Easy as Pai
It has now officially been over a month since I visited Pai back in December, so clearly this blog post is coming later than planned. This last month has been busy, stressful, wonderful, and eye-opening. However, just thinking about writing this blog and all the others I've neglected to keep up with has me wanting to throw my laptop out the window. Dramatic enough?
Let me start by saying that Pai is a MAGICAL hippy-town that everyone has to visit if they're going to be in Thailand for an extended period of time. I had heard of and seen pictures of it before coming to teach here, so I knew it was going to be up at the top of my bucket list. My school had finals at the end of December, which we had to attend to help proctor for the tests. Luckily, we only had to proctor for three days out of the week, so I took off Monday the 25th, as it was also Christmas, and Tuesday the 26th to have a nice 4 day weekend.
The only way to get there is by flying North to Chiang Mai and then taking a three hour bus or van even farther North to Pai. The plan was for me to meet Emily, Laura, and Amy, who is another teacher at their school from OEG, in Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. I was flying out of Don Mueang on Friday night and had booked a hostel about 5-10 minutes from the airport. The three of them had a work party on Friday, so they were flying out of BKK super early Saturday morning. My flight was supposed to leave around 10:30 pm and get in around 11:30, but it ended up being delayed and I didn't get to Chiang Mai until after midnight.
The hostel I booked was supposed to be open 24 hours, but when I arrived it was totally closed. Like lights off, door locked, not a soul in sight. Thank god my taxi driver gave a shit about my well-being rather than just driving off and leaving me stranded. He so graciously helped me to knock on the door and even call the hostel. Turns out See Hostel in Chiang Mai is NOT open 24 hours. I reluctantly got back into the taxi and returned to the airport. Dejected, I asked the airport workers if there were any other 24 hour hostels...they laughed at me and said "no, but you can sleep over there" as they pointed to some extremely uncomfortable looking airport chairs. There were about 10 other people who were doing the same thing as me, and man we were a sad looking bunch.
It happened to be super cold in Chiang Mai that night, and of course I didn't bring anything thicker than a flannel. I ended up having to cover myself with a dress, put on my leggings, jeans, and flowy pants, and curl up on some chairs for the next 7 hours until my friends arrived. I was also getting through a really bad cold, so basically my night blew. To make matters worse, when Laura and Emily got to BKK, they said that Laura's flight had been booked for the night before (even though she clearly bought the same flight as Emily). She then had to go to DMK and wait a couple hours for the next flight out. This meant Laura was 0-2 for flights out of BKK (lol refer back to my Krabi blog...). Mai pen rai amiright?
my sad sad sad bed for the night
Around 7:30, Emily, Amy, and I eventually got to the Chiang Mai bus station and got tickets for a 9:30 am van. Another thing you should know about Pai is that the roads to get there are extremely winding. You're basically constantly taking huge turns left and right up a mountain the whole way there. And if you get car-sick, I HIGHLY suggest taking some Dramamine. I was sitting in the very front seat of the van and, after one Dramamine, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the ride. It was really interesting to see drivers expertly curve around the mountain road and zoom past people going too slow. The views weren't terrible either.
When we finally got there, I immediately could tell that Pai was the absolute cutest little town. We walked along the main "walking street" that had tons of adorable shops and plenty of cafes offering avocado toast. We took a songthaew to our hostel, Deejai Backpackers, which was about 10ish minutes out of town. The hostel overlooked a rice farm and had a great view of the mountains and a really cool vibe with outdoor seating, hammocks, and music.
That first day we just chilled at the hostel, headed into town for dinner, and made our way down the walking street to check out all the night vendors. The next day we got breakfast at the most amazing vegetarian/vegan restaurant right next to our hostel called Earth Tone. They had amazing smoothie bowls, guacamole, waffles, and so much more. This would be our first of many visits (no shame).
Since everything in Pai is kind of spread out, renting motorbikes is the best option to get around. If you book a tour, then that can cover a lot of ground, but we wanted to see things on our own. So we rented two for the day through the hostel for 300 baht per bike. If anyone remembers reading about my experience riding around the Green Lung in Bangkok, you'd know that bikes are not my specialty (https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/boats-bikes-and-bangkok/). So imagine my shock when I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to drive a motorbike (like no shit). So Emily drove with Laura and Amy drove me, and our first stop was a hot spring about 15 minutes away in a resort. There are a couple hot springs in Pai, but they were each about 20-30 minutes away and harder to get to due to our inexperience on motorbikes. Our goal was really to just avoid dying. On our way there we passed some rescued elephants, and saw one being taken for a casual stroll down the street. It was a nice sneak peek of the elephants we would be visiting the following week in Chiang Mai! (Didn't love that the guy was riding it, but at least it was getting some exercise).
After the hot spring, we went back to the hostel and prepared to get back on the bikes and drive to Pai Canyon for the sunset, which wasn't too far away. We wanted some time to explore and walk around the canyon before sunset, so we went around 3:00 pm. This was another landmark that I had heard plenty about before, and it definitely didn't disappoint! And for future reference, the dirt on the paths is super slippery, so definitely wear some footwear that has traction! Or even go barefoot.
That night we had dinner on the walking street, and then it was early to bed for us because the next morning we were planning on waking up around 5 am to go to the Yun Lai Viewpoint to see the sunrise!
Yun Lai was about a 20-30 minute motorbike ride away in a Chinese village. Amy was going on a tour during the day that would take her to the viewpoint so she didn't come with us. And since neither Laura nor myself could drive the motorbike, Emily agreed to drive all three of us there. We grabbed some blankets, made sure no one was going to fall off, and made our way in the dark to the viewpoint. Fitting three grown women onto a motorbike was probably the most Thai thing we've ever done (apologies to Emily).
Once we got to the village, we noticed that there were a ton of other vans and songthaews taking tour groups up to the top of the hill. We sped past them and attempted to go up the very steep roads to get there. Unfortunately, a car came down the narrow road at the same time as us, so we had to pull to the side and stop, and with the weight of all three of us on the bike...we tipped over. Thankfully we weren't moving when it happened! So instead we decided to park the bike and walk the rest of the way up.
Aaaaaannnddd so. many. regrets. It was the steepest hill I have ever walked up. We really had no other choice because the bike definitely wouldn't have made it with all three of us, but I seriously have never felt so out of shape in my life. Damn you pad thai.
Once at the top, we waited with a large group of other tourists as the fog spread over the mountains and the sun eventually rose. It was such a cool experience getting there when it was still pitch black out. Even though you're with a bunch of other people, it wasn't hard to feel serene and at peace up there. Yun Lai is definitely worth the early wake up call.
Afterwards, we got breakfast (Earth Tone again obviously), walked up to see a White Buddha statue, and saw more touristy things around town. Today also happened to be Christmas, but because we had a jam packed schedule of activities I honestly forgot about it for most of the day. Every so often another tourist would walk by and say "Merry Christmas" to us, and I'd have the same reaction every time, which was generally something like "oh shit, yeah Merry Christmas..."
Before dinner that night, we met another girl named Amy who was staying in my room at the hostel. She was solo traveling so I invited her to dinner and we all went to this amazing restaurant that someone had recommended called Pens Kitchen. We ordered family-style and everything was amazing! I highly recommend their Khao Soi, which is a Northern yellow curry dish with noodles. I had never heard of it before, as I don't live up North, but I quickly became obsessed with it. Literally, I wouldn't shut up about the amazingness that is Khao Soi to Kaitlin and Kat and anyone else who would listen to me when I went back home to Saraburi. It is that delicious.
The next day I headed into town and got on my 11:00 am van to make the three hour journey back to Chiang Mai. From there I flew to Bangkok and had to wait for a 10:15 pm train outside of Don Mueang airport to go back to Saraburi. Overall I was traveling for about 11 hours. Because I live so far away, going to Pai definitely required a long weekend. But it was totally worth it.
The town itself feels so quaint and it has the cutest stores, the nicest people, and there are so many beautiful things to see, and we didn't even get to all of it. Added bonus, avocados are EVERYWHERE, unlike the rest of Thailand. If you want to go to Pai and see as many things as possible, I suggest getting a motorbike or doing a tour. The tours were only about 500 baht and brought you to a ton of different places.
Our hostel ended up being really cool and chill, but it was out of town which was a bit inconvenient. So, next time I would probably stay at a different hostel that's a shorter walk to town. And I really do hope there is a next time!
Make sure to check out my personal blog for more posts. Next up is Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, and Khao Yai National Park!