Laura loves Pai...

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August 5th 2009
Published: September 7th 2009
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Got a taxi to the bus station and went in search of the kiosk that services buses to Pai... a bit of a mission as it turned out to be out of the main station and hidden round a corner but eventually found it and asked to book onto local bus with fan at 11am ... turns out the timetable i'd read was a wee bit out of date and the next bus was not leaving until 2pm (it was 10.30am...) so i opted for the slightly more expensive (..minibus with aircon over scary looking local bus with fan..) option that left at 11am and after a bit of fun and games and swapping from one minibus to the other 3 times (..they obviously couldn't decide where to put the farang - again i was the only non thai) - and making sure that my backpack had actually followed me throughout the swapping fun - we set off.

Was very VERY glad i had visited the pharmacy the previous day and followed the advice of fellow travellers to leave on an empty stomach and take a travel sickness pill ... and soon became very glad i was in the smaller air con minibus as oppose to the very old and rickety looking bus! although Pai is not too far away in terms of kms the road is very windy and goes right through a mountain range covered in jungle ... very picturesque, although being thrown from side to side violently as the driver seemed to do handbrake turns around the hairpin bends (... ok so that may be a slight exaggeration but the poor old lady sat accross the aisle from me was thrown off her seat at almost everyturn and we were all holding onto whatever we could grab to try and keep us in our seats!). Aside from the trechurous roads (and fear for my life at several intervals) the drive was well worth it for the gorgeous scenery... misty mountains covered in lush jungle stretching as far as the eye could see, and incredible foliage lining the roads with leafs often spanning several metres wide, it felt ancient and untouched, and at risk of sounding tremendously cliched, completely magical... I wish the photos had done it justice but they really haven't, the subtle graduation of colour which gives the vast landscape such depth can't be caught on screen, you'll just have to all go check it out for yourselfs (as i have been imploring everyone i meet to do!! North Thailand is AMAZING!!).

A few hours later (after a brief stop at a cafe in the middle of the jungle) after going through an army checkpoint, with a rather ferocious looking member of the thai army stepping onboard briefly to glare at us menacingly and then step off again, we started to descend and the landscape opened up to reveal flat plains and paddy fields. All around farmers tended the rice. Others followed around skinny white cows, although seemed not to exert any great deal of control over said cows who often decided that lying in or stumbling onto the road was infact more exciting than grazing at the side of said road ...possibly why they are so skinny... The scenery in every direction was absolutely breathtaking, definately the best i've encountered sofar on the trip. It feels so rural and remote and is undeniably the most laid back place i have been thus far.

The bus station in Pai is a small dirt forecourt surrounded by corse wooden huts and did not appear at first to have anyone officially receiving/organising the buses. It was actually a really pleasent change to step off a bus and not be imediately swarmed by touts offering taxis, hotels, massages, lychees or anything else... it was a bit of a shock to get off and be left to gather my belongings in peace... Thirsty for Chang i decided to head down one of the side streets in search of somewhere to sit and contemplate my next move... so glad that Jo had forced me to cull my belongings in Taiwan (my pack now half the size - although it is still pretty heavy and awkward in the midday heat!!) found a little cafe and ordered a Chang, shouting ensues and out of the cafe stumbles a chap who hops on a scooter and speeds off down the road... the source of the shouting, a really friendly girl called Pang informs me that my beer will be here very shortly - turns out they'd run out and the boyfriend of this waitress had woken him up to go get it for me!! I told her i would have been happy ordering something else but no it was no problem she said!

Refreshed and now armed with a map and lots of advice from Pang i head to the central crossroads of town and try to get my bearings, i was obviously looking particualrly lost as i was soon joined by a French chap on a scooter who asked me if i was ok... He told me to hop on the back of his scooter and he'd drop me down the main road where all the hostels were, after a short but very wobbly scooter ride down the road (convinced at several instances i would topple off!!) i found a place which looked really cute but unfortunately was only avaliable for one night but it was cheap at only 180bht and by that stage i just wanted to dump my bags and get a shower so i took it.

Headed out for some Pad Thai then found an internet cafe to have a chat with Mum then went in search of a pub. Bumped into Michelle and Marianne who i had met in Chang Mai and sat and had a few beers with them before wondering round to find a guesthouse to relocate to for the following night.

Packed up my bag the next morning and walked about 2 blocks down the road to the 'Unicorn Guesthouse' which i'd found the previous evening, a bit dearer at 350bht a night but had a nice pool and free internet and the little huts were really cute and had a lush bathroom and all had a private verander with hammock - sold!

after doing some catching up on travelblog and emails i got changed and headed for the pool. it was a gorgeous sunny day and was very very hot so decided that was absolutely the best way to utilise my time!! Met a guy called Ben who was from Winchester (small world) and who had lived in Chipping Campden for 2 years (spooky coincidence!) who was doing Thailand for a few weeks on his way to Australia to work. He had a friend in Chang Mai who had married a Thai girl who was originally from Pai and so had several friends in Pai who he'd been put in touch with. They were heading out to a full moon party at the 'Don't Cry Bar' by the river that night and i was invited along.

A few of them were heading out for an explore so i decided to hire a scooter and join them. After a bit of aimless driving around the town we decided to head out to the hot springs. The 8km drive out there was absolutely stunning. after arriving at the springs we paid our 100bht entrance fee and walked up to where the springs start, the smell and bubbling water (plus warning signs that water was at boiling point) put us off taking a dip and we followed the stream further down the route where the water has descended down several small waterfalls and collected in larger pools and has had change to cool down a wee bit. The pools were still as hot a freshly drawn bathwater and it was very surreal sitting in amongst lush jungle with steam rising all around, very pleasent for a short time, but was actually a bit too hot considering the 36 degree heat of day and the 80% humidity. We then headed to Wat Phra That Mae Yen, a temple on top of a big hill that overlooks Pai and the surrounding countryside. On the drive back to Pai it started to rain really heavily so we took refuge in 'Don't Cry Bar' and had a few beers until it passed. Then grabbed some dinner and got changed and headed back to the bar for the full moon party. It was loads of fun, although was quite odd listening to very heavy drum and base after hearing nothing but Jack Johnson and Bob Marley being played in bars... we all crawled back at some stage in the wee hours after numerous buckets and shots. lots of fun!

The next day was a bit of a write off, at some stage i managed to get to the pool and sleep on the sunloungers for an hour or so and then headed out for an explore on the scooter. The previous evening had met a really lovely Thai lady called Joy at the full moon party who had a resort down by the river so i went and had a drink at her bar and she convinced me to move down to there for a couple more nights the following day. By this stage i had been well and truely sucked into Pai (...originally planned to go for 2 nights, ended up staying 6...). All i could manage that night was takeaway pad thai and a couple of movies in my room (utilizing the first place with TV and DVD player!).

Next morning packed belongings and moved again to 'The family House' owned by Joy and was imediately very pleased with my decision to move! the communal area, with several raised platforms covered in Thai cushions and hammocks was already teeming with other guests staying there and several from the resorts and guesthouses around. Its a really pretty little place tucked away off the main street and just by the river and seemed to be the meeting place for everyone who was out here to train in Muay Thai fighting at the gym just over the river. As soon as i arrived a crowd of other travellers invited me to join them and i was soon drinking coffee and swapping travelling stories with them. A completely international group all training at the Muay Thai gym; a hilarious Italian called Alberto (who was just about the most un-PC person i have ever met but really has no clue that he could possible offend anyone), A Swedish guy (who's name i can't remember!), two really lovely Dutch girls called Fleurd and Lauriel, a Dutch guy called Wout, a brit from Bristol called Wade, an irish girl and guy called Joanne and Peter and an Israely guy called Niki. We arranged to meet later to go to a food festival and i headed out to utilize my scooter before having to hand it in that afternoon.

Turns out that the food festival was an event that was promoting healthy living and drinking and smoking were banned from the site. The food was amazing and we all got different dishes and ended up with a table crammed full of pretty much every thai dish avaliable and all tried everything, really good food but eventually the lack of beer curtailed the eating and we all headed into town to search for a pub! Headed to the 'Buffalo Exchange' and were joined by Mister B who ran the gym they were training at. Had an amazing evening and ended up discussing the political, economic and moral differences between each of our respective countries - very interesting evening with really interesting people. I was convinced to stay another couple of nights so i could go to the BBQ they were holding at the Gym on Saturday.

spent the next day exploring Pai on foot and met up with the others in late afternoon to go and buy beer and head to the BBQ.lots of charred meat, beer and laughing and then out to Bi-Bop bar that had live music playing (lots of dancing, more drinking..) and then moved on to Don't cry bar to sit round the fire pit and put the world to rights.

Spent the next day with Wout who took me to an amazing waterfall about 6kms out of town and then to an amazing resort that had an infinity pool looking out over the mountains and paddy fields (although rooms would have been way out of my price range!) was nice to pretend i was rich and use the facilities without stumping out for the room! That evening we went out for dinner then to the hot springs resort (draws water from the hot springs i'd gone to previously but filters it and you get to sit in a pool rather than on mud and rocks!).

was very sad to be leaving Pai the next day but very excited about flying to Vietnam to meet up with Dot!! Got to Chang Mai and stayed for a night before catching the overnight sleeper to Bangkok (which i found to be insanely crazy compared to the north this time!) and stayed one night in Villa Cha Cha before heading to the airport the next day to fly to Saigon.

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