A Few Days in Pai

The journey from Chiang Mai to Pai consists of long, windy roads up and down the beautiful hills and valleys of northern Thailand. So naturally I decided to watch When Harry Met Sally on the bus, instead of staring out the window. In my defence, I had seen a lot of hills and valleys so far, whereas I’d only seen When Harry Met Sally once before.

We arrived into Pai after a few hours on the road, and let Vincent lead us to a hostel he’d stayed in last time he’d been in the town; a hostel on the river called Pai Zen with a range of indoor dorms or open air huts, where tourists were regularly sacrificed to the Mosquito Gods. We chose the indoor dormitory, with air-conditioning, because we weren’t animals.

Pai is a tiny town; probably closer to a large village, with only one or two roads worthy of attention. I don’t think they actually had names, but you could recognise them by the fact that one was constantly busy, and the other led to a swimming pool and a club. There were other roads, but I don’t think I spent much time on them. In fact I only went on the road to the swimming pool once over the four days, and I only spent about 30 minutes in the water. I never made it to the club. Probably for the best.

The constantly busy road is filled with buses, shops, motorcycle rentals, and caf├ęs during the day. In the evening it becomes a walking street filled with foreign street food. Street food that’s foreign to Thailand in most cases. Like lasagne. And bruschetta. And vegan gluten free truffles.

I ate a lot of bruschetta and lasagne. And schnitzel.

I’m gonna be honest, the food was a highlight of Pai. But there was more to the town than just food that vaguely reminds you of home. There’s a canyon, and a big buddha, and some caves, and a crack in the ground. So we went to see those too.

We started with Lot Cave


Looking out from the cave

Making our way into the cave system, old school lanterns in hand

It’s pitch black for most of the journey, but eventually we found our way out

Men with long boats and long poles helped us navigate the flooded caves

Lot Cave is about an hour and a half away from Pai on a scooter, and it’s famous for being old, big, and dotted with coffins from a civilisation thousands of years old. When you go in you pay for entrance to the area, and a local guide who will take you round the cave and point out funnily shaped rocks, like the Crocodile and the Monkey and the Boob. It was a pretty cool cave.

Almost as interesting, maybe, as the cave with stalactites and ancient history, was a 4 chair swing that we found on the way to the cave. We tried and failed to get a man on each swing, mostly, I think, because there was only 3 of us. We didn’t manage to get three people on it either, but that was probably because of some other issue.

Impossible? Probably

Over the next few days we headed to the Pai Canyon, the Japanese WW II Memorial Bridge, and the Land Split. The Canyon is very similar to the Grand Canyon, but, I assume, smaller, and probably more impressive. Around sunset it gets all colourful and looks very pretty.

A tree found near the canyon

One of the ridges around the canyon, where the less adventurous stopped to watch the sunset

The sun, a hill, some people. Annika I think

Just like the grand canyon

Probably more trees than the grand canyon. Maybe. I’ve never been there

The Memorial Bridge was built by the Japanese during WWII, and in some way is similar to the Bridge over the River Kwai, but not really. It was made by the same people. Also I think I took pictures of the replacement bridge, and not the original. But there you go.

Not quite the bridge over the river Kwai – more like the bridge over the river Pai. Is that insensitive?

A trip up to the large Buddha, where the holiness and reverence around the site had tourists wandering around in skimpy skirts and wife beater tops.

A big Buddha and some people chilling out

Staircase under construction

The view from the Buddha

And finally, the Land Split. This used to be prime farming land, until one day the land just split in two. Unexpectedly. The owner of the land, confused but entrepreneurial, decided that he would make the Land Split a tourist attraction, and use it as way to get people to come to his farm. So we went there, walked around a little bit, and then went down to try the local fruit, fruit juice, and wine.

Another Grand Canyon lookalike

A place to park your bikes and chill out with local veg and wine

Vincent, Aurora, Annika, and I had a pretty good time in Pai, taking it easy and chilling out a lot, with occasional nights of drinking, river crossings, and lost flip flops. Well, I was the only one to lose flip flops. I went through three pairs in 4 days, which to this day I think must be some sort of record, and made me long for the days at university where I wore homemade duct tape flip flops that lasted me for months.

But after 5 days we all felt like it was time to leave. Pai is a place where lots of people get trapped; it’s filled with foreigners working in bars and running the hostels that made it to the small town, and decided to stay for a while, and then didn’t move on. I met a guy who was living hand to mouth on a $3 an hour bar job who claimed he was having the time of his life. He also couldn’t afford to get the bus out of the town, nevermind finding a way to leave the country, but at least he was enjoying himself. But to me, Pai didn’t really feel all that way; it was a proper little bubble of the western world brought into Thailand, with the bits that westerners like about Asia; the cheapness, relaxed safety rules, sunshine, and exotic sights; but very much tempered with the home comforts of being able to eat your own food and being surrounded by people that look and speak like you. Of course, more and more of Thailand is becoming like that, but it’s still got a way to go. In Pai I wasn’t once hassled to get in a tuk tuk. Can you believe that?

And I had avocado bruschetta about three times.

And truffles.

A reluctance to get up early meant that I ended up on a separate bus to Vincent, Aurora and Annika; as far as I’m aware the first two are still travelling around the world to this day. Annika headed home to Germany soon after that, to teach people to sail and to head to University.

I had decided that it was time to call it a day on Thailand; I’d go back to Chiang Mai and then straight up to Chiang Rai, to glimpse the White Temple before heading into Laos, where I could look forward to being offered copious amounts of weed, opium, and trips to the waterfalls.

So that was that.

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