I’d spent a day or two in Chiang Mai and wasn’t really fond of the city’s pace. The tranquility of Ko Tao had spoilt me, and I longed to go away from it all. After extending my Thai visa in Chiang Mai, I met up with a scuba school classmate and we drove to Pai together.
My friend had previously arranged for the bus and transportation, so I simply went along and boarded the bus for the first time in Thailand. I didn’t have to figure anything out or second-guess my assumptions about what was going on.
Pai is not far from Chiang Mai. If my memory serves me well, the bus travel took roughly 3 hours.
When my companion and I arrived, we headed straight to her hostel. Her brother had also decided to stay and work there. The hostel was called Common Grounds, and it was a great location to stay. Unfortunately, they were fully booked and could not accommodate me. As a result, my friend walked me over the river and assisted me in my search for a bungalow. This turned out to be ideal for me. When I wanted to be social, I could go to the hostel, but when I needed some alone time, I could go to my quiet bungalow.
I ended up spending a month in Pai. My modest house was ideal, and I spent most of my days reading or watching movies on my laptop in the peaceful part of town.
Part of the wall of the bungalow was open. My bed was pleasant and included a mosquito net. When I went into the restroom, there was a huge spider on the floor. I sprayed it out of the hole in the wall where the shower drained using the sprayer that comes with Thai toilets.
I used to spend the most of my evenings at Common Grounds. There were always a large number of individuals present. We’d play pool and board games. We also drank quite a bit.
The hostel would host a variety of events, such as the Beer Olympics. We would go to a lot of live music because a number of the visitors had been there for a long time and were musicians. It was a lot of fun.
Normally, I wouldn’t spend much time at a hostel where I wasn’t staying, but a scuba school friend let me in. It was good to be social, but I also appreciated having my own quiet space away from the hostel.
Pai was fantastic on its own! Prostitutes would not bother you if you went to a bar. The majority of the items were priced for locals rather than tourists. Every night, there was a street market with delicious and reasonably priced food. Every night, there was this one lady who fried dumplings (pot stickers). I’d sit in my cottage, waiting for the street market to open so I could purchase some. I was completely enslaved! There was also a restaurant that served a delicious spicy salad for less than a dollar.
Nightmare gasoline was also sold at several of the market’s stands.
I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Pai. They did the floating lantern thing on New Year’s Eve. It was fantastic! I’d never seen it before and it was fantastic! If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s essentially a paper balloon with a fire inside. The balloon rises due to the hot air from the fire. The sky is transformed into a sea of floating lights.
My night photographs, as usual, were a disaster. On the outskirts of town, everyone gathered on a bridge and set off fireworks and floating lanterns.
At the end of the night, this was a familiar sight for me. To return to my bungalow, I had to cross a bamboo footbridge.
I broke a vow to myself in Pai. I had made a vow to myself that I would not ride a scooter. Tourists on crutches and dressed in bandages looked to be strewn about the streets. Scooters appeared to be the leading source of injury and mortality among western tourists in Asia. In addition, a former roommate in the United States returned from Thailand with significant, lasting injuries sustained in a scooter accident. So, despite the fact that I like riding scooters, I promised myself that I would not purchase one. It just seemed too risky.
Then one night, I was strolling around Pai’s night market. Because so many people had come to town for Christmas, it was busier than usual. The streets were congested with people and automobiles. I noticed three Thai girls, each with a cello. They appeared to be around 11 or 12 years old. With their massive instruments strapped to their backs, the three of them hopped aboard the same scooter and sped out into the traffic like it was nothing. I reasoned that if they could ride a scooter safely, I should be able to as well.
The next day, I rented a long-term scooter, which had a significant beneficial impact on the rest of my vacation.
I began taking day trips on the scooter, which I thoroughly enjoyed! It was liberating and exciting. I had the impression that I could go wherever I pleased. I could stop in small towns and see all I was losing out on on the buses and trains. I was completely addicted to riding scooters.
Here’s my best advice if you’ve never ridden a scooter in another country. Treat it as if it were a high-powered bicycle rather than a low-powered motorcycle. Maintain a bicycle-like speed rather than a motorcycle-like speed. Also, take it easy on the turns. Every turn on the road in Thailand looked to be coated in gravel. Take it slowly and you’ll probably be OK.
I had no intention of going to Vietnam. Before travelling to Vietnam, I needed a visa, and I had no idea where I would be. Because I didn’t want to prepare ahead, I decided to forgo Vietnam. I’d also read some blog postings from others who had had a negative experience there. However, I continued to read about how Vietnam was the best country on the planet for riding scooters. It made me consider the prospect of visiting there. Then, in Cambodia, I discovered a location where I could obtain Vietnam vias for a reasonable price, and that was the end of it. But I’ll get to that in the coming days.
Near Pai, there were some elephant farms. I went to one of them to say hello to one of the giants.
So I stayed in Pai for a month. I went on a number of short rides throughout the countryside. Then I spent my nights in Pai enjoying the nightlife. I also discovered a handful of local favorites. Thai cuisine is one of my favorites, and there was plenty of good, reasonable food to be found in town.
I don’t have many images of Pai. When I get to know a location, I guess I put the camera away and just enjoy being there. It’s a pity because it was a wonderful time for me. I understand that the atmosphere is not appropriate for all types of travelers. And I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t been accompanied by a friend who introduced me to a number of individuals. Pai, on the other hand, had a languid tempo that I enjoyed. I also appreciated the lack of aggressive touts attempting to entice me into eateries and shops. The most of the time, people just did their own thing.
My visa was about to expire, so I thought it was time to go on to the next country. I tuned up my scooter and gathered my belongings. Then I took a bus to the Laotian border. Luang Prabang would be my next stop. I hope you’ll join me in my tour around Laos in tomorrow’s post!