Pai: At The End Of A Winding Road

Hi everyone! To celebrate me getting back on the blogging train, I guess it’s time for a throwback to one of my favourites from my last trip!

One of the best places I visited on my trip to Asia last summer was a lovely little town called Pai. It has so much character and things to do for such a tiny place, and some of my happiest days during all that travelling were spent there. I was lucky enough to spend the Fourth of July there with some newfound travel friends from the US and Canada, and it’s surprising how the American celebrations managed to make it all the way to Thailand!

Formerly a “hippy enclave”, Pai is one of the northernmost towns in Thailand, and well known to those on the backpacker circuit known as the “Banana Pancake Trail” – the route around South East Asia popular with Western travellers. Trust me, the hippy vibe remains! It’s part of Mae Hong Son province, and lies about 150km north of Chiang Mai, the heart of Northern Thailand. Pai lies at the foot of the mountains and so it’s a popular base for visiting the hill tribes, though not so much as nearby Chiang Rai.

I had Pai in the back of my mind as a possible destination since I decided to visit Thailand and started researching routes. I’d originally intended to learn to ride a motorbike in Pai, but I was fortunate enough to have a lovely Couchsurfing host in Chiang Mai who taught me in front of her home! And having had my first bike excursion in the centre of Chiang Mai at rush hour, the quiet roads around Pai were a lot easier to handle. After spending a few days in Chiang Mai, I boarded a mini-bus to take me up through the 762 turns on the road to Pai.

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Luxury transport from Chiang Mai to Pai, obviously!

The journey was… interesting. The scenery along the route is absolutely beautiful but mid-way, I started to feel somewhat queasy and decided my best option would probably be to nap for the rest of the journey!

I’d booked a couple of nights in Pai before I arrived, and was not disappointed by my stay at Common Grounds hostel. I stayed in a bungalow-type dorm with a few others, mainly Americans! Two of whom were drunk pretty much the entire duration of my stay… Anyway. I was tempted to extend my stay but in the end only stayed in Pai for three nights. I think it’s one of those places where it’s easy to end up staying a long time because the vibe is just so good! The staff at Common Grounds were lovely and welcoming, and I heard similar things about other popular backpacker accommodation in Pai such as Purple Monkey Hostel and The Famous Pai Circus Hostel.

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Common Grounds Hostel, Pai

I spent my first afternoon and evening finding my way around Pai – I wandered along the main couple of streets and sat down for a quick bite to eat. There isn’t that much to see in the town of Pai itself, but you’re sure to meet a few other travellers and get chatting quickly. The main streets comprise mainly of bars, cafes, small restaurants and souvenir shops. I kept to myself for the first evening, aside from talking to a few people in my hostel about the possibility of going on a bike trip the next day.

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Stir fried mixed vegetables are always a safe bet!

I hired a 125cc bike from the aYA service on the main road for the fairly reasonable price of 200 Baht per day; I was a bit leery about leaving my passport as a deposit though! Most bike rentals do that though, otherwise you’re leaving around 1000 Baht as a deposit, which I rarely had on me at any one time. I also opted to leave the extra insurance (perhaps foolishly trusting myself not to crash), and hired the bike for a couple of days. I parked it at the hostel and headed in for a decent night’s sleep, of course not before having a couple of drinks at one of the local bars!

When morning came, we headed out in our group of six, which over the course of the day became twelve! At first, I was the only girl in a group of guys, and at nineteen, also the youngest. But it didn’t matter! Backpacking solo, as most of us were, makes everyone equal, somehow. We were soon joined by a couple of Dutch girls I’d met the night before. A range of nationalities made up our group, new friends from Switzerland, America and England, but by the end of the day the group was dominated by the Dutch! There seemed to be a lot of backpackers from Holland on the circuit at that point!

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Pai Biker Gang at the start of the day ft. my slightly apprehensive grin

After some emergency food and petrol stock-ups, we were ready to go! Our first stop was a viewpoint where, after paying a 20 Baht entry fee, we were given complimentary cups of tea whilst we took in the beautiful mountains scenery. We got our first taste of the rocky paths – some of those uphill climbs are no joke and I have to say that it was a little hit and miss, regarding whether my little bike was going to make it without toppling over! I managed though!

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Where else would I take my tea? Classic Brit, need my fix!

Next stop: Mor Paeng Waterfall. One of the numerous waterfalls around Pai, Mor Paeng is accessed by a short walk and clamber up some rocks. A few of us braved the icy water at the bottom of the waterfall, but I didn’t join some of the guys in sliding down the slippery rock face for a cold shock at the bottom. Ouch.

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Running off to climb the falls

We hadn’t even dried off before moving on to the amazing Pai Canyon. It’s a great place to get some pictures and panorama shots, but some of those drop-offs are pretty steep! It’s a little bit of a hike to get to, but definitely worth it!

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Yes, that is a COMPLETELY safe place to stand…

We moved on to another waterfall – Pam Bok, where we all had a great time cliff-jumping into some of the deeper pools. Half an hour and one bikini mishap later, we’re on the road again!

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Same pose, pre bikini disaster!

We didn’t fancy paying 200 Baht to get into the hot springs, but came across a couple of elephants at the roadside so naturally stopped to take a look and some pictures. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether the treatment of these animals was ethical and we didn’t think to enquire at the time. One of those things which becomes normal in SE Asia, but probably something we should give more consideration to.

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Roadside friends

Once we got back to the town, we were all exhausted! Everyone agreed on having a nap before we went to any Fourth of July celebrations, but that actually turned into sleeping for hours before we made it out to the bars! I ran into someone I’d met before in Bangkok – just goes to show that it’s a small world on the backpacker trails! We started off with Long Island Iced Tea in Boom Bar, before ending the night at Don’t Cry Bar, a bar/club a little bit further away from the main streets.

Returning to the hostel in the early hours of the next day, we were faced with drama as one of the girls staying in my dorm had apparently gotten into a fight! Not typical of the peaceful atmosphere in Pai, it’s got to be said. That dealt with, I finally showered and collapsed into bed. My first full day in Pai was a brilliant one, and I’m so grateful that I spent it with some amazing people from all over the world!

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Biker gang take Pai!

Travelling solo really does mean that you’re never alone unless you want to be. Although I’m perfectly happy with my own company, I loved doing the motorcycle circuit around Pai with a big group, and it was one of my most memorable days. I’ve got far too much to say about Pai – I doubt it would all fit in one post, at least not one that isn’t so long that it would bore you to tears! So keep an eye open for Part 2!

Have any of you been to Pai? What did you think of it? Would you return!

Thanks for reading!

X Bea

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