Thursday, October 1, 2015
Nestled up in a valley in Northern Thailand, close to the Burmese border, is the town of Pai. Historically, due to the town’s secludedness, Shan people occupied the area for much of its history until they were eventually overtaken by the Lan Na Kingdom. The Japanese had an interim appearance in Pai, as they tried to utilize it as a connecting point for the transport of soldiers and goods to the Burmese front in World War II. I developed a love/hate relationship when I visited Pai -the touristic town located in a gorgeous valley.
It was originally going to ride a motorcycle around the famed Mae Hong Song loop to visit Pai, but poor weather conditions and a soon-to-be expired visa forced me to take a minibus into the town from Chiang Mai. I was disappointed, but the drive to Pai proved to be a beautiful one, as we slowly climbed our way up the mountains. The views were well worth the drive, even though several other passengers were vomiting profusely on the last half of the way up.
Upon arriving in Pai I made my way across the Pai River to my hostel. I could tell that Pai was packed with tourists, as most people had the same idea as I did -leave Chiang Mai after Loi Krathong/Yi Peng and head to Pai. Most hostels were completely booked and I considered myself lucky to nab a spot in one. The other problem was that most places had already rented out all of their motorcycles. I was struck by luck once again, however, as I was inquiring for a motorcycle at the ‘famous’ Pai Circus School/Hostel at the same moment someone was returning theirs (yes it sounds like what it is, you can rent a room here, smoke a joint in the pool, and then learn how to juggle). Of course it was a bright pink scooter with stickers all over it -I took it regardless.
Let’s start with my least favorite part of Pai -the town of Pai itself. Yes it is small, quaint, and only has four 7-11’s and three traffic lights, but I found the town to be completely and utterly catered to tourists. I ventured into the residential areas surrounding the center and these did prove to be the quaint part of Pai, but I had nothing to do there unless I wanted to barge in on someone’s house -I couldn’t even find local eateries. The center of Pai was just so obnoxiously touristic with it’s night markets that sold the same crap that I saw in Chiang Mai and Sukhothai and it’s streets lined with Western style restaurants. Two stalls did give me a chuckle, however, as I saw a street food lasagna stall and a Mexican street food stall. I considered this an opportunity to have some Western food on my long Southeast Asian journey, but the Western food was junky -I was a fool to think otherwise. This is a lesson I’ve learned many times over, never choose Western food over local food while abroad. Never. I did partake in a bit of the Pai nightlife though, primarily bar-hopping with huge crowds and constantly playing pool with a Singha beer (my Thai beer of choice) always in hand. The one positive of the town of Pai is that it’s where I picked up any sort of billiards skill that I have today.
I’m not trying to bash things that are touristy, I do plenty of touristy things when I travel. But my problem with Pai is that I don’t think it would really exist without tourism -a town truly with more tourists than citizens.
The positive of Pai was getting out of town and exploring the nature throughout the valley. Equipped with my bike, I spent most of my time getting lost in the countryside surrounding Pai. I was initially recommended to check out the World War II bridge, so I drove out to it on the southern side of the valley. It turns out that it is a memorial bridge built after World War II, but the Japanese original does still (partially) stand next to it. But as far as memorial World War II bridges go, it was damn cool, I guess. It was okay because I’ll take any excuse to go zooming through beautiful countryside on a bike.
I also made my way to Pam Bok waterfall. It was another great, scenic bike ride to get there, and a nice place to take a quick dip after a hot day. I had to traverse up some rocks and a shady looking wooden plank bridge to get to the falls and the pool but it was a great little adventure.
On the way back from the falls I encountered a place that many tourists mentioned back in town, the land split. The land split was literally just a big crack in the ground. However, next to it looked to be an old house/small farm where a friendly Thai woman welcomed me in for some snacks and a juice. The first thing that came to my mind was that the land split was just a ridiculous tourist trap to get you to come buy some things from this woman. I was correct, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She literally gave me an entire platter full of local fruits and fruit drinks. It was my meal for the day, and she said the price was up to me. I came back here every day while in Pai -it was well worth it.
Aside from aimlessly driving around the countryside, I also visited Pai Canyon. I came here for sunset and was granted some great views. The canyon itself wasn’t too big, but it was a good few hours to hike around and explore. There were some narrow paths with sheer drops into the canyon on both sides, which made the adventure ever the more thrilling. Most others that were there were complaining about the canyon’s lack of grandiose, but I thought of it as a nice place to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the valley.
Most of my time in Pai was spent cruising on my mean, pink road machine throughout the valley and returning to the town at night to knock back a few and hone my pool skills. Even though I didn’t like the town itself too much, there were other things in the valley that I could spend weeks doing. Whether you are looking for parties, friends, nature, drugs, or learning how to juggle -you will find your niche in Pai.