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Published: February 29th 2012
The bus to Pai takes three hours up windy roads through stunning mountains, coffee plantations & banana trees. I step out into this pleasant little town of quaint gift shops, cute cocktail shacks, coffee shops, bakeries & guesthouses. I have no map and no plan but I bump into a Chinese girl who tells me she's staying on the riverside for 250 baht a night - sounds good to me so I head to the river, walk over a rickety bamboo bridge to the other side and come across Baan Thai Riverside - cute little bamboo huts literally on the riverside. It's beautiful, peaceful and exactly what I'm looking for! I negotiate 3 nights for 500baht (about £10), dump my stuff and set out to wander around this small town.
I stop for an iced tea and get talking to an old guy named Michael from New Mexico. "How long you here for?" He asks "about 3 days" I reply, "and you?"... "I came here for 3 days, and that was 25 years ago..." he drawls "I just love this place...". And as I get chatting to more and more people I realise half the town here have a similar
story... It's filled with travellers, nomads & hippies who were passing through, fell in love with Pai's charms and decided to stay. I meet a couple from York, Lewis & Carly who're working in the Bamboo Bar down the road "We just loved it here, so we stayed"... And I can see why. It's not just the beautiful town with it's pretty shops, bars, organic hippy food hang outs and bookshops set on the tranquil riverside that's the only attraction. It's the people. The whole town is like a bigger version of Cheers - everyone knows eachother, like a proper little community. People from all corners of the world, with different stories to tell, all wound up here in one way or another to enjoy the relaxed friendly atmosphere of this town.
I decide to treat myself to a Thai massage and this time it's a good one! My thighs are still aching like mad from the trekking so I ask the masseur to make sure to concentrate on them and it's bloody painful but good! I actually scream in pain a few times and we both laugh afterwards. My favourite bit is when she stretches you in everyway
possible at the end and I feel my bones click - it's satisfyingly good!
I explore a bit further down some of the windy lanes and come across a Thai cookery class about to start. I've always fancied doing this so I decide to sign up and have a great afternoon making Pad Thai, Panang Curry, Sweet & Sour, Mango with Sticky Rice and my favourite dish - Tom Yum Kha (Spicy Cocunut soup). Amongst all the lovely fresh herbs of garlic, lemongrass, galangal, tamarind & Coriander, I find most dishes use similar flavorings; fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, bouillion.... And ketchup! I can't believe it! When we're making Pad Thai, Gaew (our teacher) tells us that it's meant to have a slightly red/pink colour, and they used to use something else for this, but the government won't let them use it anymore! She points to a bottle on the shelf containing the brightest reddest substance I have ever seen! Well if it's banned god knows what was in it! "So instead we use a squirt of ketchup"... I have to say this kind of ruined it for me! Authentic Thai cuisine with ketchup! But nevertheless the Pad Thai
I made (complete with squirt of ketchup mixed in) was undoubtedly the best I've had in Thailand (even if I do say so myself!)
I head to a few bars in the evening and meet a few more people; Jikko, a Thai guy who owns a nice cocktail bar, Anthony a French guy who's also headed for Laos as am I, and George a young guy from Devon who's on a working holiday looking for stuff to sell in his dad's hippy shop back home. George has been here for 3 days and seems to know the whole town! "Its just what this place is like" he tells me... We head to a few bars, which are all outdoors and everyones gathered around wood fires keeping warm. It gets really hot here in the day, but at night it's suprisingly cold! But the fires add to the cosy atmosphere along with live singers (often strumming along to Pink Floyd or Bob Marley) going down nicely with the local rum, Sangsom.
Everyone is really friendly and I get chatting to more people; an old Dutch guy who is completely hippyfied. We start talking about India and he tells me
he lived in Varanasi (Very Nasty) for 6 years. I say I visited and thought it was an amazing & interesting place (I won't say nice, but amazing & interesting are the best words I can find to describe it right now) and when I say I was there for 2 days he pretty much laughs in my face! "You can't get a feel for a place in 2 days!" he scoffs..."Hey!" I say " I'm not saying I did but I visited as part of a tour and I still got to see stuff a lot of people don't see... I'm not pretending I'm on some massive spiritual mission across India, but just cos I haven't lived somewhere for like 6 years doesn't mean I can't appreiciate the culture!". I get mad at him... I'm sick of pretentious hippies thinking they're all that. It's ironic - it's like they're rebelling against modern living and conformity but then they all end up being a stereotype themselves which becomes in itself really not that different from all the other hippies around them.. I know I'm really generallising here but I can't stand this kind of hippy snobbery. I meet another French
guy who I've spoken to each morning by the river - he's the only one around at 8am which is my favourite part if the day. "Pai is not what it used to be... Too many tourists.." (You're French, I think, surely you are a tourist?)... "Me and my wife, we don't feel anything here... We need to find our place... We're going to Turkmenistan in a few days... It will feel more like we are travelling than just on holiday"... This annoys me. Travelling is essentially one big holiday, whether you choose to stay in hostels or 5 star is up to you but if you're not working, surely you're on holiday in a sense? So he wants somewhere more "real"... "what about Bangladesh?" I challenge him... "Have you been there? That's not commercialised... " No, but I don't want to be miserable..." whatever, I think, you seem pretty miserable to me...so I leave him to sit by the river for 3 days (which I'm pretty sure he did as it's the only place I ever saw him) to wait for his flight.
I meet two English guys later on in the night, Ben & Tim and we
laugh about our similar experiences in meeting these "pretentious hippies". A few Mojitos (with coriander not mint!) later and we call it a night.
The next morning I spend chilling on the deck of the banks of the Pai River with a book & a fruit shake. I meet a fashion stylist from Amsterdam, Iris and we hit it off straight away. I say I'd love to hire a moped to explore the hills but I'm a bit scared to, as I tried it once in Greece before and it ended in me taking it back cos I was so hopeless! Iris has never ridden one either, and her friends Val & Evan, from Seattle & Toronto, are up for it too so we all head off, hire a moped for the day and ride out into the hills. The first two hours are awful! Everyone else seems to pick it up staright away and I'm left trailing behind. But my new friends are patient & keep waiting for me bless them! I'm really scared at first, I have no idea why, when so many people find it so easy! The roads are a bit bumpy and every time
I hit a bump I think I'm gonna fall off. We follow signs to a waterfall and head further up the mountain, and I start to enjoy the scenery. The roads get more remote and we ride past small settlements of villagers with children waving but then out of nowhere women with white powder on their faces appear shouting at us while miming a smoking action "you smoke Ganja, Opium??"... I don't think that's going to help! Or maybe it would but I'm not taking any chances and drive swiftly on!
We reach the waterfall and after some time we head off again to the hot springs. The roads get better & smoother and I start to get more confident. My turning improves, I manage to take a junction without bunny hopping across it and I'm actually enjoying myself! Finally my fear is more or less conquered! We bathe in the hot springs for a while, then ride to Pai Canyon for sunset.
Later that night the four of us head out for a lush Thai dinner followed by the most amazing mini pancakes from the night Market. A few drinks around the fire back at the huts
and I'm ready for bed after my fun filled day. However, just as I'm settling in for the night, I'm sat on the toilet (sorry for the detail) and I spot the biggest spider you've ever seen in you're life!! It's huge!! Literally as big as my hand and I'm not exaggerating! I was so petrified I couldn't even take a photo!... So I finish up, sidle past it, shut the door and slide the lock across (I'm not sure why! Like a spider can't just crawl through the massive gap under the door!). This is the first time I've been scared by any sort of bug since me & Cassie saw a jumping spider in India. I've kind of got used to bugs & things and have been really pleased with myself up until now, but this is just TOO big! I think about it for a minute, ask myself if I'm being stupid, decide no I'm not, and then go to the reception hut, act out a spider crawling with my hand, point to the hut and the man understands, grabs his big can of spider spray and comes and gets rid of the little fella. Phew!
The next morning, Its my last day here in Pai, so I take my bike back, get some breakfast and stroll back through the town as I need to get back to pack my things... It takes me an hour though as I bump into literally 10 people who I've made friends with here. I stop for a chat with all of them; George from Devon, Val, Evan, Iris (who's decided to ride her moped all the way back to Chiang Mai - Brave girl!) an Israeli girl I met back in Chiang Mai, Jikko outside his bar, Carly & Lewis, a couple of girls from the cooking class...I then meet 2 Americans who are looking for a place to stay.. "Can you recommend anywhere?" they ask... "Sure!" I say and show them back to the bamboo huts by the river. "So where's good to go?" they ask me... I reel off a dozen bars, nice restaurants, tell them what's out and about in the mountains. Give them advice on getting to Laos (as it's where I'm headed.). As we walk I stop and say hi to a couple more people.."Wow" they say "You must have been round here for
a while you really know this place!"... "Just 3 days" I say and smile as I go to pack my things and wave goodbye to this little slice of heaven they call Pai. Tempted to stay, like so many others, but there's still a whole lotta world to see out there.
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