Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Piece of the Pai

Where do I even begin?  This is going to be a long one, so sit down and relax while I tell you about the place I'd like my ashes spread when I die.  A little land I had never even heard of until I got to Thailand and fellow travelers urged me to check it out.

Getting There

I guess I should start with the comical bus ride up into the mountains from Chiang Mai to Pai.  I found myself on a mini bus with five sets of couples and a wacky driver.  And then there was me.  Being the lone solo traveler, the Thai driver took it upon himself to only speak to me for the entire three hour drive.  He asked "why you no have boyfrem? You so bootyfull!" at least ten times. He seemed very concerned about my predicament and wouldn't let it go.  I wanted to explain that I am actually not single and I have a girlfriend back home, but I've found that the word LESBIAN doesn't quite translate.  Kate and I tried explaining it to some Thai waiters in Ko Phanang with no luck whatsoever.  Thai people seem to be either bewildered or baffled by this concept. Since no one on the entire bus (besides me) would engage in any sort of dialogue with the driver, he sang his little heart out instead.  Thai is not a pretty language and Thai music is even worse, so this was far from an enjoyable musical experience.  It was like the first few episodes of American Idol.  Luckily, the views were absolutely incredible and my jaw must have dropped 20 times as I looked out at the lush, green mountains.  I knew I was on my way to somewhere wonderful.


Here I am in Pai.  A little piece of paradise - or Pairadise you might say. ;-)  I wanted to end my travels somewhere peaceful and far removed from any sort of chaos or craziness. Pai is all of that, and more. It is situated in the very northern region of Thailand, very close to Myanmar.  It is a tiny little town consisting of about four main streets that make up a bustling square.  There is a smattering of temples around the area and loads of little shops and cafes.  Every night, there is a market on the main walking street that reminds me of a good old Chicago summer street fest.  It's different than the other markets I've visited in Thailand.  For one, it's the first market I've seen offering vegan street food.  Holla!  The community here seems to be a very artsy one, so there is a lot of hand made jewelry, cool photographs, sketches and paintings for sale. It is by far my favorite night market in Thailand.  If there was a slogan for Pai, I think it would be Don't Worry, Be Hippie.

night market

one of my favorite paintings in Pai
As soon as I arrived in Pai, I threw on my running shoes and hit the roads to explore.  I smiled at everyone I passed and surprisingly, everyone smiled back!  It's like everyone here is high on life.  Or maybe it's just the fresh, clean mountain air.  Or maybe they're just high.  Who knows?  I'm willing to bet very few people in Pai take Prozac or Xanax. Life is just good here.  Simple.

Elephant Encounters

On my first full day in Pai, I rented a bicycle to ride out to the hot springs.  The instant I got on that bike, I felt like a kid again. With the wind in my hair, I felt like I was going on some sort of adventure, and I was totally right.  I had to work my ass off to get to my destination which was only 6 kilometers away.  I should have been prepared for the hills but I wasn't.  Duh, I'm in the mountains!  Luckily, the scenery (once again) made up for the bitch of a bike ride. I was completely taken aback when I was just pedaling along, all peaceful and smiling, and bam! There is a massive elephant chomping on some grass on the side of the road.  I really wish my iPhone wasn't stolen so I could share pictures with you.  I did manage to snap some shots with my super cool, retro, disposable camera.  Side note: Did you know elephants are the largest vegan animal?

I eventually made my way to the hot springs.  Legs and ass feeling like jelly.  Along the way I saw a dude riding another elephant along the river and again snapped some pictures with my cardboard piece of junk.

It gets even better.  Picture this:

I'm sitting at lunch, sipping on my fresh coconut topped with a beautiful little hibiscus, scribbling away in my journal while Damien Rice plays in the background. Seconds later, the gorgeous elephant with the Thai guy on his back comes walking up!  One of the ladies who worked at the restaurant called the elephant over like you would a dog.  The elephant came walking right up to the open air restaurant and Mr. Elephant proceeds to stick his trunk inside so I could touch him!  The lady ran and got a few cantaloupe halves and we each fed him; all the while Damien Rice is singing "can't take my eyes off of you."  Fitting, right?  It was one of those "is this really happening?" moments and I was giddy. There was no one else in the restaurant so I had the most intimate and unexpected elephant experience you could ever ask for.

Eventually, I rode my bike back into town.  Lungs burning, quads begging for mercy, and I'm just telling myself to keep pedaling because at the end of this bike ride is a killer Thai massage for less than $5.  Once I get back to the States, I will never again be able to tell myself that when I'm struggling on a run or during a hard workout.  I am having a really hard time coming to terms with that.  How will I possibly survive without my 1-2 massages a day?  Seriously.

Pai at Night

Last night, I sat around a bonfire at a super relaxed bar listening to live acoustic music.  The first set was a British girl who played original stuff and some pretty awesome covers.  Then two Thai guys came out and played covers with a guitar and a trumpet.  I met people from Australia, Germany, the UK and the good ol' USA.  It was a lovely, laid back night -- exactly what I was craving after the craziness of Koh Tao.

Edible Jazz - the super fun bar with super cool people

I heard music from this fine gent last night

I can honestly say I have not been this relaxed and happy in a very long time.  I can add Pai to the list of places I would live.  I've already asked myself how I could make a living here.  Making kombucha is always an option...

Note: Since my phone was stolen, I can't share any of my own photos so these are all from Google images.  Please don't sue me if these are yours.  Let's all just share the love and beauty of Pai. XO


  1. While you started out this trip hoping to rediscover who you are and reclaim the self confidence you once had, you accomplished both of these the minute you left the US. It takes a very strong person to tour a foreign country -- solo. I have been following along and have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your travels. Enjoy your remaining time and have a safe trip back to the US. (So very bummed your phone was stolen. I would have loved to see more pictures.)

  2. I loved this post! Traveling in Mexico with a man was a similar experience for me a decade ago, add being a female with visible tattoos- several times I was asked if I was part of a cartel - I learned women just aren't unescorted and surely do not have tattoos. That's patriarchal societies for you. Reading this was a trip - such a far far cry from the Aramark fitness center all of those years ago. Safe and happy travels friend.

  3. I agree with above tahoegirl. I too have so enjoyed your travel post...all of them. I feel as if I'm taking a little vaca right along with you as you describe the elephant encounters. I hate that your phone and pictures are gone, but you are doing one hell of a job painting a great picture for us. Thanks again for sharing your journey with us....I'M SO JEALOUS but very happy for you! Lisa

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