Thailand: Pai

After a big New Years in Chiang Mai, I headed northwest to a hippie little town called Pai, up in the mountains. I wasn’t looking forward to the journey: there are 762 turns in about 3 hours, and is consequently notorious for making people sick. Luckily, my Stugeron did its job, and I arrived a lighter shade of green than I’d been prepped to expect. I’d gone up there with a girl I met at the elephant day who was staying at my hostel in Chiang Mai. We checked in and headed out to the lovely Om Garden Café, where we met some other girls from our hostel in Chiang Mai. We had a very tasty lunch followed by a slab of the café’s famous carrot cake, and waddled back feeling a little heavier… Their sandwiches and salads are also really good, definitely give it a visit.

The dreamy carrot cake at Om Garden Café

On the way back, I embraced the hipster vibe of the town and bought a vintage plaid shirt to use as a jacket when my North Face is a little too much! We walked back to the hostel and joined in the socialising. Common Grounds was a great, sociable hostel with some really fun people and staff. The dorms are also really comfy and clean, and the location is fab – I would highly recommend staying there.

When we arrived, there was a game of pool going on with some money at stake for the last man standing – having started with 3 lives, losing one each time you fail to pot a ball on your turn. We were a bit late to join this (though my pool skills are abysmal so this might have been just as well) but it was fun to watch, and we all had a few drinks before heading to Mojo, a jazz bar out in town.

The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, the 4 of us girls from Chiang Mai met up for a day tour of the countryside round Pai. We endured a very windy hour’s drive to our first stop, the Tham Lod Cave. Feeling happy to be off the cattle truck of a van, we followed the guide into the cave. It was quite different to the caves I visited in Vietnam – the first difference being the lights! Rather than a rigged-up system lighting the walkway, each guide carried a gas lamp, which made it that bit more atmospheric – and a little more hazardous walking when the lamp went round a corner… We wandered through the huge cave, past stalagmites, stalactites and stones that looked like various animals, down to a little lake. We got on little bamboo rafts which took us through the water to another part of the cave which was fun, though the smell of bat droppings really was a bit overwhelming on a hangover…

Entering Tham Lod Cave, lamps at the ready
Bamboo rafting through Tham Lod Cave

After the cave, we had some tasty local lunch, then piled back onto the truck to head to our next stop; the Sai Ngam hot springs. They were a little underwhelming in appearance, but the water was lovely and clear, so it was a bit like having a bath! We stewed in the spring for a little while before we trucked to the Pai Canyon for sunset, with a quick stop at the modest Mo Paeng waterfall on the way. It was quite cloudy so not the best sunset I’ve ever seen, but the canyon itself is quite interesting, you have a great view – and I bumped into a British couple I met in Dalat which was nice!

Relaxing in the Sai Ngam hot springs
Sunset over the Pai Canyon

The tour was quite good value for the distances we covered – we paid 500฿ for the day with Backtrax Tours. It’s worth bearing in mind that the cave is about an hour away, but even if you motorbike up there you still have to pay for entry and a guide, as you’re not allowed in without a guide. If you’re keen to pack everything into one day, it was a good way to do it – though if I’d have gone myself, I think I would have chosen some different hot springs, and maybe would have swerved the waterfall as I’d seen better earlier in my trip.

The group at the canyon

The evening’s activity at the hostel was the quiz. A few of us joined forces and did pretty well with our knowledge on travel and the years 2000-10, but we were denied victory by the bonus rule: as well as for correct answers, you got a point for every drink you bought, so we were beaten outrageously by a team who wrote no answers, but played drinking games throughout. Clearly, we went for the wrong tactic, but I like to think we won in principle…

Our quiz mascot, one of the hostel dogs

My last day in Pai was very lazy. I went for breakfast with the girls, and we had some delicious avocado and salmon – all very Shoreditch. We ate at Lemon Thyme, which was good, but maybe not as good as some other places we’d heard about such as Earth Tones. There are so many nice cafés in Pai, you could easily spend your time there going from coffee crawl to bar crawl… We then wandered back through the stalls and I bought some postcards, which I came back to my hostel and nestled into the common area to write. We went to the walking street night market for dinner (a really good market they have on every night with some delicious food and various trinkets – hunt for the curry puffs and mushrooms wrapped in bacon) before having a couple of drinks and going down to the jazz bar again. I had an earlier night than previously, which I think was sensible before the windy journey back down to Chiang Mai the next morning…

Breakfast feasting at Lemon Thyme

It’s easy to see how people get ‘stuck’ in Pai, booking 2 nights and being there 2 weeks; it’s got beautiful scenery, a chilled out daytime vibe, great food and shopping and fun nightlife. Leave yourself a few buffer days, that’s for sure…

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 13, including one of the staff at Common Grounds who lives 10 minutes from my parents and used to work with one of my friends.
Interaction was: early vindication of my Brits in Thailand theory, and even closer to home than I expected!

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield

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