Pai in the Sky

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Well; I was going to include our little three day visit to Pai in our Chiang Mai blog as it was so short, alas I rambled on for so long its probably best to break things up a little!

So, as mentioned in our previous entry, we were really settling in to life in Chiang Mai, perhaps a little too well, so we decided to shake things up a bit and head even further north to a small town called Pai!

We packed up our backpacks and left our little home away from home. To get to the bus station on the other side of town we decided to get our first tuk tuk since arriving in Thailand. It is quite amazing that it took so long, especially considering the over-eager drivers shouting to us on an almost minute-by-minute basis for business. We decided to go with a guy who parks on the corner near our hostel purely for the fact that we'd been walking past him for nearly 2 weeks turning down his offers - I think he nearly fell over backwards when we finally said yes!

The drive was everything I imagined it would be. Speeding along the main roads over-taking anything the tiny straining engine would allow us to, and of course honking the horn at any other vehicle/person/animal that dared come too close!

Finally we made it to the bus station in one piece and I 'parked' myself with our luggage as Mark went to get tickets. We bought some snacks for the journey (becoming more savvy after the train episode) and after only an hour or so wait, our backpacks were on the roof of a small white mini-bus and we were off! (As I watched the driver secure our bags under an elasticated net, I had to smile to myself thinking about how you could never do that in Africa. A place where our truck driver once had someone try and steal the hub cabs off the truck while it was still moving!)

The journey was a nauseating three and a half hours of twists, turns and hair-pin bends up and down green mountainside. At one point we actually had to stop for two female passengers to be sick on the side of the road! I tried to sleep to block out the motion but, because the bends were so sharp, I was being flung around alternating between slamming against the window and Mark. As for the snacks we brought along, the thought of even trying to consume them provoked mental images of scouts on 'Jim'll Fix It'.

When we finally arrived in Pai and I stepped off the mini-bus it took a few minutes for the ground to stop moving underneath my feet! Once we had adjusted to being on terra firma again we could appreciate the sight of the tiny little town surrounded by huge green mountains on all sides and set off to find some accommodation.

After visiting a few guest houses (and getting a little worried because there were no vacancies) we found The Golden Hut Bungalows which was an amazing place along the riverside in lush jungle-y surroundings and although they only had a 3 bed room available we took it - for only 5 pounds a night we couldn't complain!

The bulk of our stay in Pai was spent sampling the local cuisine (it's a tough life!) and browsing the extensive market which comes to life along the streets after sundown. The main event of our three days however was our visit to Thom's Elephant Camp!!!

The transport to the camp which lay just outside town was a seat in the back of a pick up but as the day was already scorching hot at 8:30am the breeze as we drove Thai-style (i.e. ridiculously fast along twisting roads) was a welcome relief! I was just lamenting the drop in air current as we slowed down when we pulled under a massive barn structure FULL of elephants!

I'm not sure what I expected exactly - it being an elephant camp and all - but I certainly was not expecting to have 5 or 6 of the massive beasts just hanging around to greet us as we jumped out the back of the truck. Mark and I were both a little wary of their size, although not as big as some of their relatives we'd seen in Africa, these were still between nine and ten foot tall at the shoulder - and they were approaching us for 'cuddles'!

The staff were clearly used to nervous tourists and led us towards the beasts and encouraged us to feed, stroke and even receive 'trunk cuddles' from them. Needless to say I was smitten straight away and will be submitting my letter to Father Christmas this year with only one pachyderm related request.

After getting to know our elephant (whose name was Ott) it was time to climb on for our ride, we chose to ride bare-back as opposed to getting a seat. Mark went first listening to the mahout's instructions involving pulling up on the poor elephants ear. With one word from her mahout Ott raised her leg to help mark up and with one swift heave he was sitting on her back...then it was my turn. I'm not known for being particularly nimble at the best of times so when you throw into the mix having to pull on a poor animals ear to get up, I didn't have the heart (or the strength!) to do it, so after falling back down I sloped of to climb up on a platform, provided for physically challenged people like me, to mount!

Once we were both on we headed out to the mountainside. It took a little while to get used to the rocking motion as Ott plodded along - I kept feeling like I was going to fall, although Mark claims that where I sat on her neck was far easier to hold on to than where he was on her back!
The scenery was amazing and Ott proved to be 100 times more nimble than I will ever be as she navigated the tiny dirt track climbing up steep banks and over big fallen logs. The scary bit came when she was descending a particularly steep decline which required Mark and I to basically LIE back along her spine to keep from falling over her head. After the mountain trail we then waded into the river where the water line came to just below where our feet hung and we trekked upstream for half an hour or so. On our way back to camp I dropped our camera's lens cap onto the main road. It was 10 feet below me on the ground but with one word form our mahout, Ott turned around and picked up the tiny thing delicately in her trunk (the instrument we had just witnessed her use to tear up huge strips of bamboo grass) and passed it gently over her head into my hands! It was pretty amazing (even if the cap did get covered in elephant spit).

As we dismounted after our 1 and a half hour trek our legs were pretty painful (although Ott seemed fine!), so we headed to a spa in the camp which contained natural hot spring water. Despite the faint smell of sulphur from the spring water, relaxing into the heat felt amazing on our aching limbs. I stayed in there until my fingers and toes had turned to prunes but soon I had to reluctantly get out to say our goodbyes to Ott and the other elephants.

The next day my thighs were insanely stiff (although of course Mark's were worse!) but it was definitely up there with one of the best things we've done in Asia so far. We enjoyed our last few hours in Pai lapping up the scenery and indulging in some more local cuisine, before getting back into a mini-bus to take us 'home' to Chiang Mai.

That morning we had the foresight to take an anti- travel sickness tablet each so the return journey was not quite as stomach churning as the first. See - becoming more and more savvy with every day!
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