One of the better pieces of advice I’ve heard on this trip so far is don’t be hungover for the trip from Chiang Mai to Pai, or on the return trip. The problem with this piece of advice is that your last night in Pai feels like an occasion worth going out and celebrating. Add to this the fact that it’s also a friends birthday on that last day and a hangover is going to be fairly tough to avoid.
So armed with whatever precautionary plastic bags we could get our hands on we all filed into the 12 seat minivan and prepared for 3 1/2 hours of winding, climbing and descending mountain roads from the picturesque valley town of Pai back to the city of Chiang Mai.
Looking down a sharp cliff to the left of the van the driver quickly takes a sharp turn right, your stomach rolls to the left, and now you’re looking out at endless jungle covered mountains to the right. A minute later a sharp turn left, your stomach crawls further up and rolls to the right. More mountains. Right. Left. Up. Down. Right again. For 3 hours. Plastic bags in hand. Quick left. Crashing into those next to you with each turn. Left again. Your stomach crawls higher. Right. Still turning right. Finally left again and looking out you finally see nothing but straight road ahead. The worst is over, and professionals that we are, everyone’s breakfasts stayed put.
It would have been just as easy to never leave Pai. I arrived there for 3 nights, stayed 5, and could have stayed well past that. In Pai the entire outside world seems to vanish. You must adjust your watches to Pai-time, which is to say, take it off, you don’t need it here.
My guesthouse of choice was the Darling Viewpoint Guesthouse, located on a hillside above the town, a short motorbike ride into town by road, or a short climb down the hill and across the bamboo walking bridge by foot, easily connecting you to town. A spread out complex of bamboo bungalows and balconies, littered with hammocks just begging you to climb in and take a nap and not a bad view in the whole place.
Hot springs, waterfalls, breathtaking canyons at sunset and wide open country roads for riding, in those instances where you feel you should be doing more than lounging around all day there are many options, although no one will judge you for just sitting back and admiring the view for the entire day.
In the evenings the temperature cools down considerably, a welcome change from the rest of my Thailand experience. As people start filling the streets after returning from their day’s adventures the town begins to be filled with the sounds of the many talented musicians playing in the bars along the main strip. My evenings were primarily spent at 2 particular clubs, Edible Jazz and Be-Bop, featuring both local musicians and those just passing through.
After many of the bars close for the evening you can choose to keep the party going into the early hours of the morning at the rasta bar or retire back to the guesthouse, where on a nightly basis the hosts will set up a bonfire and inevitably there will be a DJ of some sort staying at the guesthouse happy to play their music. Sitting around that bonfire at 3am with 30 something other people from every corner of the world is a true ‘where the hell are we?’ experience, it’s something I’ve never before witnessed in my life.
At the end of the night, or as the sun is coming up, you can collapse onto your mattress, or climb into a hammock and get some much needed rest before the next day, surely to be filled with more naps, motorbike rides and live music.