I am happy to report I have uncovered the whereabouts of all the Deadheads since the passing of Jerry Garcia. A majority have apparently very secretly slipped their way into SE Asia and drifted into the mountains of Northern Thailand and can be located in Pai. (pronounced: Pie). Backpackers flock to this countryside retreat to decompress from their long journeys and connect with other like-minded travelers. Expats living in Chiang Mai come here to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Many local Thais even visit for a weekend getaway. After running wild in Bangkok, I thought Chaing Mai was a relaxed place. However, Pai is in its own world if you are seeking intensive chill immersion. Even the street dogs were in on the relaxed action as they all could be seen layed out hanging on the streets with not a care in the world. In addition to the large swath of human and canine burnouts (the good kind) here in Pai, there is a very large amount of Chinese tourists. Years ago, no Chinese tourists were to be found anywhere but now they can be seen en masse, all over Thailand. I guess I would attribute this reversal to the current prosperous times in China. They now seemingly have lots of disposable moolah to spend on travel and they are out in force. I will save for a later post my opinions on the majority of these newly minted Chinese tourists. Let’s just say for now, they love taking selfies with their new iPhones and selfie sticks are more prevalent than chop sticks.
The road trip from Chiang Mai to Pai is legendary with 762 bends in the mountainous road which is extremely scenic. You may ask now how do I know it’s exactly 762 bends. Well, I counted them MF. We have elected to take the 25 min. flight back to Chiang Mai en route to our next destination…..only because I heard the flight was real scenic and I already counted the 762 bends on the road on the way up to Pai.
Pai offers a super relaxed atmosphere with a vibrant tourist and backpacker scene. It is a tiny town in the valley of northern Thailand which became a hippie enclave and turned into a town filled with yoga studios and bohemian cafes. The town’s permanent residents are a seemingly harmonious mix of common Thais, with a mixture of Western hippies and Thai rastas thrown in, which gives the place a unique artsy, chilled out vibe which made it appealing to us. Pai is now sometimes referred to as the “Khao San Road of the North”. There was absolutely no backpacker scene here 20 years ago as it was just a little market village and now during high season its absolutely bustling and rightfully so. It serves as a great stop for travelers rolling through Northern Thailand and going onto Myanmar and Laos.
Speaking of backpackers, I see many young female backpackers on the streets of Pai lugging their heavy backpacks on their back around town in search of the least expensive guesthouse in order to preserve their almighty Baht. As you know, us Flashpackers have wheels on our backpacks and we have yet to utilize the straps on our backs. I told Barbie she may want to put the pack on her back and start acting and looking like a true backpacker and she replied, “Not if I have wheels, honey….and if those backpackers had wheels, they would be using them as well.” It’s good to be a Flashpacker with moxie!
We are here during the beginning of peak season and I have heard that much of Pai gets real quiet during the off season. Being located in the northern mountains, Pai can offer relief from the super hot temperatures of Thailand. In Pai’s cool season it actually can get down to the low 50’s at nightime. A few of our nights, the temperature got down into the 70’s and it was the first nights of this entire trip that we did not have to turn the a/c on and left the windows open. I will bet this probably will not happen for the remainder of our time in Southeast Asia. However, it was a treat to be breathing in the fresh mountain air for at least a night and provides great sleeping temperatures. The kind of temperatures you can only get in late August at CEL. Unfortunately, our sleep was interrupted when we were awoken in the morning by a truck that rolls around town with a loud speaker mounted on it that announces shit we don’t understand, real loud, in Thai and is kinda annoying. I think they were simply announcing all the foot massage specials for the day and want to get the word out to all travelers. The bungalows we are currently staying in are real nice. They have 400 cable channels and can you believe not a single one in English. Good thing we really don’t care to watch any TV on this trip. It has been a true pleasure to unplug completely from TV. Barbie and I really could not care about any news that is happening in the U.S. (especially the election) and it feels like its freeing our minds from the stuff that really just does not matter. That being said, I have and will continue to tune into select sporting events.
We pulled the trigger on a motorbike rental here in Pai as it really is a must to properly explore all the area. We really loved motorbiking in the stunningly beautiful countryside surrounding Pai and proved to be the most efficient way to see all the sights as they are spread out. The days we spent motorbiking around the valleys, villages and waterfalls were just so cool and a real highlight of this trip. We have been extremely selective at renting motorbikes (really mopeds as they have no gears) as many young backpackers can be seen walking around town with gauze wrapped around their legs and elbows as a result of crashes. We are renting these things in places only where traffic is light (i.e. beach areas and smaller country towns where they are absolutely necessary to efficiently and independently get around). Note, If you are a fitness kinda guy, Pai is really an awesome place to go mountain biking around and is also a great place for long walks thru the scenic hills and valleys which provides a real good workout.
While the growth of Pai has been rapid, more or less every farm in the valley seems to rent bungalows to the flood of Backpackers and Flashpackers. The green ricefields and all the local farms which are so pleasant to look at are all still very much in tact. Unlike the southern part of Bali where resorts have taken over the beautiful ricefields. I guess, we shall see what transpires in Pai over the next 10 years of development. I just hope they don’t screw up a good thing.
Overall, Pai was simply first rate and we are really going to miss the lifestyle here. Pai is one of my favs and gonna have to give it a double thumbs up. If you are up in the Chiang Mai area, a visit further north to Pai is an absolute must. If you want to escape the heart of the action in town which can get kinda busy and are in search of more quiet seclusion in a fantastic setting, I would suggest to choose your stay just on the outskirts of town. However, if choosing this option, a motorbike will be absolutely essential for the complete experience. I will leave you with one piece of advice……Get your ass to Pai asap!
Witching Well (probably about 6 times), Duang Restaurant, Cafecito, Earth Tone, Pai Village Boutique, Pai Treehouse Resort, Pai Hotsprings Resort, Cafe de Pai, Street Markets.
BEACHES VISITED – None. But Pai does remind me of a Thai island getaway without a beach.
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX – 8 (rolling along without any issues but when will my time be up?)
THRU THE BINOCS –
Pai has changed over the years when opium was widely available in this northern town being so close to the Golden Triangle where Laos, Burma and Thailand all meet. I think authorities have clamped down on the opium but cheap pot is readily offered and available. Even though it appears like a safe haven for potheads, I think you would have to be crazy to even take the risk. A young girl was even waving us down offering us weed while we were motorbiking thru a remote village to the local waterfall. Spending any time in a Southeast Asian prison does not seem like too much fun and a stay in one is sure to put an end to the streak of my daily foot and back massages.