Pai, Thailand

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April 25th 2014
Published: April 25th 2014
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We've known this lady for quite a while. Great little 4 table restaurant. Thirty-six square foot kitchen. I just ate dinner there for $2. How does she manage?
After being informed that I was going to have to remain in Chiang Mai a week longer than I had planned, I started talking with a Kiwi who works for an NGO in the Chiang Rai area. I asked him if he had been to Pai, Thailand recently and he said that he had. In fact; He was there just last week. I asked him how the town was and he replied, "Parched."

Sounded good to me. Chiang Mai's a good spot but it does have some air quality issues though they're not as bad as Bangkok's are right now. I was in Bangkok on Sunday. When my plane landed we couldn't see the ground until we got below 500 feet due to all the engine exhaust the city produces. The air in Bangkok is extremely hot and dense. When I walked off the plane it felt like somebody had opened a blast furnace door. Chiang Mai's higher altitude helps a bit but it isn't great. On Thursday morning I caught a Tuk to the bus station. To get to Pai you have two options. A Minivan that leaves every half hour between 7 AM to 5 PM or the
My Ride; The Public BusMy Ride; The Public BusMy Ride; The Public Bus

This was in Chiang Mai. Ticket costs $2.50 each way for the five hour trip.
public bus. When Karen and I were here last, the public buses ran three times a day. A bit slower but safer. There is but a single bus now. It leaves Chiang Mai at 7 AM. I paid 78 Baht for a ticket and got on-board. The bus has probably flipped its odometer a dozen times since it entered service. Palm sized flakes of paint hang from the sides like late autumn leaves. The clutch pedal was gone. The driver had to step on a bare metal rod whenever he shifted gears. There were 8 Thais aboard the thirty-seater and 4 large white sacks of coconuts lay in the aisle. When I got on to find my seat, an elderly Thai woman motioned me over and pulled her pants legs up to show me her brand spanking new knee replacement scars. She seemed quite proud.

The driver took my ticket and asked where was I from. When I told him the States, he smiled and told me to take the big, assistant driver's seat up front next to his. This was great. Comfy spot next to an open window which is as close as you'll ever come to having
My BuddiesMy BuddiesMy Buddies

They were sooooo quiet until the Hill Tribe women wanted to get off the bus before we got to the station. The driver refused and there was hell to pay.
A/C on a public bus in Thailand. We pulled out at 7 AM. The sun cast everything in a golden light. My future was looking brighter.

Just north of Chiang Mai we stopped to pick up three, vibrantly dressed, hill tribe women with their bundles of handicrafts destined for Pai's Night Market. We made a lunch stop at a roadside operation at the top of the mountain ridge you have to cross to get to Pai. After that it was all downhill. Literally. I saw dozens of backpackers traveling back to Chiang Mai on scooters. Huge packs on their backs and smaller ones worn across their chests. No helmets but a whole lot of testicular fortitude. The grades in these mountains are steep and as hard as it is to get up them on an underpowered bike, racing down them will test your nerve as well as your brakes.

About 15-miles outside of Pai we saw large resorts catering to tourists with basic huts. Souvenir stands. Large sculptures of dragons and cartoon characters painted in every color imaginable. Little amusement parks for tots and lots of restaurants. There appeared to be little activity. We had to stop for
The Lap of Pai LuxuryThe Lap of Pai LuxuryThe Lap of Pai Luxury

Note the unfinished, poured concrete walls. They are all the rage in Thailand now. It beats the old clapboard siding they used to construct with.
an accident. A Chinese girl lay on the road next to her scraped scooter. The Thais were waiting for the police and did not seem to know what else to do. No head injuries but her right knee was road scraped to the bone. A woman handed me a towel and I compressed the wound until the police took over a couple of minutes later. This sort of thing happens daily around here. At night some of the boys will get snockered and have midnight drag races with their rental bikes. It's common to see people walking around with bandaged calves from exhaust pipe burns.

A little further down the road I saw the brother of the bus I was riding in. This other one was abandoned and stripped . Weeds were growing through the smashed out windows. It didn't look as if it had been in an accident. Simply died of old age and this is where they junked it. I think this may be my last public bus ride to Pai. In a short period of time I'll wager that the minivans will run all transport to and from Chiang Mai.

Got into Pai proper at
Highway To Backpacker HeavenHighway To Backpacker HeavenHighway To Backpacker Heaven

The cheapest places in Pai are found across this contraption the locals call a bridge. The walkway itself is made from Bamboo slats.
noon. I think that this is my 5th visit to Pai over the last 10 years. Boy, is it parched. Bone dry. As if they're way under their rain quota. The river that rolls through town is a shadow of its former self though you could probably still do an inner-tube ride on it. The sun is intense at mid-day and local dogs huddle near seven-eleven doorways so as to catch the cold air when store patrons go in and out. I checked the five hotels on my list. Pai is badly overbuilt. Most of the newer places are basic huts with a rudimentary bathroom and fans. The gaps in some of the floors are so wide that controlling mosquitoes in the rooms is well nigh impossible. Pai is producing a bumper crop of skeeters this year. The new huts have all been built across the river and accessed via a shaky bamboo pedestrian bridge. Most of them rent between ten and sixteen dollars a night. I ended up at the Baan Suan Rim Pai at 108 Moo 3. $18 a night. Nice place with A/C, good bed, decent but not great WIFI, Thai TV and the hotel grounds remind
Hot DogsHot DogsHot Dogs

This was taken at 3 PM. Poor pups. I don't know what the exact temperature was but it felt like Phoenix in July.
me of Ubud, Bali. On the downside there is little, if any, closet space so you'll be living out of your suitcase. The hotel is 40 yards down from Dang's restaurant and right around the corner from the main 'Strip'. Set well back from the road and very quiet. Super location.

After I settled in I took care of my first priority and set an appointment for a 2-hour massage with my old teacher Uggi. He is the best Thai masseuse I have ever hired. He and his wife Pensi have had their place going for 25-years now. Karen is partial to Pensi. They also teach Thai massage. It's a 3-day course. Cost for a two hour rub is 350 Baht or $11. Uggi's family runs the Chiang Mai Hospital massage clinic. They know what they're doing and they do it real good.

I took a long walk around town. Surrounding Pai, green-cloaked mountain ridges faded into the shimmering distance. Each taller than the one before it. It reminds me of the Shenandoah Valley. Besides Dang's restaurant and Uggi's the American burger joint on the main road is still going strong. Noah's favorite hangout, the Cyber World internet
Just What They NeededJust What They NeededJust What They Needed

This was the site of the grocery store and bakery. The only option for backpackers in Pai now is Seven/ Eleven but if you want a handbag....
center is going strong. The owner's son who, as a toddler spent all of his time crying and eating is now the PC fixit guy. The big grocery store/ bakery that we used to shop at has been replaced with a handbag store. I miss that bakery. They sold a decent chocolate brownie. My 10 Baht sticky rice guy is gone. I counted 5 street carts selling the stuff for between 30 and 45 baht. Now that's just plain crazy. There are fewer hill tribe women selling their crafts at night. The sidewalk cocktail stands have disappeared. A pink VW Microbus that had been rigged into a mobile cocktail lounge is now selling T-Shirts for 99 Baht. What they now have here are more tattoo parlors, 7-11's and Happy Pants dealers than you can shake a Baht at. I wandered into the Thai residential area and saw a barber shop. By this time I was sweating bullets. It was the sight of the barber's A/C that made me suddenly decide that I needed a haircut. An hour well spent. Haircut and straight razor shave set me back $3. Ouch.

I had dinner at Dang's. Karen and I ate there
On A More Somber Note; I Was Sorry To Learn That Laundry Monkey Passed AwayOn A More Somber Note; I Was Sorry To Learn That Laundry Monkey Passed AwayOn A More Somber Note; I Was Sorry To Learn That Laundry Monkey Passed Away

His last words were, "Please untie me." He is survived by his pet stuffed monkey 'Jerry'
twice a day the last time we were here. Small restaurant with small prices for good food and Dang, the owner, is a great lady. When Karen and I got stuck in town during Lunar New Year in 2009 due to a shortage of bus seats, Dang arranged for her brother to take us back to Chiang Mai in his beer delivery truck. You can't make this stuff up. I showed Dang the picture I took of her brother and Karen posing in front of his truck. She couldn't stop laughing. The next thing I knew every relative she had was racing over to see the picture. You'd think she could have, at the very least, given me a free meal for all the joy I brought her. Didn't happen.

I cruised the town that night to get a feel for what the really popular kids did for fun Pai-wise. There are now dozens of food carts working the street from the bus station to the river. Fruit shakes, meat on a stick, Pad Thai, mango and sticky, rotis and on and on. Thing is; Most of the carts are charging more than the restaurants are and yet they
Best Prices On Food Cart RowBest Prices On Food Cart RowBest Prices On Food Cart Row

Also some of the worst Thai food I have ever eaten.
are swamped with people eating the stuff. Young folks stand in the narrow lane waiting for or eating food while other kids are trying to drive their scooters through the oblivious munching mob. The bars on the other side of the road are doing a brisk business in draft beer. The live music clubs are dying off. Most of the music in town is played by street performers. The number one restaurant in popularity is 'Queen Burger' across the road from my hotel. Place is jammed with kids buying 79 Baht burgers. On the street in front of the high school, betwixt the tattoo parlors somebody finally opened a laundromat. Two coin operated wash machines sit on the sidewalk encased in a metal cage to prevent their being hauled off in the middle of the night. Hey! It's a start.

There is a night market of sorts. A block long area dealing in hill tribe items, T-Shirts, silly hats, bars of soap carved to look like flowers and lots of wooden toys. There were't many shoppers while I was there. In fact, the town is targeting the low-end market. Five years ago most of the visitors were moneyed Thais
Kao San Road WannabeKao San Road WannabeKao San Road Wannabe

The new dining scene in Pai.
from Bangkok and Chiang Mai who filled the hotels and shopped hard. Today you'll see loads of Chinese package tourists and Western European backpackers. The tattoo parlors do a brisk trade.

It's a two night town. I'm heading back to smoggy Chiang Mai this weekend. The Happy Pants girls are in the Thai islands south of Trat. Karlie's photos are posted below. They appear to be living in a beach hut on Koh Mak. Snorkeling and trying to reclaim their Nha Trang tans. Somebody has to do it...... Flash! Just heard that the Happy Pants girls are heading to Bangkok. Trading the palm-treed isles of paradise for summer smog in the city. Hmmmmmmmm

Shouts to Rick Stites and family. Rick, today I saw a Thai guy wearing a full set of US Army issue Khakis with Spec 4 insignia. They looked new too! I don't think the Army has used them since the 80's. Kelly and John, Thank You so much for all of your help. Hello to everybody in Alamo especially Ila!? Ellen; Drop me a note when you have time. I have questions that only you can answer....

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 29


The New ResortsThe New Resorts
The New Resorts

A night in one of these huts starts at $10.
No Sticky RiceNo Sticky Rice
No Sticky Rice

This is where I used to buy happiness in a Styrofoam box at 10 Baht a pop. These businesses died when all of the action moved to the bus station area.
I Don't Get ItI Don't Get It
I Don't Get It

Supposedly a cafe/ bistro. It was built 2 years ago on the site of a souvenir operation. It certainly does catch the eye.
The Burger HouseThe Burger House
The Burger House

American owned and operated for a long time. Makes you tear up, doesn't it Noah? It still survived even after the neighborhood moved on them.
Burger QueenBurger Queen
Burger Queen

This is THE place to be if you're a hungry, broke backpacker. Only open in the evenings.
More Ambitious Than MostMore Ambitious Than Most
More Ambitious Than Most

The new resorts further outside of town are trying everything from mini-amusement parks to dragon sculptures to draw a crowd but this one was something completely different.
Cyber World InternetCyber World Internet
Cyber World Internet

I never expected to see this place still open. It's an internet cafe for Pete's sake. Shouldn't it be in the Smithsonian?
The Bus Driver's SeatThe Bus Driver's Seat
The Bus Driver's Seat

Note the comfortable seat padding.
Good Life RestaurantGood Life Restaurant
Good Life Restaurant

This is where you want to go if you're into vegetarian food and wheat grass juice. They serve a mean Muesli, fruit and yogurt. Unfortunately they're renovating so it was no breakfast for me. As a result I found out that Dang makes the closest thing to an American pancake that I have ever had in Thailand.
Room 102 at the Baan Suan Rim Pai hotel.Room 102 at the Baan Suan Rim Pai hotel.
Room 102 at the Baan Suan Rim Pai hotel.

I like the log cabin motif. They should have snow shoes and bear traps hanging from the walls.

26th April 2014

Thanks for the great blog! Love hearing about your adventures. I can only imagine the sights you have seen. Looking forward to more stories!
26th April 2014

You can never go back
Thank God Dangs is still there. It seems as if there really isn't that much to recommend the place any longer. Given what you now know, would you invest another ten hours in rickity bus rides to return? Your descriptionsof what is and is no longer, saves me the bus ride. Really good blog.
27th April 2014

It's Still Beautiful
The kids seem to enjoy it. For me it's a matter of comparison which leads nowhere objectively. It is what it is; now. The rooms are fairly cheap, the food can be OK and the surrounding area and ride through it are beautiful..

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