April 2024

Life of Pai


So there we found ourselves – stuck on a boat in the Pacific ocean with a tiger. With nothing but turtles to eat and sea water to distil into drinkable water. We would lie on the edge of the boat, trying not to disturb that majestical beast. Whoops, that’s Life of Pi…not Life of Pai – sorry, wrong story!

Little Pai in the sky – what a funny place. Pai offers 3.14 permutations and combinations of fun. Ok, I’ll stop with the pi/pie/pai jokes and get to what it was really like. 🙂

We landed in Pai after a really sketchy 3 hour minibus ride from Chiang Mai. Our tummies really didn’t appreciate the hair pin turns which our driver thought would be fun to take at approximately 80 kilometres an hour. But, we made it. And at first, we didn’t really know what to make of it. It seemed like a deadly tourist trap filled with nothing but restaurants and shops. But after walking around, it started to grow on us. We started off in an interesting guest house called Pavee’s which felt more like an apartment – we had the whole top floor of a little house complete with a balcony. We headed out for some food and discovered a few little places offering live music. All of the locals seemed really down to earth and relaxed, and it all it took was a few hours of this to rub off onto Scott and I, your typical ‘we get bored easily and need to be doing something 24/7’ kind of couple.

I wasn’t feeling all that well, but Scott really wanted to take advantage of the live music, so I went home to bed while Scott grabbed food, headed out to one of the local bars, and in typical solo-Scott fashion, sat down with a group of travellers and listened to the excellent live music all night long.

The Most Wonderfully Random Day of the Adventure

Sandy and Otto's Chai outfit

Sandy and Otto's Chai outfit

Our first whole day in Pai was when things definitely got amazing. We switched guest houses to a really cheap little bungalow at the adorable Unicorn Guesthouse. It was tiny and quaint, with a dirt-floor bathroom (with pebbles over top to make it a bit lest rustic) and a hammock for lounging out front. It also had a nice little pool which we enjoyed.

As we were walking to the new guesthouse, a lady in a shop (that I had been eying since the previous evening for it’s “Fresh Chai Tea” sign) called out a warm greeting, welcoming us to Pai. So, after putting down our luggage, we went straight over to get a cup of chai. Turns out the friendly lady is Sandy, an ex-pat Swede who is with Otto, a Thai fellow. Drinking the delicious chai (which Sandy and Otto made by grinding fresh herbs in a mortar) felt like being invited into their home – their little outfit was adorable and very homey feeling. And they were some of the friendliest people we’ve met on this trip. Turns out that Otto is an artist, and is known for making tanktops and t-shirts. Well, I couldn’t resist, and decided to commission a nice flower design top for myself, depicting my most favourite Thai flower.

We decided we would just rent a motorbike and take off for the rest of the day – for only $5, we rented a bike for 30 hours (cost of petrol was about $2 to fill the tank) and off we went into the countryside. We decided to make our way to the Mo Paeng waterfall. To get to the waterfall, you had to pass through a few hill tribe villages, where we were offered marijuana by all the local ladies who would yell at you and make the smoking joint signal with their fingers and mouths as you passed by on your bike. It was pretty funny.

View of the mountains from the top of Mo Paeng waterfall

View of the mountains from the top of Mo Paeng waterfall

The waterfall was very nice and quiet – travelling Thailand during low season and during a period of civil unrest is actually amazing. More to come on those benefits later. There were a few tourists, but mostly, there was a group of local Thai boys playing around. These guys were nuts – going down sections of the waterfall like a waterslide and doing flips off the rocks into the pools. It was quite scary because we’re only at the very beginning of the wet season, so water tables are low still.

On our way back from the waterfall, I saw some signs for piranha fishing. So, we followed the signs and came to a lovely little resort type place with a giant pond. The owner, a British fellow named Dave, got us all set up for fishing. We chose some Thai sausage as our bait – which, incidentally, turned out to be AWESOME, because the sausage jokes that we could make about it were endless. I’ll leave those to your imagination…

Fishin for Piranhas

Fishin for Piranhas

We met a very interesting and chauvinist old Scottish doctor (complete with Thai girlfriend/mistress), who really thought he was the shiznat at fishing. I played along and pretended to be a clueless and helpless female, asking him tons of questions about how to fish (even though I fished quite a bit as a child and totally know what I’m doing). I managed to catch myself three fish in about two hours, which pissed the doctor off to no end – he seemed very distraught that I, as a woman, was “beating” him. He kept calling the tally “estrogen 1, testosterone, 0.” In the end, I had caught two pirhanas and a tom tim, Scott caught nothing, and he had caught one carp. He just couldn’t get over it and kept making a big deal out of the situation…it was pretty funny.

Anyway, after our random visit to the piranha fishing place, we got back on our bike, in search of the next adventure. Our next stop led us to “Mama’s” – a yoga studio run by a very crazy 63-year-old who claims that she “looks so good” (her words) because she does yoga every day and eats vegetarian food. She told us that if we spend a week with her, that we too, can have the same wonderful fate. We signed up for her morning class to give it a try and went on our merry way. We ate dinner at a delicious food stall and then bopped over to a club called “Bebop” for some live tunes.

Jammin’ with the Thais

Scott jammin' with the Thais

Scott jammin' with the Thais

When we arrived at Bebop, we quickly discovered we were the only people there. A band was set to play, but hadn’t been playing (since the place was empty), and so they started talking to us before their set. Scott looked up at the stage and said “is that a keyboard?” and the guy replied “yeah, you play? It’s someone else’s, but I can ask if you can use it.” And so, Scott ended up playing an entire set with the band, and I was pretty much the only person in the audience besides the bar maid. It was awesome.

The next act was an old Swedish guy named Norbert and a Thai girl named Ohm – we had seen them the night before at a different club. Norbert is an awesome classical guitarist and really funky hippy man, and Ohm has a gorgeous voice. They mostly played Joni Mitchell and Chantal Kreviazuk (woo hoo on the Canadian women!) and so I requested some Sarah McLaughlin to add to the mix. When their set ended, Norbert thanked us for being the audience and singing along with the tunes.

The last act of the night was a very terrible Thai band, with one of the singers being absolutely tone deaf. Literally. We couldn’t recognize any of their songs until the chorus came…it began to become a really funny game. But with this band came droves of Thai tourists…all VERY drunk and out of control. The girls were dancing seductively with anything that resembled a pole, and one woman (picture a hunch-backed, short haired, tattoo’d lady), obviously homosexual, started trying to hit on me and make me dance with her. It became a bit uncomfortable and it was 1 a.m anyway, so we took off. We needed to get some sleep before Mama’s yoga class the next morning.

The Strangest Random Day of the Adventure

The next day, beginning with Mama’s yoga, was equally as random as its predecessor, but in a very different way than the first had been.

We arrived at Mama’s house at 10 a.m., after a VERY rough night of sleeping on the most slanted bed I have ever witnessed. It was like trying to sleep on a hill, rolling towards the ground. NOT fun. Upon arrival at Mama’s, we were sent upstairs, past a bedroom filled with giant overstuffed teddy bears, and into the general area of the house which consisted of a tin roof, wooden floors, and straw mats lined everywhere. The walls were strewn with Mama in her heyday – as a young beautiful woman winning many awards in what it appeared were beauty pageants.

So after five minutes, Mama comes in and says “meditate for 30 minutes.” There were two other people in the class with us. We must have given her a funny look, because she said “you no mediate before?” We clarify that yes, we have never meditated before. She says “ok. Sit still. 30 minutes. Clear your mind. Do not think of yesterday or tomorrow. If you have a thought, pull it out. Make mind still.” And that was it. No tips on how to sit, no nice little mantras to start off with…nothing. Well, I’ve read plenty about meditating, and it’s definitely easier said than done. After about 10 minutes my feet started to fall asleep and Scott started moving around on the wooden floor which created a ruckus. I think Mama got fed up with us because she called the meditation to a stop and we got right into yoga.

Now, this was the worst yoga I’ve ever experienced in my life. She gave no direction and didn’t create a nice environment at all. She kept grunting – left, right, left right, and often we wouldn’t do the same amount of repetitions on each side. She would also say “go as far as you can” and that would be it. No direction on proper technique. The highlight of the class was when she tried teaching us headstands by using the tin roof as a place to put our feet. After helping us once, she went back to her mat and proceeded to sit on her head for at least 10 minutes while we all stared at her. Another highlight was when a millipede suddenly appeared on my mat, under where my bottom had been just moments before. Awesome. But I think my favourite was how she kept giving us ridiculously long savasanas (rest periods) and would go tinker in her house – I heard her sweep the floor, wash some dishes, put something in the microwave, etc. – it was hilarious.

Once class was “finished” we all got to sit and enjoy some fruit from Mama’s yard. She basically force-fed us 10 pieces of fruit each saying “Like to give more than receive. And this is the best fruit you will ever have. I picked it from garden moments ago.” She then introduced us to her “sons” – two dogs who had remained silent the whole class, but who started barking when Mama ordered them to. The one dog, a golden retriever, went crazy and ran circles around us for a solid 15 minutes. Then she brought out another “son” – this massive cat with the longest hair I’ve ever seen. It looked like a bear. She told us that some farangs gave it to her because they were leaving Thailand….and she has to be very careful with it because it scares the Thai people. They don’t believe her that it’s a cat and they’ve tried to kill it before. After about 20 minutes of eating and listening to Mama lecture us on what it means to be a good person, Scott and I politely excused ourselves and got the heck outta there. All in all, it was a very odd and strange experience. We had also injured our backs from improper yoga technique.

The free hot springs - and they were hot.  At 80°C, you couldn't even touch them.

The free hot springs - and they were hot. At 80°C, you couldn't even touch them.

After “yoga,” we got back on our motorbike and cruised out to the hot springs. We passed by a few elephant camps on the way, where they apparently “save” injured elephants and train them to play with tourists. We had almost planned on doing an elephant ride again here, but after some research, decided it is not a positive tourist activity. We read that although these places claim that they rescue the elephants from tough circumstances and that they treat them properly, they really don’t. We figured we’d already had the poor experience in Laos with the elephants (and I rode the one in Phnom Pehn), so we opted out.

We arrived at the hot springs, and found that they were something like what we saw in Rotorura in New Zealand, but they wanted an exorbitant $7/person just to enter and see them. We opted for the free version outside the gates and then mosey-d on.

The rocks in the Pai Canyon made a very slim rock face - barely wide enough to walk down

The rocks in the Pai Canyon made a very slim rock face - barely wide enough to walk down

Our next stop was a canyon, which was pretty interesting. We hiked around for a bit, but the path was pretty scary and it looked like it was going to rain. We would have been dead meat out on the ledge if it started pouring, so we kept our exploration minimal. It was pretty amazing though – it was so quiet and our surroundings so serene, we felt like the only people on earth.

After that, we rode to find another waterfall, and found a “land crack” instead. It is a place where the land has separated, and apparently the Thai people can’t figure out why. We figure that it is a result of very wet land (it seems to keep cracking further around October/November, at the end of the wet season) sliding into the adjoining ravine. Finally, we made it to the waterfall, but it was very disappointing. Someone has been using it as a garbage dump, so there were cans and garbage everywhere…and it was so tiny and not pretty at all. We hiked around a bit, but left in a bit of disappointment.

The "land crack"

The "land crack"

We capped off the night with a few drinks and some of the most amazing vegetarian food I have ever tasted at a live jazz club called “Edible Jazz.” Here, we ran into Sandy and Otto and a few other of their local friends which was cool. On the way home, we found an adorable little dog with a hurt paw who followed us quite far down the road. When I stopped to pet her, she laid down in the middle of the street, put her belly in the air, and begged for me to rub her belly. It was very cute, but it was kind of weird rubbing a dog’s belly full of nipples. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. I will miss all the random stray dogs and cats and puppies and kitties in Asia though – they have definitely provided endless moments of entertainment for me.

We spent our last day in Pai lounging around and hanging out with an artiste named Poh at his studio and got a few more works of art commissioned. We boarded the last minibus to Chiang Mai at 4 p.m. (which was empty aside from us – LOVE travelling Thailand right now with no one around!), and waved goodbye to the wonderful little place that Pai is.

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