Pai in the sky

Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
Trip End Apr 15, 2014

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Flag of Thailand  , Mae Hong Son,
Friday, January 10, 2014

We are about to leave the idyllic little hippie town of Pai, which was a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai. Pai (pronounced pie) was recommended to us by a couple of friends and is full of quaint little restaurants and guest houses, and has waterfalls and hot springs close by.

A couple of people and reviews online recommend that you hire a scooter and make your own way through the mountain roads. Everyone gets about by scooter here, everyone and their dog. I mean that literally, we saw a dog on a scooter the other day, he was very casual about the whole thing, he didn't even have his tongue out. They pile their whole family on one scooter, sometimes up to 4 people at once, and the scary part is not many people wear helmets, even when they drive on motorways, and they take their children on with them, again with no helmet! The best/ worse is when they sit toddlers in front of the driver, it's very dangerous, but they hold onto the handlebars for balance, and it make it look like the kid is driving the rest of the family- and their chubby little cheeks wobble in the wind- so cute!

We were considering our options the day we went on the zip lining tour, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that we should make the journey ourselves. I think the adrenaline might have played a part in that conclusion as I have never ridden a scooter before, I've never even been on the back of one before and it's been a good ten years since I have donned the seat of a push bike- but I'm told that this is a skill that doesn't leave you for long- what's that saying? Anyway, seeing as I was totally convinced that I would be absolutely fine as I had watched several people scooter about while we came back from zip lining, Nath thought it would be wise to hire a bike and perhaps do a little practicing. I thought I would humour him but in my head, I was majestically playing out my part in the Motor Cycle Diaries, cursing through the mountains, hair flapping in the breeze. We convinced the lady at the scooter hiring shop (probably not the real name for that type of establishment) to let me have a little test drive, althought I confessed that I had never actually been on one, my bravado convinced her (and me) that I would be really good at it, so she showed me how to start it and to make it go- easy peasy! I mounted by mechanical steed, turned to give Nath a confident thumbs up and pulled back the throttle.... and nearly crashed into the wall. Thinking that I better get a move on before this lady tries to take back the bike, I composed myself and gave it another go..... and nearly crashed into the same wall- the only wall that contained this flat, wide, straight road with nothing else on it except me and the bike. I think I might have tried to give it another go but Nath shouted for me to get off the bike, when I looked round- he looked very worried and I could see my Motor Cycle Diaries dream fading away. Alas, it was not meant to be, and it dawned on me that I had essentially been outdone by spotty little hooligans that ride their scooters 'down Asdas Bedminster'. Nath consoled me with a Magnum, but let's face it, you wrap chocolate ice cram in more chocolate, a girls not going to stay glum for long. We booked a minibus and Nath dutifully agreed with me that 'scooters are sh*t and I didn't even want to go on one anyway thought'.

As it transpires, the roads to Pai look like a line that was drawn by a child- if you had given that child several espressos, a puppy and shook them upside down whilst they drew said line. Yikes is all I can say, and thank god we didn't try and do that by bike! The roads are hairpin turns up mountains, I was convinced that we weren't going to get up some parts as they were so sheer and the bus had to take most of the 700+ turns (not an exaggeration, there are 760 something) wide as you couldn't turn that sharply. We had read that people often get sick on the buses and you would have a good run if you didn't have to stop for someone to offload their lunch, so we took some pills, avoided breakfast and hoped for the best. Luckily everyone was fine, but when we stopped for a break as a shop/ restaurant at the side of the road, it had clear signs telling you not to puke in front of the shop

When we got to Pai, it was mid afternoon and we headed for our hostel, which was a bamboo bungalow by the river, just outside Pai centre. The hut itself was fine, it was a small bamboo hut on stilts, with a small bedroom and a bathroom which was at ground level, with a concrete floor, a toilet (which you flushed using water from a bucket) a sink and a shower- quite basic, but it was £10 a night, so we weren't expecting much, and it was a bit like glamping really. We went for some food and spent the rest of the day phaffing. We got a reasonably early night, and tried to bed down under the mosquito net, which had holes in it as big as my head! I don't know what kind of mozzies they have there, but I'm pretty sure they would be able to get through that! We did our best to patch it up and tried to sleep, except the people that work at the hostel were having a party, so were blasting music until the small hours of the night. Once that stopped, we got a good 90 minutes until the cockerels woke up. Oh my life, that is such an unattractive noise, and to be woken up by it made it even more painful. The worse thing was, if one crows, the other responds to it, so it's like some sort of terrible acoustic domino effect designed only to infuriate and torture people who ARE TRYING TO SLEEP! As they got louder, and the noise got uglier, I made a vow to myself to go to ninja school, learn to do a one inch punch, sneak up on a cockerel when HE is trying to sleep and POW!

Once we got up, I was grumpy and squeaky (squeaking- the female version of fatigued grunting when you want something, disapprove of something, when someone tries to change the channel, when you need a cup of tea, and is a form of communication only understood by the females partner when he knows it's best to 'just leave her to it'). Although we had booked 3 nights, we weren't going to stick that out for that long without killing someone- most likely each other, so told them we were leaving and paid for one night. Finding another place was easy as there are many guest houses, so we had moved within an hour and found a nice place for breakfast- happy bunnies once more, and booked a day tour for the next day.

We got picked up at 4am- which unfortunate didn't leave enough time for ninja school, so I had to postpone that vendetta and get on with enjoying my day. We had a couple of hours minibus ride to a national park to see the sunrise. Again the roads were very windy, but at that time of the morning and when you are in your 'sleep overdraft' it didn't bother us too much. When we got to the park, it was still quite dark, but we were told to get out and wander round for 2 hours. As we had left our big bags in Chiang Mai and only packed for a couple of days break in Pai, all Nath had to wear was t-shirts and shorts, which were fine in the day, but at night, and that early in the morning, it was bloody nippy! I was wearing some light cotton trousers, a cardie and a pashmina and was shivering but poor Nath was freezing! Normally when I offer him something I am using, he would always refuse as he is the perfect (nearly) gentleman, but when I offered him my pashmina, he accepted it, no questions. We stood on a bank and waited for the sun to come up, and waited, and shivered and waited. The sky turned orange, and it started to warm up almost instantly, but we were stood in the wrong place to see the sun, which was a shame as we could see the clouds glowing from the (I assume) spectacular sunrise. We wandered further into the park to see what we could see and walked round a lake. The park itself was made up of tall slender trees and lush grass. As we wandered about, we saw something we didn't expect to see- black swans! Roll over Natalie Portman- these are the real deal! They were so strange to us, and we managed to get really close. We only found out after we got back on the bus that you could also hire a bamboo raft for only £5 and be taken across the lake, but we did see other people do it, and it looked very peaceful. Saying that, we were pretty caught up in taking a million and one pictures, so no great loss. We went to a Chinese village for breakfast, which for us was rice and tea, and then walked round a tea plantation. Our next stop was a waterfall which was beautiful, and then onto visit the Long Neck tribe. The visit wasn't what I was expecting, I thought it would be a village but it was more like a small street of shops, selling jewellery and handmade crafts, which all felt quite staged, but the ladies were a sight to see! I really wanted to see them with their rings off and see how much their head wobbles about, but I don't think they are able to take them off without the aid of some power tools. Next was lunch, which was a soup kitchen and then onto the hot springs. You could have a mud face mask but Nath didn't want to, so we dipped out feet in the spring, which was bloody hot and then moved onto our next stop, which was the fish cave. The fish cave was down river, and the walk was beautiful. The fish were huge and a lot of them had those weird fish whiskers that creep me out a bit- but not as much as the ambulatory fish- these are the creepiest fish that has ever walked the sea bed- because they are fish, but they have little feet fins that are just sick and wrong! Anyway, we fed the fish, even the ones with whiskers and saw the cave, which was more like an alcove than a cave, but it was all very therapeutic. As we made our way to the last stop which was a viewpoint, I played 'stray dog' with Nath, which is a game that started in South America, where if you spot one of the many many stray dogs first, you can punch someone in the arm and shout 'stray dog!'. So I saw two dogs, gave him a double punch and he returns with 'stray elephant' which I thought was his attempt of a joke until I looked out the window and there was only a bloody elephant! I got excited and shouty- I think I might have flapped my hands about a bit too. He did have a man on his back (elephant- not Nath) but he was maybe a meter from the minibus- all 72 gazillions tones of him, and he magnificent. There are loads of trips you can do to ride an elephant, but they are cruel and I know I wouldn't be ok with how they treat them. One of the guys on our trip had just done one and he had a really good time, but when I spoke of my feelings about them, he looked at his feet and said 'yeah, they beat one until he bled for eating some grass', so we haven't really interacted with any elephants, but I think I would like to cuddle one for a bit.

The next day, our friends Hannah and Meg from Bristol who are traveling for a month around Thailand met us in Pai. We met in the afternoon and had a beer and a good catch up, which was great. That night, we hit the local pub quiz and hit it medieval style- no smart phones!!! Our team name was called Let's Get Quizical and we were so good we won a prize- for coming last!! We managed 18.5 out of 40 and I managed to correctly guess the answers to these:
1: What language did linguist Marc Okrand invent
2: How many episodes of Fawlty Towers were made
Answers at the bottom- no cheating!

The next day we hired scooters for the price of £1 for 24 hours per bike and once Nath and Hannah had a practice run, Meg and I hopped on the back and we scootered off to some hot springs. Nath was confident on the scooter, and I do trust him, but I am the worst backseat driver and a bossy boots and those two mixed together makes for the worst passenger ever, especially when I'm not used to being on two wheels. After only letting me on if I promised to keep my mouth shut- so as not to hen peck him/ eat flying bugs- he was actually a very good driver. I think the thought of having to tell my dad that he had hurt his last born spurred him on to be extra vigilant, especially as my dad often tells Nath to look after me when we say goodbye. Nath is in the habit of doing by dads bidding- so far he has drank a raw egg and run up an escalator the wrong way in Harrods just because my dad told him too. Boys?!

Thought of the day- Nath nan- my adopted 'Glam'ma is called Betty, but I call her B, and she, at the tender age of 70 something, bought an iPad so she can video chat with us while we are away. She is now a self proclaimed silver surfer, and when she isn't chatting with us, she is getting her 'David Hockney on' and painting on her iPad, which I think is something to be commended. My favourite thing about B is that she has made me promise that 'when she gets old' she wants to be wheeled around in her wheelchair, dressed in a onsie and a green Statue of Liberty foam hat. She has requested that her velcro slippers be encrusted with gems, glitter and sequin and in her own words 'I might take up swearing, because I think you can get away with it when you are old'.

1: Klingon
2: 12
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