“Part of the magic of the experience lay in the sheer beauty of the setting: the breathtaking sight of the high mountains, the sweep of the sky, the panorama of the great valley. The beauty drives you out of the self for a moment – so that for this time, the self is not.” — Joseph Jaworski
Over the last year (nearly exactly), Chuck has gone on and on about his trip to Pai. “It was so great. So different than Chiang Mai. Everyone in Pai is so chill, so fun, and it is beautiful.” Once we decided we would be visiting Thailand together, he mentioned we should go to Pai while we are here. I was on board because I want to see as much of the world as possible. Yet, I was skeptical of this magic land on a mountain in Thailand.
On Monday morning, we left our bags with the staff at our co-living space and with just our backpacks, we headed to the bus station. Many of you are aware, I get terribly car sick. I made my way to a small pharmacy near the bus station to get medication for the 3.5-hour drive up the mountain. It had been mentioned many times about the curves and I was not going to risk it. The guy at the pharmacy was kind and gave me 12 pills for 10 Baht (0.32 USD). We loaded up and we got the front row; things were already looking up. I had taken 2 pills, so it did not take long for me to doze off. Luckily, I missed most of the 762 (yes the official #) curves up the mountain. We had arrived!
Making our way through the small town was very different from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai. So far, Chuck was right. We got to Pai Manee Home, our home for the week. The decision to stay here was based strictly on the reviews of Momma Su, the owner. We were not disappointed in her hospitality. We were instantly made to feel right at home. But gone was my private apartment and shower. We were in a 6-bunk room with an outdoor, shared shower. But the bed was comfortable enough and the curtains made the bunks a bit more private. Breakfast at the house consisted of toast, jam, bananas, coffee, and tea. Nothing fancy, but most days it was enough to get us to lunch. Not staying in a party hostel means you might meet fewer people to run around with. I am sure this was the case, but we were able to make several new friends and hang with them several times. The highlight was definitely the night Momma Su made dinner for us. A fantastic spread of chicken/potato massaman curry, steamed mixed vegetables, and salad with homemade dressing. We were able to recharge each night and start anew the next day. Pai Manee was our home for a week.
The vibe change was evident at every turn. The night market was great but much smaller than the ones in the city. The day time was sleepy in Pai, which allowed for time to work and be still. I enjoyed the moments I got to myself to read, meditate, and just be. It was hot during the day, especially if you found yourself in direct sunlight. I made my way to The Pool Bar several times just to dip my toes in the cold water. The flip side of that coin was how cold it was at night. Granted it was not “freezing” but when the temperature drops 30 degrees in an hour it sure feels that way. Maybe this is why everyone gathered in the small bars and warmed up with drinks.
On Thursdays and Sundays, there is a fire show performance by Medicine Circus. It is out at Backpackers Paradise and I had heard many stories about this place. So, I made plans to not miss this. My new friend Rodrigo joined me and we ventured off. It was about a 20-minute walk outside of town and at night. Yep, we were freezing. We arrived early enough to get a seat near the front and waited for the show to begin. And begin it did. It was mesmerizing and the talent was amazing. They claim to be misfits and misunderstood, but I just saw sheer artistry in motion.
On any travel list pertaining to Pai, Thailand, you will read about Pai Canyon and the sunset. I, too, had read about it, heard about it, and seven pictures of it. They offer tours of several of the sites that are more than a walk out of town. Chuck and I settled on a half-day tour that included Wat Phra That Mae Yen “The White Buddha”, a coffee farm, a Chinese settlement re-enactment, two pit stops, Boon Ko Ku So Bamboo Bridge, Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai Land Split and Pai Canyon at sunset. The White Buddha is breathtaking, not only in its size and beauty, but after you take ALL THE STAIRS to the top you are out of breath. The bamboo bridge takes you on a path above the rice fields to a temple at the end. The temple was simple yet stunning in comparison to the colorful, gold and silver ones I have been seeing. It was wooden and set in a dense forest. I took a few moments to sit and clear my mind. The crown jewel of all the Pai sites though, truly, is the sunset over Pai Canyon. It left me awestruck from the first moment. We trekked up and around to get to the top. Some places were very narrow and falling would have surely ended in death. I found an unoccupied spot out on a point. I sat quietly as the sun made its descent behind the horizon and let go of so much that was weighing me down. The amazing group of people on our tour just added to it and I am grateful to have them as friends. It is a moment I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
One day, Chuck, his friend Luca, and I spent a few hours relaxing at the Sai Ngam hot springs. It was not what I was expecting (I was thinking spa), but I sure enjoyed it and so did my muscles. During one night market, I met up with another new friend, Diego, plus Rodrigo, Rodrigo’s friend Melinda and Chuck. We hung out for a bit and then we went to Spirit Bar. It is a hidden bar with a fire pit, live music, tye-dye, and a chill vibe. Our hostel friends Mikey, Stefano, and Lexie joined us as well. It was a fantastic night out with friends. I ventured out one afternoon to see new friends Rich and Paul at their very nice bungalow hotel. This turned into an all-evening thing and an adventure to Backpackers Paradise. They were able to give me lots of travel advice for the rest of my trip. Our final night was spent supporting Mikey, our Swiss friend from our hostel. He was playing In front of an audience for the first time at The Jazz House for open mic night. Mikey plays the didgeridoo and the hand pan. It was awesome and he did a great job. It was a fun night of great music to cap off the week.
I will look back on my week in Pai with sincere fondness. As with all parts of this adventure I am on, I am looking to find peace, calmness and myself. The magic of the mountains was evident in Pai from the people I met (all amazing), the incredible scenes of nature I witnessed, to the moments I was able to be still. Chuck was right, Pai was “so great.” We are back in Chiang Mai and have one more week to take in all the magic this northern region of the country has to offer.