It was kind of a last-minute decision. A little diversion. A trip to the near-by mountain town of Pai, Thailand. I had heard other teachers talk about it and a visiting friend had mentioned it. So when the idea to go popped into my mind Friday night, it was easy to take a closer look and then hit the road.
After living internationally for four years now, it is still quite something to me to be able to get on a bus, van, train, airplane and discover someplace new. This weekend it was Pai.
I started at the local bus station earlyish on Saturday morning. I was told it was a simple thing. There is a van that runs regularly every hour. You simply show up and get a ticket. I had read on a blog post a bit of a warning of the fast driving through the curvy mountain roads. But you know… when in Thailand. So I paid my 150 baht (about $5 USD) tossed my fears aside and began my journey.
I sat in the van surrounded by a sea of friendly Thai faces and comfortably began the way. I felt that little rush of excitement in my stomach when heading out on my own to discover something new. It was good to get out of Chiang Mai and see some of the surrounding area. Soon we began to head into the mountains and the fun began.
The mountain roads were what one might expect… hilly and curvy. Nothing new for mountains. What was a surprise is they kept coming and coming, seemingly endless curves, twists and turns through the hills. The driver drove safely but also quickly and my innards swished from side to side continuously and repetitively. Finally, we got a bathroom break mid way. I got out of the van and tried to find my legs and calm my body a bit. A fellow weary traveler warned that we had another 50 kilometers of this and so the twisty journey continued.
At this point really, I thought perhaps I could not take any more but I put on my headphones, did my best to breathe and relax the final stretch until finally…we arrived in Pai. I got off the van and quickly made my way wanting to distance myself from the van and the wretched journey.
We arrived down a skinny dusty street scattered with happy backpackers, tourists and vagabonds making they way on foot and on scooters. I was immediately enchanted and quickly forgot about the ride there. I talked with a few friendly English-speaking faces to discover that we had arrived in the heart of Pai. I walked around a bit to get my bearings finding the river as well as the boundaries of the modest town and then quickly went about finding some lunch to settle my body after my twisty journey.
I stopped for lunch at a little place called “Top 5 Cafe“. It was a modest but inviting place on the main road in the heart of town. I took in the menu pleased to find a few items that met my needs for simple healthy food. I ordered a spinach omelette and fresh mint tea to drink. It arrived quickly and fresh. I was not disappointed as I gobbled down the tasty, well prepared, simple meal. I took in a bit more of the town until the clouds started to come in which seemed like a good time to find my way to my hotel.
I found a Taxi to drive me about 5 kilometers to my nesting spot for the night, Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort Hotel. Arriving in the rain I was greeted with typical Thai hospitality, the staff swiftly greeting me at the car door with umbrellas in tow. As I was escorted to my room, I took in the quiet beauty of my surroundings and the well-manicured space in the midst of the neighboring hills. My room was an inviting spot for a little R&R and I sunk into the joy of being in a new space and feeling a little spoiled.
As the rain tempered down, I made my way to the hot springs pool and melted into the steamy soothing waters. Ah. So good… and enjoyed the time there. Soon the sun made its way out and I next found my way to the swimming pool and revelled in a little lounging and swimming in the beautiful, unassuming backdrop.
The hotel offered an evening shuttle to and from town so I hopped on board and headed in for dinner. I dined at a recommended local Thai restaurant Na’s Kitchen. The owner and chef Na was found busily cooking away in her sizzling kitchen. Her friendly face and willingness to meet my healthy food requests were greatly appreciated. In no time at all I dove into my dinner, Thai stir fry with fresh veggies and chicken and fresh ginger tea.
The main walking street transformed into a lively market at night and was filled with an easy number of attentive vendors and shoppers. This quiet mountain town was the perfect size for a laid back evening stroll. The market was filled with cute little things and hand-made crafts and clothes. I indulged just a bit in the amazing market prices feeling spoiled by a few simple purchases. I soon met up with our hotel van and made my way “home” to enjoy the rest of the quiet evening.
The next day was filled with more of the same – appreciating my quiet escape with a hot springs soak and a dip in the pool. I had purchased a few books at a used book shop in town and pulled them out by the pool like a kid in a candy store.
By early afternoon it was already time to check out. I returned to the center of town and in the late afternoon began the trek back to Chiang Mai. A guest I met at my hotel gave me a tip on a “gentler” drive back to Chiang Mai. The connection led me to a local tour company called Terminal Green. For the same price they offered a van ride back to town with a reputation for taking it easy around the twists and turns.
While in town I discovered printed on a t-shirt “762 curves to Pai.” And so it is true… there are in fact over 750 twists and turns in the drive from Pai to Chiang Mai. This explains my feeling of relentless suffering around the never-ending twists and turns.
The ride back it was… better but still left me searching for my stomach and legs for hours after my return. Pai is a beautiful, easy hippy-like town and a great quick escape. I’m glad that I went. But as for the ride there and back… perhaps next time I will take a plane!