[Above image: the very real view from my hostel – and yes, it has a pool]
I arrived in Thailand with the goal of going full “vacation-mode” during my first week. After plenty of great food and incredible sightseeing, I was ready to get back in the groove. But Pai had other plans.
This small town in the north of Thailand has really only popped up on the average backpacker’s radar in the last couple of decades. Originally a market village with heavy Burmese influence, Pai has become a popular vacation destination for Thai people and tourists alike, and has certainly earned its spot on the “Banana Pancake Trail”.
Getting here was a story in itself. Budget flights are widely available in Thailand – I personally found last week’s $30 flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to be far more appealing than a 12-hour train or bus ride. But because Pai lacks an airport, the best way to travel from Chiang Mai is probably via the shuttle vans that depart periodically throughout the day.
For 150 baht (around $4 by current exchange rates), I had a ticket for a 3-hour journey in an air conditioned vehicle. A great deal on the surface, to be sure. But this ride is not for the fearful or those prone to motion sickness.
The road between Chiang Mai and Pai winds up, and then down, mountain slopes. There are a whopping 762 curves along the way, many of them quite sharp. Once you get into the mountains, there is a single lane going in each direction – but that never stopped the driver from swerving into the oncoming lane to get around slower motorists. Never mind whether he was actually able to see what was coming around the next bend. I can only assume this sort of driving stems from the deeply-ingrained Thai belief in resurrection.
Somehow, I survived the trip, and made my way from town to the hostel. I had to take the long way around, as apparently the usual bridge washed away in heavy rains earlier this year.
I will say that despite the burgeoning tourist appeal, spending time away from the main roads can still feel authentically rural. There were plenty of opportunity to photograph the gorgeous valley landscape, and to sample the local street food (like massive plates of chicken Pad Thai for slightly over $1). When not wandering around or stuffing my face, I spent most of the last several days just basking in the sunlight with a good book. And boy was the alcohol cheap: a literal bucket of Tequila Sunrises runs you less than $10.
Of course, there were the downsides to “roughing it” for a while. My stay in Pai was marked by intense heat and humidity, poor Internet connectivity, and no shortage of mosquitos. Hard to complain about the cons too much, given the massive column of pros – but hey, I was hoping to get some solid writing done!
I’m back in Chiang Mai now, and for the next few days I’ll be treating myself to a bit more luxury in my accommodations. Time to get back to work!