Thailand: First Day in Pai. A Paradise, or Overhyped?

Day 13. Diary date: 14th October.

After yesterday’s activities—involving a cooking class and the weekend markets in Chiang Mai—it’s time to check out what Pai has to offer.

The weather is incredible today. It’s early morning. We grab a cup of coffee from the drip machine, and nurse our mugs while watching the heavens open from the hostel veranda.

The street are flooded. Of course, S decides to play in the water, wading around to his heart’s content.

Heavy rain in Chiang Mai

I’ve never seen rain like it. It’s like a flash flood, but one that just doesn’t stop. The roads are nowhere to be seen, but the traffic doesn’t seem to mind.

While we wait for the bus to arrive, we book a hostel that looks just perfect. It’s called Suandoi Backpackers Resort, and again only costs around £6 a night. It’s got hammocks, an outside bar, and it’s in walking distance from Pai’s walking street. Love it.

A songthaew arrives at our hostel, Family Home, and takes us to the bus station, where we board a minivan and set off.

The journey. Oh, the journey—I wasn’t expecting this. It’s a three to four-hour drive with constant twists and turns, winding upwards like a great snake through the picturesque, emerald-green jungle. There’s little signs of people living here the whole way, other than the odd rest-stop. A few bikes and people herding cattle up the roads, but that’s all.

There are 762 turns on the journey! You feel every single one, with the minivan lurching and darting across the middle of road, drawing racing lines to quicken its pace, without regard for what might fly around the opposing corner! You’re better off sitting near the front if you can—there’s more force on the back on the vehicle, and it feels a bit pretty sickening. Here’s a quick video of what to expect. Literally just this for hours:

It’s not so bad, though. Some time passes and we arrive at the Pai town centre, departing at the centremost road, which is called Pai Walking Street. A sense of wonder washes over me, lighting up my eyes once again.

Isn’t that the best feeling in the world: the feeling of something—or being somewhere—that’s completely new and completely full of wonder? I’m continually struck by that exhilarating feeling of novelty. But then, also, acutely aware how quickly you acclimatise, how quickly things become ordinary. A town that seemed strange becomes familiar; the food you’d never tried becomes a favourite; a fascinating sight becomes a memory, a photograph. And then you move on again, and the cycle starts over.

And now, here I am, looking back on it all. Wild.

Anyway, there’s a ride waiting for us in Pai go to the Suandoi guesthouse, which was surprising—we didn’t book it and we hadn’t spoken to anyone. Guess it was just part of the service. Nice.

Arriving at the hostel is great. There are dogs running around, people are lounging in hammocks, and there are even some cool water features! It’s all you can ask for really.

Saundoi Backpackers hostel
Credit to the hostel for this pic, I didn’t take a good enough one!

Rich, vibrant greenery resides all throughout the hostel. Nature seeps in at the edges, without things feeling overgrown or rundown. Pai’s rolling hills and open skies frame your view.

We settle into a seat at the bar, order a drink, and a song begins to play. It grabs my attention quickly, making one of those instant attachments that songs so rarely do. A smile spreads across my face. This is kinda great.

It’s remained one of my favourite songs since. And now it’s always and inseparably rooted in a lovely day.

Things feels right here. It’s shielded from all the rest of the world, but at home with it too. No other rooms are in view, there’s no foot traffic, no cars passing, no other abrasive sounds like you get in the city. But still, you’re close enough to visit the town where you can drink, eat, hang out. Secluded, tucked away, yet with every amenity you could ask for just a stone’s throw away.

Our room is sick—it’s got a balcony. Well, I say “sick”—it’s just a square room with concrete walls, really. But any room that has a balcony has to be described as sick—those are the rules. Plus, the concrete keeps it cool, and best of it all it has a view overlooking lazy, slow-flowing stream.

The noise of that stream guides me to sleep that night, and for many more nights to come. We end up spending a fair bit of time here.

That evening, we head to a place called the Paradise Cafe and, low and behold, a full-on fire show starts performing up out of nowhere. It’s all very typically hippie-ish in Pai, but I don’t say that in a bad way—you gotta respect carefree nature of everyone there. It’s like a town that’d have “good vibes only” in a non-tongue-in-cheek way as its slogan.

This place just feels very unexpected, and I love that about it. We get a buzz on and sit around watching.

After that, the whole bar retreats inside to continue the night. The performances continue, with one man doing a very passionate rendition and singalong of 4 Non Blondes – What’s Up. Lol. This place is kinda weird, but in the best of ways.

The three of us stay up, drinking and talking about things I no longer remember. We trudge back to the hostel and sleep peacefully, thankful for a lovely first night.

Day 14. Diary date: 15th October.

Exploring Pai! Biking, Yun Lai Viewpoint, Namtok Mo Paeng, and Pam Bok Waterfall

Now, I’m going to tell you a story. A story detailing the origins of a career that Valentino Rossi himself would envy.

Only joking.

But today is an important day. A milestone, if you will. We’re going to rent motorbikes (ok, ok, they were mopeds…) for the first time—and try not to fall off them.

We sign a couple of documents, pay like 200 baht per day (with a small deposit), pick out a helmet, take the keys, and then they ask if we’ve ever used one before.

“Nope”, we reply.

The lady behind the desk maintains her poker face. I don’t know the percentage of their client base that have never actually learnt to ride before, but I imagine it’s pretty high.

And here’s the funny part. They then give us a “driving test”. I put quotation marks around that because it was the laxest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. They took us to a field round the back, pointed to the ignition switch (nope, none of the other buttons) and then said: “go”.

We rode a grand total of four small circles around a field the size of a large garden. And then they said, in their own words, “right, ok, off you pop”.

And I mean it’s fair enough—they’re easy to drive. The weight and design of the bikes pretty much do everything for you in terms of stability.

My scooter, hired in Pai. It's a Suzuki Jelato 125i
The absolute beast, the stallion—the Suzuki Jelato 125i—in all its glory

Oh, and another funny story. As soon as we emerge back onto Pai Walking Steet, a couple of policemen stop us.

“Oh shit, here’s comes a huge fine,” I think.

But nope, the officers just want a picture with us. Because we were wearing helmets, we were papped as an enduring beacon of road safety. I’d really like to find those pictures on whatever social media they shared ’em on—I reckon we’re wearing the most hilarious portait of confusion and relief on our faces.

Surprisingly, the exhilaration of riding on your own didn’t quite match the excitement of that rogue sightseeing journey through Bangkok in terms of novelty.

We drive up to a landmark called the Yun Lai viewpoint, which turned out to be a super unique ride through a rural village and up some incredibly steep hills.

Reaching the top was one of the best views I’ve seen so far—although, I suspect that will change as we keep travelling.

Yun Lai viewpoint—Pai District, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Yun Lai viewpoint—Pai, Mae Hong Son District, Thailand

We even had a pot of green tea! We just sit for a while, taking in the moment and the views.

Overlooking Pai town with some lovely green tea
Overlooking Pai town with some lovely green tea

The views are stunning. Highly recommended place to visit. Just look at this!

Rolling hills, rice fields, open blue skies and travellers overlooking Pai

We also went to a couple of waterfalls but only get around 5 minutes viewing time in before they close, haha. You head through a weird tunnel which emerges onto a… somewhat interesting—but really quite disappointing—waterfall. Probably wouldn’t recommend the waterfalls unless you’re looking to fill a slow day.

Finally, we head back to the city and have some more Khao Soi—the staple of Northern Thailand, and my favourite Thai dish so far!

Picture of tofu Khao Soi, passionfruit smoothie, and some veg pakora in Pai
Tofu Khao Soi, passionfruit smoothie, and some veg pakora. Pretty sure this is from Karsa Long Thai Food

We then head to a 7/11 and pick up some Sangsom rum. Samir has the ingenious idea of getting a slushie to mix the rum with. They have self-service slushy, iced coffee, and soft drink machines everywhere here. However, we’re made to put our slushies back into small cups after S convinced J and I to use the (hilariously over-sized) cups. Halcyon days, right?

We went into town and honestly, as much as I would like to tell you about it, valued reader, it was a blur and I don’t remember all that much. One thing I do remember, though, is that at some unidentified time in the night whilst trekking home—somewhere around the Bamboo bridge—S slipped and fell into the swamps of mud created by the recent rain, and got covered head to toe. And I remember laughing. So that’s nice.

Tomorrow, we check out Pai canyon—and it’s amazing! Coming soon. Stay frosty

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