And so it begins
After a sad farewell I headed four hours north of Chiang Mai to the small town of Pai situated in the Mae Hong Son region of Thailand. Popular with backpackers, Pai was relatively unknown until a few years back but it is now popular with tourists and Thai locals too and forms part of the “Banana Pancake Trail” which is the well trodden path taken by backpackers through South East Asia.
Although small, Pai is bustling with hippies and Thai rastas and you can guarantee you’ll drift off to the sound of a ukulele at some point during your stay. I met Canadians Dani and Alicia on the journey up which consisted of 762 twists and turns across the mountains. Each turn is marked out by a special post and this is just one of the many little stories about Pai.
I had booked a room at Darling View which was a mistake in my current state (I was recovering from my first case of backpacker flu) as I learnt that it was the main party hostel of the town and that weekend’s alcohol ban (due to the government elections) meant I was still awake to the sound of music at 4am. I managed to move the other two nights I had booked back a couple of days and checked myself into my own private bamboo hunt at Kwang House with was just a hut, a blanket and mozzie net but it did the trick just fine. Although basic, at just £3 a night I couldn’t complain.
On my first day Dani, Alicia and I hired push bikes as this was a cheaper and far less dangerous way to explore the surrounding area. We soon discovered why the majority of people choose to hire scooters instead – it’s a mountainous region and cycling up hills in 30c + heat is hard. It took us three hours to cover 7km but we saw some fantastic sights like a waterfall, a wat (temple) and a cute Chinese village where we stopped for some noodles and steamed buns. I also hiked to an incredible view point which is another must if visiting.
That evening we headed back in to town where we were blown away by the display of street food on offer. If you ever find yourself in Pai do NOT eat in a restaurant. I made the mistake of ordering an Oreo Cheesecake from a Cake Go O which cost nearly the same as my room for the evening and had so little taste, I had just a few bites.
The evening street food markets run from 6pm until midnight and you can find all sorts of quality food from all over the world. Here’s a list of things I tried:
- The most amazing sweet potato with avacado, sour cream, mushrooms and cheese – you MUST try one!
- Sticky BBQ pork on a stick – just 10bath (20p)
- Grilled mushroom wrapped in bacon
- Fish kebab – the stick kind
- Pad Thai – the freshest I’ve yet to taste but not as flavoursome by the less healthy version found on Khao San Road, Bangkok
- Grilled corn – one of my personal faves
- Banana and Nutella waffle – this has restored my love for waffles
- Pumpkin spring rolls – better than the veggie version
- Vegtable dumplings – makes a great pre-main nibble
- Rice noodles – the chilli flakes in these nearly blew my head off
- Hot milky ovaltine – Thai’s do hot drinks suprisingly well
- Black sticky rice with sesame and condensed milk – a traditional dessert that I wouldn’t have again (mango sticky rice is so much better!)
After Dani and Alicia’s departure I spent the second day sewing up my sleeping bag liner than I had ripped in half trying to get warm the previous evening. Pai may be 30c during the day but come sunset it can drop to as little as 8c which meant evenings were spent shivering and resulted in me wearing practically my whole suitcase to bed. I made a botched up job of it but I haven’t showered in days or washed my clothes in weeks so I hardly care about the neatness of my sewing.
After a couple of days rest, a few healthy muesli breakfasts and avocado sandwiches for lunch from Boomelicious Cafe (very western I know but I just can’t bring myself to eat noodles or rice for breakfast yet!) I was ready to check back in to my 14 bed mixed dorm at Darling View and meet some new people. Astonishingly a couple of nights drinking cured all trace of my cold and I was back to my usual self.
I met some amazing people around Darling View campfire each evening, which was the hangout place for all backpackers even those staying elsewhere. Darling (the owner) gave me an anklet as we danced around the campfire – she was definitely high each time I saw her!
I decided to rent a push bike again, on my own this time, and spent the day covering a hilly 20km of Thai countryside stopping at some of the sites on the way for coffee and cake, the first being the very cute tree house where I sat and watched the elephants.
I also went to the Strawberry Farm which like most things in Pai (and Thailand for that matter) was made out like a toy town, all very cute and colourful, almost animation-like. I stopped for another coffee and cake at Coffee in Love which is a play on words after the film about Pai called “Pai in Love“.
My last day was spent at Fluid, an outdoor pool with music full of young backpackers with my new found Australian friends; Kate, Nicholle and Rashida. That evening we headed to the reggae bar “Don’t Cry” which was one of the most amazing nightclubs ever, the atmosphere was electric.
I fell in love with Pai and could have stayed there forever but it was time for me to move on after realising I have been away for over three weeks and have only covered three places. If I’m going to add Indonesia and China on to my trip then I need to get a move on, unless I decide to travel all my life which right now, doesn’t seem like such a bad idea!
Living life, loving Pai,