I took a cheap minibus from Chiang Mai to the lovely town of Pai. Let me reiterate this point—most intercity bus services in Thailand include a hotel pick-up, but more often than not, they arrive up to 20 minutes earlier than the time you were told. As such, I’d advise that you be ready and checked out a half-hour before the official pick-up time. Most hotels in Thailand insist on a room inspection prior to departure, notwithstanding the fact that you paid via credit card, and the wait is embarrassing as hell if people are waiting for you. Luckily, I’m a travelling champ by now and expected the early arrival.
The minibus ride was actually a ton of fun because I got to chat with a super cool English girl, Elana, and with a British couple for most of the way. However, if you’re prone to motion illness (I’m not), the road is a certifiable nightmare. There are literally hundreds of wicked curves along the way (762 to be exact), leading many passengers to lose their lunches.
When we arrived in Pai, I unfortunately forgot to get the contact information for my fellow travelers, so once we reached my hotel they all went on their way and I was on my own. However, I had heard that Pai has a super small night scene, so I was pretty sure I’d run into them soon enough.
Once I checked in and dropped off my backpack, I went on a short walk prior to sundown. Some pictures from the walk:
I ended up getting lost but as luck would have it, once I exited the fields I was very close to the top rated restaurant as per Lonely Planet. I did as instructed and ordered the beef with sticky rice. It ended up being mediocre at best, but I can’t really complain, the full meal with a beer came out to under $4 CDN:
For my entertainment that night I went to Easy Garden Bar because they were offering killer cocktails at a discount, and because they have excellent live music every night. As a bonus, they make an excellent mojito.
Photos and sound from the bar:
I recorded two songs from the first fellow, one song from the second set:
Just as I was leaving the bar at the conclusion of happy hour, I turned and noticed that a stunning woman was sitting behind me. I got another drink and confirmed the crazy tactic that worked by accident with Jenny in Koh Phangan. I sat back, ignored her for 20 minutes and then struck up a conversation. We then ended up hanging out (platonically once again) for the rest of the evening; which was great for me because aside from hanging out with a cute Austrian gal for a few hours, she took me to a killer late-night noodle soup place that I would have never found on my own. A thing to understand about noodle joints in Thailand, and really most of south-east Asia, is that they run them like assembly lines. You’ll get your meal within 2-3 minutes of ordering. Some of the broths at these places are amazing, but most are just okay as they use the same base to make multiple soups. This place was different, it took the better part of 20 minutes to get our soups, and we were able to make custom choices on the noodle types and spiciness of the broth. They were worth the wait, the broth in particular was one of the best I’ve ever had.
The noodle joint:
The previous night, I signed up for a day trip to Cave Lod in nearby Soppong and to Pai Canyon. As luck would have it, the really nice British couple from the minibus ride over had signed up for the same tour so we got to hang out all day. In terms of the cave, we got led around for quite a bit, but unfortunately due to the low lighting very few pictures showed up properly. As part of the tour we got to ride around in boats inside the cave, but due to the swaying of the boats combined with low-light photography, those also didn’t show up well, with a few exceptions:
We also stopped at some hot springs along the away, but they were really tepid springs. This photo makes the place look far more picturesque that it actually was. Though to be frank, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with hot springs ever since visiting my first one when I was 17 and being informed that there are parasites in most springs that will crawl up your urinary tract if you pee at all. The thought of swimming in parasite infected water has always detracted from the experience. It didn’t help that at this particular tepid spring, there were two kids who kept on splashing people in the face on purpose, when I was making a conscious effort not to get any water near my mouth, nose and ears.
The tepid spring:
The highlight of the day, and really one of my favourite spots in all of Thailand, was Pai Canyon. Lonely Planet sells it short, so don’t pay attention to the book when it comes to this canyon. I thought it was some of the most stunning scenery that I’ve seen in my travels. However, wear some sensible shoes with good traction, you will need to do a bit of (perfectly safe) climbing to get to the good spots:
A shot of the food stalls in Pai at night. I ate at this place the following night and was quite pleased with it. They don’t sell beer but let you go across the street and buy some from the 711 and bring it back. The noodles were terrific, and including the self-purchased beer, the meal came out to under $3 CDN.
After the tour we all went back to our respective hotels for a quick shower, and then met up for dinner. We ended up at cool little family-run restaurant which really had the feeling of getting a meal in someone’s living room:
Earlier that day, I picked up my laundry from a super cheap laundry joint across the road from my hotel. Despite confirming in advance that the (admittedly super low) price included drying, I was handed a bag full of wet clothes. This is why you should always travel with 10+ metres of plastic rope to handle mass drying (don’t worry mom, I had people over that night for some drinks so the beer bottles you see were consumed by five of us):
I rented a motorbike for the next two days as I had been told that it is the ideal way of checking out the sights around Pai. I started out by riding out to the huge white Buddha on top of a nearby hill:
After that I rode up to an adjacent hill to get a clear perspective of the town:
It was crazy hot, so after a relatively short ride, I decided to go to a nearby pool-bar to cool off. In the distance I saw a cute girl in a black bikini so I decided to try out my newfound chatting up strategy. As luck would have it, it turned out that I had sat right next to Elana from the minibus ride over, but I was so committed to my 20 minutes of ignoring that I didn’t even notice until she greeted me. We got to talking and ended up having a killer dinner at the aforementioned street-food place where you have to bring in your own beer. We finished the night off by heading to a nearby bar:
Elana’s plan was to take a bus the following morning back to Chiang Mai, but for some reason every single bus was booked for the day. She was able to change her travel plans by a day, so although I felt bad about her plans going awry, I was also glad to hang out for the additional day. She joined me on my scooter as I checked out the remaining places on my radar.
The first stop was a Chinese temple a few kilometers away from the core of Pai:
The second stop was an unremarkable Chinese village a few kilometres past the temple, but we didn’t bother to stick around and take any photos.
Elana hadn’t been to Pai Canyon due to Lonely Planet’s unfair characterization of the place, and given that I loved it there we took the motorbike out to the canyon for the final stop of the day:
A shot of Elana negotiating the terrain:
That night we found another super cheap noodle joint, though not quite as good as the place from the night before. We ended the night at a reggae bar of sorts and with a pair of delicious mojitos at Easy Garden Bar.
Did I mention that Easy Garden Bar has hammocks? That alone makes it a killer bar.
A final shot of my time in Pai: