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Adventures in Asia, Part 2: Pai, Thailand

a two monkpower bikestreet scene in Pai

From Chiang Mai, we took a bus trip to the scenic little town of Pai. We took a rickity old bus where we got the extra-cramped seats in front of the rear door, which were several inches shorter than the rest. The bus driver laughed when came to collect our tickets and he saw that the two farang had been given the smallest seats. I was cozy, but long-legged Janelle was not comfortable, and the bus was in no hurry. It took from 9:30AM to 2:00PM to traverse the 135km to Pai. On the way, the bus stopped to pick up and drop off people, who wedged themselves into the center aisle. We picked up a family of hill people in tribal costumes, who packed the aisle even fuller with 35kg bags of rice. At one bus stop there was an entire teenaged soccer team, and we began to get nervous. Fortunately, only one got on — the rest were just there to see their teammate off. The scenery was lovely — forest-covered hills and steep inclines. Not the jagged high mountains of Western Canada or New Zealand. More rounded, older.

transportation to Paithe bus to Pai

Pai is a bit of a hippie theme park, but really a charming town. Something like 3000 residents, but at least as many backpackers and tourists. A very high percentage of the travelers are blonde-dreadlocked suburban kids living out their sixties fantasies despite being born in the eighties. The town is happy to cater to them, with cheap guesthouses, western-style restaurants, tattoo parlours, dreadlocks-specializing hairdressers (‘perk up sad dreads! only 50 Baht!’), reggae bars and coffee shops. The town is also a center for trade with the local hill tribes, who line the streets selling handmade clothes and bags.

Farang (foreigner) breakdown of Pai:

  • 1/3 white people with dreadlocks
  • 1/3 white people without dreadlocks
  • 1/3 Japanese hipsters and lesbians (without dreadlocks)

we be jammin'Pai, Thailand. Where dreadlocked white kids fly halfway around the planet to listen to reggae.

The night we were there, the power suddenly went out. Business continued pretty much undisturbed. We asked one of the locals about it and she told us it was common, and “sometimes” the lights come back on. The market and shops and restaurants and bars paused briefly to light candles and then continued. A lot of people, we noticed, had produced flashlights from their bags and pockets. It was all very lovely and charming. As we walked out of the main village, we saw people lighting giant floating lanterns which drifted out over the valley. They looked very pretty, but I couldn’t help worry about what would happen if they came down on somebody’s thatch roof.

giant floaty lantern balloon thinggiant floaty lantern balloon thing

We had to try a few places to find a place to sleep. Eventually, we got a little bamboo bungalow by the river. Shared bathroom, but the price was right — about $8. I fell asleep breathing cold night mountain air under about ten blankets.

In the morning, Janelle woke me, her face lit up, telling me I had to look outside. The bungalow village was filled with thick fog. Honestly? It looked magical. I know that sounds gay, but I’m gonna stick with the adjective. Bamboo huts and thatched roofs drifted in and out of white mist. Creaky little bridges into town became mysterious walkways into ghostly and surreal landscapes.

shapes in the mistdawn in Pai

We both liked Pai quite a lot. I could have happily stayed a week, wandering the markets, eating delicious cheap Thai dishes and espresso and sleeping in a little thatched hut by the river. Even though the town is pretty touristy, it has a friendly, almost innocent vibe. It has charm and character, rather than the soulless tourist towns like Queenstown, New Zealand or Whistler, BC, which exist mostly to strip rich tourists from their cash. Everything in Pai is cheap and served with honest smiles. Even the hippie kids failed to get on my nerves — I’ll take good-vibe poseurs over yuppies and Eurotrash any day.