17.12.2008 - 20.12.2008 27 °C
I am about to tell you about my favourite place in Thailand so far, a small town called Pai. It lies only 130 or so kilometres north from Chiang Mai, but getting there takes about 3 hours as the road that leads to Pai is curves all the way. There's a big chance that those suffering from motion sickness won't enjoy the journey, but if you get past that the scenery is stunning. My minivan to Pai happened to be filled with really cool people, and we ended up looking for accommodation together and hanging out the whole time in Pai. We were a nice mix of nationalities with Pauline from Ireland, Caroline and Stephen from the US, Tim from Bulgaria, Gina from Korea and Jonathan from Israel.
We stayed in a guesthouse called Pai In The Sky on the main street. It was an all right place, no atmosphere to speak of but the rooms were spacious and came with hot showers and flushing toilets so one could hardly complain. We checked in there before seeing the cute huts by the river, so by the time we got to the riverside our jaws dropped and we realized we were clearly in the wrong end of the town!
I loved Pai. It's charming, absolutely adorable. I had heard a lot of good things about it before actually getting there, and once I was there I couldn't understand what took me so long. I only had three nights and four full days to spend there, yet it would have been the perfect place to linger longer. The only downside to this hippy little place was the fact that this time of the year the nights were freezing cold. I was desperately missing a winter jacket!
Most of the people I've met loved Pai with a passion, but some find it too touristy. Granted, Pai is touristy, especially on weekends when the little town gets overcrowded by both foreigners and Thai people. (I left Pai on a Saturday night, and when I had to make a last minute run to 7/11 to pick up some snacks, I could hardly move on the main street it was so packed.) Apparently there was a movie made in Thailand some years ago set in Pai, and now all Thais want to see the place and photograph every bit of it. So yes, Pai is touristy and commercial, it's almost like a textbook cliche of backpacker's heaven. Despite of that or perhaps exactly because of that, I fell for it. It's just so cute it gets forgiven. How could you not like Pai? Especially if you avoid weekends.
I am a little bit ashamed of the fact that a big chunk of my time in Pai was spent by the swimming pool lying in the sun. When Tim first mentioned the public pool where you can spend a day for 60 baht I thought it would be waste of time, but the first day me, Pauline and Tim spent there was so lovely that I ended up going back there three days in a row. The sun was just perfect and they played really good chill out music all day long. Walking to the pool through the beautiful roads of Pai and lying on the grass by the pool made me feel like I was a kid on a summer holiday, spending couple of weeks in the countryside. Those were perfect days!
So. I didn't go to see the hot springs, temples or waterfalls. Every day I told the others that I was gonna rent a bicycle that day and go to the nearby villages. However, the bike was never rented and those villages never seen as I remained in a horizontal position by the pool, followed by lots of eating and wandering around, and I was happy like that. Suddenly it just seemed a great idea to follow the slogan they print on postcards here: Do nothing in Pai.
There is a countless selection of good eateries in Pai, and the food was out of this world. I had the best meal ever, Phaenang Curry (not sure about the spelling!), in a little place called Na's Kitchen. There are many places offering healthy food and organic food and some of them organize yoga and meditation classes. There's a wonderful little place called Divine Healing center & Cafe, where they have the most divine chocolate cake and really good selection of creamy smoothies. The street food was also some of the tastiest that I've had so far.
Pai was the first place where I really wanted to go out, as its funky little bars were just irresistable. There was an art gallery with live music, little bars with dim lights and late-night hang-outs with bonfires. Walking on the streets at night you hear the distant jazz and reggae, and in general the live music scene was amazing. We kept going back to a place called Fiddler's where we saw a great live band on our first night out. There we met a friendly Canadian guy called Mike, who had been backpacking in Thailand but ended up staying in Pai. In a bar called Sanctuary, us girls got free cocktails and all of us got free cake! My kinda place!
Being in Pai insPAIred us with some pretty lame Pai jokes. First night out I realized how funny it was that every time we left a bar we would shout 'bye', which obviously sounds like 'Pai' (especially with Finnish accent). Maybe my sense of humour is a little bit limited or something, but I thought it was the funniest thing. That very same night, when I was already drifting asleep, I heard Pauline talking about not Thailand but, er, Pai-land, and in my exhausted state that was even funnier. We soon discovered that her joke wasn't actually that original, and there was even a travel agency called Pailand.
What I saw in Southern Thailand was very nice but didn't leave me with an immediate urge to go back, whereas the north is definitely a place I wanna return to with more time and more money. I enjoyed my time there so much and it was the perfect end for the Thailand chapter before continueing the journey to Laos.