Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
33Trip End Mar 10, 2008
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Pai is a strange and wonderful little town. It's more like a European resort community nestled in the the middle of gorgeous rice paddies and mountainous jungles than it is a small town of 3,000 in Northern Thailand. And it's a total hippie town, with hundreds of young rasta-wannabes listening to Bob Marley, making beaded jewelry, teaching yoga, playing guitar (badly) on the street corners, wearing flowing and embroidered skirts, and taking advantage of the more casual enforcement of local drug laws
I took a mini-bus from Mae Hong Son, a three-hour trip that took us east through the mountains, winding up endless switchback roads before descending into Pai on Sunday afternoon. I decided to stay about a mile southeast of town to avoid some of the congestion and crowds, and found a great little guest house called The Sun Hut. Really comfortable bungalows tucked away in the woods with community hammocks, an organic garden, and great fruit shakes, for about $15 a night.
As I checked in, I bumped into two fellow travelers from Switzerland - Astrid and Pascale - who coincidentally ended up staying in the bungalow next to mine. We hit it off right away and ended up spending the bulk of the next two days together. After traveling solo for almost six weeks, it was a nice change of pace and we had a great time exploring the area.
Over the next couple of days, we trekked a lot- over 30 kilometers in all - through the mountain jungles, countless stream crossings, and on the main roads. We visited Wat Phra That Mae Yen, which overlooks the valley from atop a hill, and received a blessing from one of the monks. We ate extremely well- breakfasts at an amazing pastry shop downtown, sandwich lunches on the trails, and great dinners in town- and were able to offer alms to the monks making their rounds on Tuesday morning. There was great shopping in Pai- a lot of the same stuff that you see in Chiang Mai, but dozens of specialty stores with hip clothes, tribal artifacts, and other souvenirs
But the highlight was probably the elephant ride in the jungle. On Monday, we hiked down to Thom's Pai Elephant Camp and took an hour-long bareback ride (the elephant was bareback, not us) into the mountains on our new friend, Nom, an enormous 57-year old elephant. We had a great Thai guide who encouraged Nom along the jungle trail, and Nom mostly listened to the guide unless he got hungry, in which case he would make unscheduled detours to forage for grass and baby palm trees. There was an unfortunate incident in which I ended up with elephant spit on me - I was riding up front on his neck, with my legs tucked behind his ears - but I'm pretty sure it was unintentional on his part. It was definitely an unforgettable and fun experience!
Pascale and Astrid headed out to Mae Hong Son on Tuesday and I stayed in Pai for one more night before hopping back on the bus to Chiang Mai. We have some of the same scheduled stops on our travel itinerary over the next month, including Luang Prabang and the beaches of Thailand, so we may not have seen the last of each other. And I'm enjoying being "home" in Chiang Mai for a couple of days before I head out to Laos this weekend.
I hope all is well back in the States- I hear I missed a great Super Bowl and that Obama and Hillary split the delegate count on Super Tuesday (go Barack!). Enjoy the many attached pictures and take care.