Friday, March 15, 2013

Mae Hong Song Loop Part 2: Pai (Day 3-6)

We got an early start for our long ride to Pai on day 3, which we soon realized was too early for our cold selves (I never thought I would actually need warm clothes in Thailand so I did not pack accordingly). We only made it to the main part of Chiang Dao before stopping for breakfast and coffee. This unplanned early stop turned out to be awesome and hilarious. As I was in the bathroom I heard some drumming and rushed out to see the start of a parade, which it looked like almost every member of the small town was in. With this ridiculous sendoff we started our drive to Pai. 

The drive from Chiang Dao to Pai became more and more enjoyable as the weather started to warm up a bit and we started gaining elevation. We were really enjoying ourselves and time was flying by when we had an unfortunate turn of events. While we were driving a flying bug got stuck in Eric's helmet and quickly took refuge deep inside his ear, which caused a lot of panic on both our parts. It sounds silly, but it looked torturous (and Eric would confirm that it was). We continued to drive after a long stop on the side of the road hoping the bug would find its way out (but didn't) and we made slow progress with some stops when the trapped bug struggled too much for Eric to focus on driving. After about an hour of this (and the thing was still alive!), we stopped at a roadside stand to get a straw and get that guy out. With a lot of air on my part, patience on Eric's part, and suggestions of using water from a nice Thai couple, we at least killed the bug (and it is still unknown if any of it came out at the time since Eric went to the doctor in Chiang Mai where the doctor took out lots of bug parts). It was enough for Eric to feel much better and we were on our way again.

Because of this little episode, we got to Pai later than expected and felt quite ready for a nap when we checked into a guesthouse. I didn't know a lot about Pai before our trip, but had heard it was a hippy tourist valley town. I prepared myself for the deadbeat hippy traveler types and kept my expectations relatively low. (Sidenote: My definition of deadbeat hippy traveler types are those that you see in many parts of the world who have dirty dreadlocks, wear the same loose and somewhat trendy hippy clothes--which I do love at times-- who don't really do anything in the countries they visit like working or volunteering and don't attempt to learn about our be a part of the cultures they are visitors to). However, I was very pleasantly surprised by Pai! There are definitely a lot of tourists and most of the town caters to them, but it was great to see a place in Thailand where they is actually a market for organic food since most of the farming here is anything but organic. Although there were some of the aforementioned types of travelers, it wasn't a homogeneous group of people. Many people are just there for a few nights, many accidently stay for weeks of months, and others relocate to Pai permanently. There is definitely a big night life (which Eric and I didn't take part in since we are like grandparents), but there is no drinking or smoking allowed on the main streets, which I thought was nice. There is a lot of good shopping (very tempting for me) and local artists bring their work out in the evening to sell on the street.

Our days in Pai consisted of leisurely mornings reading in bed, one "activity" per day, eating, more reading and napping. The first night we made the mistake of staying at a guesthouse in the midst of the main street and were awoken in the middle of the night by those taking advantage of the night life and then awoken again early in the morning to hear the effects of said night life. I escaped with a great run out into the country and looked into guesthouses and bungalows further from town. We found some nice bungalows for a great price in what was somewhat of a Swiss community that had a very friendly communal feeling. It was very peaceful and a great place to stay for the following 3 nights.

Our third day in Pai we went on a hike to a waterfall, which was long enough to discourage others, so we only saw a couple other groups the entire 5-6 hours. It was a very beautiful hike with many many stream crossings. After slipping in a few times and getting my feet wet, I gave up trying to cross the rocks and trudged through the rest of the crossings which proved to be much faster and refreshing for my hot feet. We discovered that we went to the north of Thailand at the wrong time of year because from February to April they burn the rice fields and all of the hillsides so the views are very smokey. We got used to it and it was interesting seeing the contrast to the parts that had been burned (or were still burning) on our hike. Luckily, it rained the next couple of nights which got rid of the smoke completely for the rest of our trip and we got some great views of Pai the last day there!

I can definitely see why people stay in Pai longer than they plan and would have stayed longer if we had not been paying to keep our motorbike every day.

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