Pai is the place. The place where you just chill out in a hammock all day, doing absolutely nothing. Where everybody can walk around barefoot, and women without bras. Nothing really happens, and that is exactly why everything is possible in Pai. It is a place where you go without knowing how long you will stay (unless you have flight you need to catch). Every day, you will go to the reception and extend your stay at your hotel for another night. You could do it like Adrien from Belgium, of course, and book for “two weeks for now” before you find a hammock that you won’t leave for that time. And Jay and Mary, the couple from England can’t even remember how long they have been here.
This village in the mountains in the North of Thailand must have been discovered by some Hippies a long time ago, (both Thai and foreigners), and since then it has evolved to a colorful town that attracts hippies, backpackers, stoners and other curious souls.
What to do in Pai?
Well. Officially, you visit the Canyon, the cave, the bamboo bridge, and go rafting.
But the truth is, people come to lounge in hammocks.
“Tom, have you moved at all today?”
“Yes, I went to get some food next door, and after that I had to pick another hammock.”
“Could someone throw me the bug spray, please?”
All day long. Just don’t move too much. And my personal favorite: “Mary, could you check if there is a fly on my knee?”
In the evening, you hit the “Walking Street” to get street food and handmade souvenirs. The vendors already know how those farang like it: as little plastic as possible, so they have wooden furniture, and pack the food in banana leaves and paper bags. Fortunately, I can get tiny portions of everything, so I don’t have to settle on one dish tonight. For vegans, Pai is also a paradise. Originally, I had booked two days, but even in the five that I eventually stay, I don’t get to try out all of the vegan restaurants and cafés.
Following the cliché, I sit down to have my dreadlocks decorated by Pu, and while he works, I eat my Burmese tea leave salad and chat with him and his girlfriend Ines. He is from the South of Thailand, but has been living in Pai for seven or eight years now. His dreads reach down to his thighs. Ines is Slovenian and has been spending the majority of her time in Thailand for about ten years. He makes his money with decorating people’s hair, she makes jewelry, and both design clothes, mostly from discarded fabric from the local tailors. Suddenly, the whole town goes dark. Ines lights my hair with her phone, so that Pu can keep working.
I spend, of course, a lot of time in a hammock, reading and watching people. I go to watch the sunrise near the white Buddha and take walks in the village. Before noon, the streets are usually deserted. I try out the cafés Pu has recommended: Om Garden café, Art in Chai, Bom Bowls, fat cat, Earth Tone.
There, I share a smoothie with the woman on the table next to mine, and as I come in with a girl from Stuttgart, who has been living in Laos for almost a year now, and is also by herself, we sit down together, with a high school drop out from the UK and a young Swede. It’s normal in Thailand to share food and drinks, to drink from the same straw as people you’ve just met (or your boss), and to take food from each other’s’ plates with a used spoon. In Pai, foreigners do all that, too. So we share our stories and our food, and then everyone goes their way again.
When I return to the hostel after lunch, the others have usually made their way from the bed to the hammock, and we spend the afternoon talking, reading, dong nothing. Today, I persuade Toby, the Scot who lives in Berlin, to go to the Canyon with me, as he has a scooter.
And when it gets dark, and thus cooler (even in the mountains, we’re talking 38-41 degrees Celsius during the day here), the streets are suddenly full. I end up talking to Cass, who works in one of the bars, in the middle of a street – the scooters have to go around us, whatever. Then I watch the people passing by: barefoot girls in short, tie-dyed dresses, the eighteen-year old boys with their fresh tattoos, who have probably left home for the first time in their lives. There don’t seem to be any regular tourists (the kind who wants to do sightseeing and take pictures). Also, I seem to be among the oldest visitors – everyone who is older than me has been here too long to call it a visit, they live here now. And then I end up at Ines’ and Pu’s stall, of course.
|I only glace suspiciously at the Rabbit Café
|Art in Chai
I meet them again at Earth Tone the next morning. I’m not sure if this is really the best vegan café in Pai, but it is definitely the closest to my hostel. They have brought their friend Benny form Hong Kong, who is an Upcycling designer, and we decide to share a table.
“What shall we do today?” Pu asks. “How about the river?”
Ines and benny nod. “And Ina, do you want to join?”
So two hours later we’re going through the hills outside of Pai on two scooters, passing one dry rice field after another. Being by the river seems truly like a summer vacation. A group of teenagers has brought beer and music, and a bit upstream young monks on their orange robes are having fun in the cooling water, some dogs are swimming as well. I am the only tourist out here.
Today, I end up on the other side of the market stall, chatting with Ines, Pu, and Benny. Sometimes I’m asked for the price of a necklace or some earrings, and have to answer. “Sorry, ask her, I’m just a customer as well.”
Of course, there are not only handmade souvenirs, but you can also get your classic T-Shirt in Pai. As there aren’t any sights that people will truly remember, they refer to both the vibes of the town (“Enjoy Pailand”), and the journey here. That is truly a long and winding road. “762 curves to Pai”. The three hour drive in the minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai, luggage strapped to the roof, is not for the weak stomach. But it’s definitely worth it.
You don’t come to Pai for sightseeing or adventures, and you come to Pai without a plan. Nobody really wants to leave again.
And yes, I like Chiang Mai. But who has been to Pai can never love another city in Thailand.
|This sign says everything...