Pai in the sky

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October 4th 2011
Published: October 13th 2011
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 Video Playlist:

1: Polona jumping off a cliff... 40 secs
2: Elephant rodeo... 13 secs
by Jan

“I came here for two days, but I have been here for two and a half years already”
said a Scottish bloke we met and his statement pretty much sums Pai up perfectly. We didn't stay for that long, but we did spend 2 fantastic weeks in Pai. Two weeks full of activities, but with enough time to just relax as well.

Pai is a “picture perfect” village situated about 130 kilometres away from Chiang Mai, but due to the mountain roads and a few hundred turns between the cities it takes over three hours to get to Pai. The ride is not comfortable at all and a lot of people have problems with keeping their stomachs in order.

We were lucky as we got a ride with Joe from the Giant Guesthouse where we stayed in Chiang Mai. There are already two Giants in Chiang Mai, but they just opened Giant 3 in Pai. There is still a lot of work to be done so Joe was driving to Pai and back a few times a week and taking guests with him. We enjoyed our time in Giant in both places and if we are ever back we know where to stay.

Pai is a small village in the middle of the hills, everywhere you look you see green colour of nature. In and around Pai more than 400 guest-houses and resorts cater to tourist needs. We were here during the low season, so most of these places were not full and were offering cheaper deals. According to Joe you can sell just about anything during the high season as the streets are packed with visitors and there is not enough place for everybody who wants to stay in Pai.

Following recommendations we went and checked out a tour agency called Back Trax which offers Treks around the area. We wanted to do “just walking” trek, without the elephant riding and bamboo rafting that all the treks in Chiang Mai seem to offer. We went to just look for info, but we learned that some people already booked the trek for the next day so after a bit of thought and Polona's negotiation skills we decided to join the group the next day.

The next morning we headed off for a two day trek, joined by three English guys (Rob, D and Nick), two girls from Belgium (Minne and Esther) and two girls from Israel (Raut 2x) and Pat our tour guide. All in all a really nice group of people, apart from the two girls from Israel complaining just about every single thing they could think of, and then some 😞.

On the first day we walked for about 4 hours through the forest and rice fields absorbing the beautiful landscape. We stopped at a Lisu village, a tribe originating from Nepal. The village itself was very basic. Wooden houses connected by dirt roads. Kids, pigs, dogs and chickens running around the place. Thanks to the solar panels there is or isn't, depending on the weather, a few hours of light everyday.

Pat was in charge of cooking dinner in one of these huts and we could follow the whole procedure and help if we wanted. I opted for a beer instead 😊. We met the “medicine man”, an old man who...well, was the medicine man. We learned that he used to be addicted to opium, but kicked the habit years ago, now he only drinks a few small bottles of rice wine per day. Rice wine is not
Passing the time Passing the time Passing the time

With my camera in hand
all that bad, its smells horrible and you would it's strong as an average spirit but when you try it, it tastes more like wine. Still, drink enough and you can get very drunk – D was kind enough to offer us a free demonstration and cracked us up with his comments and questions. The favourites were probably “where is the toilet” after visiting it for a dozen times before and mentioning “fish steak pizza” while sleeping. 😊. Ahhh alcohol! D, you better deliver on your promise and learn how to prepare fish steak pizza!

Nick got the excitement going for the night when he pulled baby wipes out of his bag and the local women and children went crazy for them. It was unreal. Kids with wipes in their hands, touching them, smelling them, wiping their faces, arms, legs... We just sat there and enjoyed the site, it was hard to understand how much joy and excitement a simple thing like baby wipes brought. It's something we all just take for granted, but it's not the case here. Life is completely different here. People don't leave the village all that often, they are farmers and most of the things they need they produce themselves. Girls get married at about 15 years of age and have many kids.

On the second day there was a bit more walking. It rained during the night which made the path muddy and the leaches happy. Pretty much all of us got bitten at one point, making for a few funny moments when Minne and Polona were taking their trousers off to get rid of them. They are harmless and to get rid of them you just need to spray a bit of Deet on them and they will let go. Water filled with tobacco also does the trick. Our last stop on the Trek was a small cave which you have to enter on a bamboo raft. The trek was a great experience and two days were more than enough. We had an amazing time, really enjoyed our company.

At this point we implemented a new rule: “A day of activity needs to be followed by at least a day of rest!”. There is an emphases on at least, just to make it clear that two or more days are also fine. After resting for a few days (see what I mean) I decided that I might want to try water rafting. I haven't done it before but Polona had and was telling me how great it was and hearing about Pete's inability to seperate between the front and back of the boat I had to try it. We went to Back Trex again and asked about our options. After a bit of thinking and Polona's amazing negotiation skills demonstration (she got us a discount for every single tour we did in Pai) we booked the trip for the next day.

The 45 kilometre ride down the river was amazing. This time we got joined by two American ladies . I think one was about 45 years old and the other about 60. They were loads of fun, very curious (asking us about everything and everybody) and just chatted all the time, even when we were facing the rapids.

The first part of the trip the river is quite calm, and you get the time to get the hang of it, while the second part is the fun one, with loads of rapids! The guides at the back of the boat make sure that the trip is safe and tell you when you have to row and when to stop, with two simple commands: forward for “row” and thank you for “stop”. We survived the ride without any problems, well we did get stuck in some branches at one point and the boat started getting filled with water very fast, but our guide reacted quickly, repositioned us (the weight) in the boat (moving me from the front to the back) and we were on our way. Later on I almost got thrown from the boat when a huge wave of water hit me straight in the chest but managed to react fast enough and fall into the boat. A guy on the other boat was not so lucky as he finished in the water but was pulled back up by his guide just a few seconds later.

Just before finishing with the rafting we stopped at a cliff where we had the option to jump from the top into the rapids. The cliff was about 8 – 10 meters high and everybody from both boats went for it. Even the 60 something old year American lady! HATS OFF! Polona went in as well, landing right on her bum and tearing her shorts (see video). I tried it twice, landing on my bum as well the first time, while the second try was much better.

My first rafting experience was well worth it! I can easily say I did much, much, much better than Pete did. And I want to do it again: Soca river here we come! It was so much fun and even the sun-burns I got on my thighs didn't ruin the day – I put factor 30+ on like three times during the day. Don't even want to imagine what would happen if I didn't.

The rule dictated that we do nothing for a few days, so it was time for movies, strolling around and reading again. But even if we wanted to do something we couldn’t. In the night after the rafting the rain started pouring down heavily. Some of the bungalows at Giant's got flooded (we were far away from the water) and around Pai people were forced to move from their rooms and find a different place. It was not just Pai that got hit. Other provinces in Thailand got hit even worse. The historical park in Ayuthaya was under water for days with more than a meter and half water filling also the temple grounds. It seems we were just lucky, being there only a few weeks ago. And even in Pai, where it rained quite a bit, it never rained when we were doing our activities – seems some kind of higher power was taking care of us.

The best way to explore the nature around Pai is by motorbike. We rented one for 100 Baht (2£?!?), filled in the gas tank and started driving around. We visited the Jungle Bar, the waterfalls, the Chinese village and just aimlessly drove around the county side. For the rest of the day and in the morning (you rent the bike for 24 hours) the bike was a perfect excuse not to walk but to drive everywhere, being it breakfast, store etc. When we were suppose to take the bike back the next day we extended it for another day as we still had half of the gas tank and I was too lazy to walk 😊. I broke my speed record on the bike getting all the way to 90 km/h – not bad for somebody who is tiny little bit uncomfortable with speed.

For the last three nights in Pai we moved to another Guest house to spoil ourselves a bit...we had another good excuse. It was just a few minutes away from Giant and we passed it loads of times noticing their special promotion for low season. Instead of 1800 Baht for night the price was 550. We went and checked it out one day and it was amazing! A big bed, a real bathroom (with tiles and all), a terrace, chairs, tables and.....OMG...everything you could want for about 12£. This room would be great anywhere in Europe, so it was more than great here. It was the best room we had in the last 5 months.

My favorite experience in Pai was a one day mahout training we did at Tom's elephant farm! mahouts are elephant trainers and instead of just going for an hour ride we booked in a whole day. You can do longer courses as well, but we found out they are just repetitions of the first day so we decided (or our budget did) for one day only.

There we met Elodie, a French girl travelling through SE Asia. You would never guess she is French – NO, not because she is good looking, but because she just doesn't sound French. When she told us she lived in the states for a while it all made sense.

When we arrived at Tom's we were tought about the elephants a bit: they eat up to 200 kilos of veggies per day, can live more than 100 years, a female elephant is pregnant for almost two years before delivering a baby elephant. We also got taught some commands the mahouts use to control them. My favorite was “god” which is hug. It helps if you put some food behind your back, in that case you will surely get a hug with the elephants trunk. We picked an elephant, a 27 year old Aude (not sure how they would spell it, but I will use the spelling of my ex-coworker – she is French, and the above joke was not aimed at her or any other French girls from work😊).

The good thing at Tom's is that you can ride on the elephants back without using a seat. So we climbed up (Aude helped us, lifting us on her

Polona trecking
leg) and headed out for a stroll over the hills. Once on the animal you can see how tough their skin is and especially how strong and thick the hair is. It's like needles! Before ending our morning stroll we headed to the river. Here we got soaked and it was time for Aude and the rest of the elephants to have some fun, spraying water on us and throwing us off her back – elephant riding rodeo style. I thought I can stay on for a while – no chance!

After lunch we headed out again, taking our elephants to the fields to be fed. Not sure why, because they ate all the time anyway. When back at the farm we fed them papayas and bananas all along – just to get more hugs 😊 and while walking around they tore grass out of the ground all the time and ate, ate and ate...ohh well, when you need to eat 200 kilos per day, there is not much else you can do.

When we arrived at the “feeding spot” we left the elephants be for about half an hour. Then the funniest moment of the day happened. It's also the second funniest moment on the trip so far (after Polona's failed attempt to climb of a jepneey in Philippines).

Right, what happened. Our mahout showed me another way to climb up the elephant. Instead of climbing up the leg I stood on Aude's trunk and she lifted me up to her head where I grabbed her forehead and climbed over her head. Polona didn't want to try it out but Elodie was up for it and tried it on her elephant. Well, it didn't work all that well. After her elephant lifted her up she couldn't pull herself over and after a few tries (and girl shouts) she fell on her back from about 2.5 meters high. First I was a bit scared but when I saw her laughing on the floor it became funny. But the funny part was her mahout (a mushroom eating, high in the sky, long hair freak!) who was literally ROLLING ON THE FLOOR LAUGHING!! And he just didn't stop. Our mahout was enjoying the whole thing just as much, but showed at least a bit of class 😊. I loved the whole day, our Aude and got a special souvenir of the whole day (not telling what it is).

We spent two more days in Pai, hanging around with Elodie and her friend Barry who were great company! Hope to see you both in Laos.

From Pai we headed back to Chiang Mai for a day, before finishing our Thailand adventure and leaving for Laos!

Last word about Thailand

Just the fact we stayed here for the full 60 days allowed by our Visas tells you enough. When entering Thailand we were thinking of staying for about six weeks or so but got stuck. And if our visas were still valid we would probably still be there. Thailand is very easy to travel (just avoid touristy buses and you will be more than fine), it's cheap, food is amazing and people smile all the time 😊. We got stuck at a few places during our stay, done loads of activities, visited a prison, learned how to ride a motorbike, became certified Thai chefs, elephant trainers and soooo much more! It really was AMAZING Thailand!

Till next time!

Additional photos below
Photos: 45, Displayed: 32


13th October 2011

Love it guys.. awesome... you need to send me some tips for camera manual usage Jan! That macro shot is unreal :)
14th October 2011

Thank you!
Thanks mate, appriciate it. Need to be more specific about which shot. Photo wise this book is really worth reading: Bryan Peterson - Understanding Exposure....
17th October 2011

Pai sounds amazing, i hate you both. And i will have you know that i did get the hang of rafting in the end and was allowed back to the front of the boat!!!!!
20th October 2011

Polona, you really should shave your legs more often :)

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