I survived the 762 turns to Pai!
Jordan and I arranged to be picked up from our hostel in Chiang Mai by a shuttle bus that would take us to the artsy mountain town of Pai. When our driver arrived, I crammed myself between eager backpackers into the back of his questionable van, while Jordan took the only seat left next to the driver up front. Our bags were carelessly tossed on top of the car. We cruzed through the streets of Pai and I had my eyes glued on the review mirror the entire time, certain my bag was going to fly off the roof any second.
The car brought us to some parking lot where we and an assortment of other backpackers were sorted out between two slightly bigger vans that were to take us on this long, windy drive into the jungle. We lucked out that no one barfed in our van. The drive was the long and winding road the Beatles always sang about. We went through hours and hours of deep jungle like forest. It seemed a miracle the bamboo jungle and its inhabitants didn’t spillnout onto the road.
Was the crazy drive to Pai worth it? Does a bear shit in the woods? Pai is a magical little village way up in the mountains along the dirty Pai River. They say that most go to Pai for a few days and stay a few months.
There is a lot to do in Pai, if you are open to a little adventure. We rented a scooter for the week we were there and drove it everywhere. There are hot springs, canyon walks, local farms to visit, waterfalls, encouraging locals, a Chinese village, and art sculptures everywhere. With a set of wheels, Pai could still take years to explore.
Every night the main street of the village is closed for the night market. Hours can be spent walking around and sampling the strange, sweet rice cakes, meat sticks, vegetable noodles, and an array of fried who knows whats. It’s less than a dollar for most of the food options. This is my favorite way to eat while traveling. (I had a good diarrhea pill that I needed only the first three days in a new country before my digestive system acclimated.)
Pai is more than just a main street in the jungle where awesome food and the regions best jazz scenes live. It is also a bigger surrounding area of wild jungle to explore. With a set of wheels and a face mask, all can be discovered for literally $5/day scooter rental.
Above are pictures of a popular waterfall hike, and a random banana farm we explored on the ride to the falls. Below is the famous Pai Canyon. This trail starts out defined with your typical Asian IG photo shoots along the way, until it disperses into trails of less than traveled paths that go up and down crater like skeletons that rise above the jungle floor. Jordan and I threw up the hammock to watch the sunset above the jungle while new groups of friends who met each other in their hostels passed us by.
About a two mile walk (or a short scooter ride) from the main street in Pai is the Buddha temple. The White Buddha sits atop a mountain looking down on the town, protecting it. It is quite the walk up the mountain, with the typical dragons lining the stairway up. There was a ceremony happening at the temple center at the base of the mountain when we came. The participants all had braided yarn with them that they seemed to be tying to trees. There is not much English in Pai once you get away from the center of town, so my glimpse into this ritual will remain a mystic event.
Below are images of my favorite random side of the road establishments that was surrounded by the Pai style of art installation. There is nothing like the freedom to ride in an area that feels totally safe and interesting to explore. The people are friendly and welcoming. They have seen many tourists over the years as Pai’s popularity grows. I think due to its distance and extreme commitment to get out here to the jungle, it will remain a unique gem of a town for a few years to come. At least I hope – There is no way big tour buses can make it there now and I hope there never will be!