“Are you taking the Barf Bus” said a good friend a few months before we started our journey. The term ‘bus’ wasn’t discouraging but ‘barf’ encouraged us to take a car.
Heading towards Pai we climbed upwards for what seemed like an eternity through the heavy rain. The spectacular scenery consisted of thick dense forest broken up with glimpses of mountain peaks and deep valleys before finally heading down into the valley where Pai is situated.
Pai is still unspoilt and free from the large hotel chains that dominate many of the popular tourist spots in Thailand. Small independent hotels, resorts and homestays litter the main road into Pai with the centre mainly populated with restaurants, bars and shops and market stalls peddling much of the usual fare.
We passed through the centre of town and turned off the main road into a quiet back road where we found our beautiful traditional Thai house that would be home for the next week.
There so much to do in Pai. With the surrounding countryside offering everything from the traditional way of life to outstanding areas of beauty like the extensive bamboo bridge across the rice fields, canyons, hot springs and views across the Pai valley. Evenings were just as diverse with a vibrant market, live music and a plethora of bars and restaurants offering wonderful traditional food as well as cuisine from all over the world. All this to do and yet sitting quietly on the veranda of our quaint Thai home, with a beer, seemed just as inviting.
First things first, we grabbed a scooter as started to explore. Heading north and into the forest we searched for the hot springs. In some ways it’s the last thing that you need in the hot 30 deg heat but lying in the warm water listening to nothing but the cicadas and the sound of the water running over the falls was a joy.
The following day we drove south and Pai Canyon. En route there is a small land split, as they call it, that was created by an earthquake 2008. Its run by a local whose land it is on. There is no entrance fee just a donation box which is kind of sweet and refreshments in the shade after. It’s a great walk through the split and a great experience which was well worth the donation that we left.
Moving on from the land split we headed further into the jungle and arrived soon after at the Bamboo Bridge. It’s an amazing structure. About 1km long, floating above the rice fields and built by the locals to make it easier for the monks to reach the local town from the temple that sits at the end of the bridge. Every day the monks visit the town with small wooden bowls to receive donations usually in the form of food. It’s a stunning walk above the rice fields to the end every so often passing the rice farmers who always smiled and said hello.
After the bridge we headed for Pai Canyon. Pai Canyon or Kong Lan in Thai, is a unique geographical area has been formed by continuous erosion over decades. Its geological formations are quite stunning and there are beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. The carved narrow ledges and slabs that have survived the erosive actions have created steep 30 metre cliff drops and a series of narrow walkways that snake out into the valley. After a long walk it was great to just sit and watch the rain pass through the canyon.
A real highlight of our stay in Pai was the river rafting. A great 1-day adventure on a winding 45 km stretch of river through untouched jungle and a wildlife sanctuary. Arriving early, we were met by a family of gibbons swinging through the trees. Given the nature of our day and the proximity of water I did not take my camera with me, so the picture is a little fuzzy. It was meant to be a wild ride but sadly the water level was low so we meandered slowly down the river, passing small waterfalls, running through bushes that emptied hundreds of jumping spiders into the raft, negotiating the odd small rapid and generally enjoying the view.
Stopping for lunch we made a friend. A butterfly that insisted on stopping on my hand. It’s always great to get so close to nature.
We also got to meet with the local rangers navigating the river on traditional rafts. It was a long day but a fruitful and spectacular one and after all the paddling the cold shower and refreshments at the end were very welcome.
We had so many great evenings walking the markets, eating in the numerous restaurants and listening to live music which was plentiful given that we had arrived at the start of the Jazz festival. The Blah Blah Bar was memorable for Gee the crazy owner and the constant loud punk and rock music that he played.
On our last night we moved away from the busy centre of town and headed for the white Buddha. A large structure built on the side of a hillside with incredible views across the Pai valley. From there we relaxed at the Sundown Playground where we sat drinking cocktails watching the sunset. A fitting end to our time in Pai where chilling was key.