I had heard so many great things about Northern Thailand so I was really excited when it was time for me to head there with my friend, Hannah.
Our first stop was Chiang Mai and we had a huge list of things we wanted to do and places we wanted to explore. When we got there however it all went out the window and we actually ended up doing very little. Instead we spent a week chilling out, cycling around the town, exploring a few temples, doing a training session at Lanna Muay Thai gym and listening to live music in reggae bars.
Highlights of my (very limited) exploration of Chiang Mai:
- Thai Massage Conservation Club – a bit different to the traditional Thai massage experience as all the masseurs are blind
- Roots Reggae Bar – discovering a new love for reggae music and drinking my own body weight in Sangsom
- Spicy Nightclub – walking through a motorbike shop to a ‘hidden’ nightclub at the back and dancing until the early hours
- Monk Chat Meditation Retreat – spending two silent days at a meditation retreat and discovering just how difficult it is to quieten my mind (tip: its perhaps not best to embark on a meditation retreat after two nights of solid drinking and a combined total of four hours sleep)
- Temples – cycling around the quaint streets and beautiful temples
- Meeting Dom, who is now my boyfriend, and Jake, a fellow Stokie, who we would end up travelling with for the next few weeks
We originally planned to hire scooters in Chiang Mai and drive the 600km Mae Hong Son Loop, but in the end we decided to head straight to Pai. As disappointed as I was to have missed the Loop, I must say that when I saw the road there I was kind of glad I wasn’t on a scooter –a 150km winding stretch of road with a stomach-churning 760 bends. Needless to say, I spent the entire time in the minibus clutching my stomach trying not to be sick as we wound around bend after bend.
Pai is a laid back, bohemian town in the mountains of Northern Thailand and a magnet for backpackers and Thais alike who go there to soak up its chilled out atmosphere and escape the heat when the rest of Thailand is baking (that’s not to say the weather is cool…just cooler).
Its one of those places that you visit intending to stay for a few days and before you know it a week has passed and you can’t quite remember exactly where it went. The days just slip away, spent relaxing in hammocks and sitting around fires listening to reggae music. I spent a total of five days there and can only fully remember perhaps one of those days, the rest all merging together into one hazy memory. It was exactly the kind of slow-paced place I needed after a few months of Muay Thai training and hectic travelling.
At night the town would light up; the main street lined with market stalls and street food vendors. Squeezed inbetween would be people hula hooping, performing circus acts and playing didgeridoos.
One day I was sat in a restaurant in the middle of Pai when I looked out and saw a man walking down the street playing a tune on his pipe, with a line of ‘followers’ trailing behind him. If I knew nothing else about Pai that would be all I needed to know – summed up in one.
Sound a bit weird? Well it is! But in a good way.
The best attractions are all out of town in the surrounding countryside and the best way to explore is to hire a scooter and get out to see some of them.
The scenery around Pai is beautiful but unfortunately we were there in March, during peak crop-burning season, so most of the views were obscured by a thick fog. It was also the middle of the dry season so most of the beautiful waterfalls around the area almost dried up.
Still, the scooter trip through the countryside was very enjoyable, driving through tiny villages and getting a glimpse of the locals’ daily life. If you’re in the area I recommend stopping at Love Pai Strawberry Café for some gorgeous refreshing strawberry juice or ice cream.
For me, the highlight of Pai was undoubtedly the canyon. We didn’t really expect much upon pulling up, maybe a few nice lookouts. But when we got there we were met by absolutely breath taking views. One of the most beautiful places I have seen in the whole of Thailand.
The canyon was huge, with incredible views over the surrounding valley and narrow pathways weaving in and out of the trees. The pathways must have been between 30 and 50 metres high (maybe even higher) and the ledges sometimes so narrow they were only as wide as a foot. If you put one foot wrong you would quite literally have died.
Discovering a fear of heights I didn’t even know I had (quite understandable when you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff I think), I spent a couple of hours exploring, taking in the surroundings and trying not to fall off. You can see from the photos below how truly incredible it all was.
Of all the beautiful accommodation to stay in around Pai we chose Circus Hostel and, in all honesty, it probably wouldn’t be my first choice on returning.
That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful because it is; perhaps one of the best settings in the whole of Pai, set high on a hill overlooking the town. The rooms are little bamboo huts built on the side of the hill, there’s a pool overlooking the town and chillout areas scattered with hammocks and bean bags. As the name suggests, it also runs a circus school teaching circus tricks to tourists; fire throwing, tightrope walking, juggling and more.
But…after two days the novelty had well and truly worn off. The best word to describe it is just uncomfortable. And yes…I know I’m a backpacker but of all the hostels and budget accommodation I have stayed in this stuck with me as one of my least favourite.
The bamboo huts were more like ovens and I would wake every morning sweating and dehydrated, the hut was always full of giant mosquitoes and the bathrooms were miles away down a dirt track and always dirty. We had to check ourselves into a luxury hotel after four nights in Circus just to recover. But….it seems to be a rite of passage for backpackers visiting Pai; a fun hostel, sociable and it has a trampoline.
So that’s my round up of my lazy few weeks in Chiang Mai and Pai. Next I’ll be back with a run down of my three-day scooter trip around the Golden Triangle.