Although I was perfectly content in Chiang Mai I made the decision to pack up my bags and head north to the "hippy backpacker, come for 2 days stay for a week" town of Pai. Since before I even left for my trip to SE Asia I had been hearing stories of the beautiful little town, whether it was through travel blogs, Instagram or other travelers I met the message was the same "Do not miss Pai!". There's really only one downside attached to a trip to Pai and that's in getting there; the road from Chiang Mai includes 762 winding turns along narrow mountain roads. You basically have two options, pop some motion sickness pills and tough it out on the bus or hire a motorbike and hope you don't end up like 1/4 of the people walking around Pai with cuts, scrapes, and bruises. I was back n' forth between the two options but ultimately chose the bus, I figured I'd rather puke in a bag than wipe out on the side of the road.
Aside from the fact that I was meeting my friends Amy and Josh, whom I met on the epic trek a few days before, I had little to nothing planned for Pai. I heard great things about how the city 'kidnaps' its visitors so I figured it couldn't be too hard to figure it all out once I got there. The bus ride was surprisingly bearable, although had I not outgrown my motion sickness over the past few years I probably would have been in trouble.
Josh and Amy were staying at 'Spicy Pai' and had already reserved me a dorm bed there, it's pretty nice arriving in a new city and not having to deal with the logistics of where to stay or how to get there. I spent the better part of the afternoon hanging out in hammocks and meeting other travelers while waiting for Josh, Amy, and a few others to return from the waterfalls. When everyone was finally back at the hostel, showered and hungry we made our way into town to check out "Walking Street" which promised some good eats. Much mellower than the night market in Chiang Mai we were able to walk the street, grab some snacks, do some shopping and not be hassled by 8000 vendors all selling the same crap.
After a quick stop at the liquor store, where I was somehow convinced into sharing a bottle of Hong Thong with Josh we made our way back to Spicy for some pre-drinks and card games. With a mix of what tasted liked a Captain and coke and a few rounds of Ride the Bus I immediately felt like I was back at University, or at least studying abroad. It's always fun playing drinking games with people across the world, comparing rules, learning new versions and overall making loads of new friends. We eventually found ourselves at "Don't Cry" the only bar open late into the evening and eventually finished the night somewhere around 4am with a ham and cheese toasty from 7/11 because there is no other acceptable end to a night out in Pai.
I was pleasantly surprised with my lack of a hangover the next day but still eager to join the rest of the crew for a lazy day poolside. Fluid swimming pool is located only a short scooter ride away from Spicy Pai which worked out perfectly for us, they charge a 60 baht entrance fee but once you're in you can come and go as you please all day, which is precisely what we did. After turning myself into a tomato I decided to call it quits, joined Josh for a ride back to shower and get ready for the evening, which was basically a repeat of the prior night's events.
On my third day in Pai, I figured I should probably do some sightseeing before leaving the town. Unfortunately, we woke up and were booted from our room, turns out they overbooked and we hadn't told them we wanted to stay another night. Upon recommendations from others in town, we moved to Darlings Viewpoint which offered just what it says "an amazing viewpoint". The dorm we were given fit at least 10 people but we were the only ones in it so we had our pick of the beds, which was nice since the first one I sat down on was sprawling with ants. My plans to see anything were trumped by lunch in town and movies at our hostel, which continued all night (for Josh and I since we decided to pass on another night of drinks).
Finally, on my fourth day in the city, I rose early, took advantage of the amazing view with some AM yoga and tried to join Amy for a Thai cooking class. She had met a local women at the bar the night before and had been invited to her guesthouse for cooking and a celebration of Buddha Day. Unfortunately, the woman never showed so instead, I found myself heading out to Pai Canyon with Amy's friend Ash. It was a beautiful day but extremely hot for hiking around an arid canyon; we took a few short paths but eventually gave up and opted for a seat in the shade. We also stopped at Pai Strawberry which reminded me a great deal of Korea, everything was cute and shaped like or made from strawberries; seriously nothing special but thanks to the tourism now a must see in Pai. We ended our day by watching the sunset from the giant Buddha on the hill; despite my hesitation as we walked up the mountain "This sunset is going to be crap" the skies were gorgeous, I take back what I said.
With no plans for the night Josh, Amy and I went to town for dinner, massages and shopping. While checking out some rings Amy ran into one of the guys she met the night before (friends with the woman having the party). He asked if we still wanted to go and of course our answer was yes, a few minutes later there were two men on bikes outside waiting for us, talk about service. The party was a small gathering of locals and a few long term backpackers, we shared drinks, food and good conversation along with a new game called "the watermelon game" which resulted in a few people in the pool (not me thankfully).
Although I made my way back to Chiang Mai (and eventually Vietnam) after only four days I can see how the city can suck you in, there's a feeling of comfort there. It's like going over to your Grandma's house, sitting down with some kind of unhealthy but oh so good snack and knowing you won't be leaving anytime soon. Despite the fact that most people come not knowing anyone, when you leave it's like saying goodbye to family. I actually did have one motivator for visiting Pai, and that was to get a tattoo. I planned to visit Magic Monkey, thanks to my friend Alice, but when I went to ask them about the design and prices I found out they were fully booked for the next week, much to my dismay. So there's the catch on Pai, I've already promised to come back.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.