dramamine were downed and more or less, next thing we knew we were dropped off a few hours later in the center of Pai. After an unexpected trek through the local market with all our bags in tow due to our hotel showing up in the wrong location on our maps app, we finally found our hotel and dropped off our bags. Upon heading back into town to find food, we realized that our hotel was actually on the same street we got dropped off on. Sweet, well at least I sweated off a few pounds I put on courtesy of the fried chicken stands in Chiang Mai.
Pai is a backpacker town with a hippie atmosphere, and while I’m sure the outskirts of the town have a more of local feel, the center of town caters to those just passing through. There were juice stands galore, motor bike rentals at every turn, along with bars offering bucket specials. While often we want to immerse ourselves in the authenticity of the city, sometimes it’s just nice to go somewhere where you know the experience is going to be stress free!
We explored the town on foot, locating different bars and restaurants recommended to us by friends or TripAdvisor and mentally taking note of where they were for later on. Behind the main strip that runs through the “downtown” is a river and near there, many bungalows, bars and restaurant options.
We crossed the rickety bridge to check out the other side of town before heading back over to explore the night market that was now popping up on the main strip. Food stands galore had sprung up, with food options ranging from egg rolls, to crepes, burgers and chicken sandwiches, soups, lasagna, garlic bread and more. A lot of the options were certainly their version and we still want Au Cheval ASAP upon getting home, but none the less the Western food choices in Pai hit the spot and were an awesome surprise.
The next day we rented a moped to explore some of the sightseeing spots outside of town. Our first stop was to a strawberry farm artfully named, Strawberry Pai. There wasn’t too much there but it did have some amazing views and a tasty muffin.
Next up was a ride to Pai Canyon. With Pai being up in the mountains it felt like every place we went was one view trying to top the previous one. Pai Canyon was no exception with views 360 degrees around, having to make sure we kept an eye on where our feet were because it was a very steep drop if you leaned over too much for that perfect picture.
Lastly we headed to a stop we found on TripAdvisor, the White Buddha. Now by this point of our travels we have seen many, many Buddhas'. We even wondered if it was worth heading out to see it because, “Same, Same but Different” right? Well we were both very happy we kept riding because this was a sight to be seen. The White Buddha sits above the city, overlooking Pai, and once you climb the stairs leading to it, it was pretty breathtaking. The sheer size along with looking down at Pai made it a hundred percent worth it.
Pai was filled with on an off rain the entire trip. Luckily our friends who had just visited recommended MJ’s bar which sits across the river and has covered outdoor porches, perfect for an afternoon beer and catching up on blog time! It was peaceful and quiet, watching the rain trickle into the river, clean mountain air, thinking that times like this are exactly why we took our long journey.
The next day we rented a bike with a little more oomph, because we had a long ride in front of us. We were off to the Lod Caves but they were an hour and a half to get to, the longest stretch we had done on a moped that didn't involve multiple stops. It was a really beautiful ride and at the halfway point we stopped at a viewpoint and picked up some side of the road sausages. Risky move I must say, with nothing but open road and another forty-five minutes in front of us, but our friends Dave and Stef had mentioned how they came across some amazing sausage near Pai. Risk worth it because they were delicious and we ended up stopping at the same stand on the return trip.
We arrived to the cave and we're promptly told a guide and the boat ride were mandatory. We’re never sure if we are being scammed when these old ladies look stern behind their desk and only speak enough English to get paid, but we agreed to their demands. Good thing we did because odds are without our guide, we would still be in the cave! Lod Cave was pretty massive.
We took a short boat ride, it was basically a long canoe, to inside the cave and then our guide took out her old-fashioned gas burning lantern and navigated us around once back on land. There were birds and bats swooping around and the unfortunate feces that comes with it. It was pretty gross seeing all the shit on the steps and handrails or feeling drops land on your shirt and hoping it was the water from the caves rooftops but knowing the chance of it being water was fifty-fifty at best. Regardless, we did enjoy our time at the cave even seeing some creepy century old coffins.
Our goal was to hopefully get back to Pai before the afternoon showers. Mission, fail. As we were putting on our helmets the rain started so we dashed over to a gazebo and waited it out. I’m not sure the tour guides who were waiting for more customers to arrive appreciated us descending on their space but so it goes. Eventually we headed out and got about a third of the way back to Pai, before the rains started again and this time it wasn’t just rain but a thunderstorm; cats and dogs galore. Luckily since motorbike is the most common form of transport in Thailand, they have little shelters on the sides of the highway for a situation like this. We chilled out on our wood bench, under the metal roof and watched the trucks go by, probably laughing at us in our big colorful ponchos. Once the rain subsided off we went, quick sausage pit stop, we wanted to get home and dry off. No luck, more rain! This sudden storm forced us to duck into a little convenience store set up in the living room of a family’s home. They were very nice and setup some chairs for us to sit, and we bought some snacks for their hospitality. Finally, we made back to Pai, only three rain intermissions later.
After that adventure we felt like we deserved a “Treat Yo Self” type of evening. In Pai that means a bucket (or two) at the Almost Famous bar (our favorite movie), a burger from the market, drinks and live music at a cool bar called Edible Jazz Bar, ended with a Nutella banana crepe for the walk home. Thank goodness for friends recommending Pai to us. It was a perfect mountain town to escape to for fresh air, good eats and a laid back experience. We had one more winding mountain bus ride back to Chiang Mai, a few errands and plans to see friends one last time before leaving for the wonders of Hong Kong!