“Well that was amazing…”
“… but I couldn’t have taken another day of it.” We laughed in agreement, snuggling into our sleeper bunks on the night train to Chiang Mai. Heather and I were more or less fleeing Bangkok after five hectic days of hanging with an award-winningly rowdy group of guys. As much fun as we had had, I don’t think my body could have handled another night of bars, fast food benders and playing Cards Against Humanity until the sun came up.
It was time for it to be just the girls again.
And we knew the perfect place to recover. In my original plan for this time back in Thailand, I estimated I’d spend about two weeks up in Pai, a place I’d longed to return to since my first hazily blissful visit back in early 2013. But then I fell all kinds of in love with Koh Tao again, and the time I’d allotted for Pai kept whittling down until it was a mere four days.
But that’s okay — I’m confident that Thailand is always going to be a big part of my life, so I’ve got plenty of time to do it all. As soon as our train pulled into Chiang Mai, we hopped in a minibus for the winding four-hour ride to Pai, and before we knew it we were deposited in the much beloved, technicolor hippie enclave in the mountains.
Upon arrival, we walked straight to , the guesthouse I had fond memories of from my first visit. And in a fun little turn of fate, I was put in exactly the same bungalow. Though Heather pointed out I seemed to have erased the bird-sized mosquitoes plaguing the room from my rose-tinted hindsight, I was still just as charmed as I had been the first time. How can you not love a riverside guesthouse with free water and bananas to boot?
I mean, not bad for $12 each per night, no?
Aside from our one excursion, which I’ll recount coming up this week, our time in Pai could not have been more laid back and relaxed. We basically bounced from river to cafe to bungalow to restaurant to massage chair and back again. We may both be ocean girls, but I think we can all agree a river this scenic is a fair substitute, as far as bodies of water are concerned.
And just to clarify, no, these are not photos of a movie set from a fantasy magical pixie dreamland. These are real photos of an actual place on planet earth. But I mean, I can see why you’d be confused.
A bit of sunning and reading by the river became an integral part of our temporary daily routine.
Another thing these two artists-at-heart loved? Wandering the streets and admiring the work of the creative community that thrives here. I found myself taking a few shots identical to the ones I’d taken years earlier, midway through releasing the shutter.
We ate ridiculously well in Pai, alternating between street food at the night market and meals at some of my favorite restaurants — most notable and . Our Thai meals were really entertaining because they made me realize how in my bubble I am in Koh Tao, knowing exactly what I like to order and each restaurant. Out of that bubble I never know what I’m going to get, and for someone as sensitive to spice as I am that can occasionally end painfully. On our third night in town Heather suggested we get pizza, gently pointing out that I had cried spice-induced tears at dinner the previous two evenings. It was a merciful move.
Though Pai has some really enticing nightlife, we only found the energy to partake on one slightly blurry night. Which is too bad — I do love the after dark scene in Pai, which has notes of both hipster and hippie, and a lot more mingling between Thais and travelers than the other parts of Thailand I’ve visited.
The rest of our evenings were spent strolling through the night market before turning in early — after all, we were exhausted from all this champion level relaxing! You don’t get to the chill-lympics by sprinting around town like crazy people, am I right? Luckily, the night market was the perfect low key entertainment option.
Once again, I bought a handmade creation from one of the talented artists that line the streets to gift my Dad upon returning home. I think Pai is one of the best places to buy one of a kind art straight from the artist — none of the mass-produced crap you find at some of the bigger markets around Thailand. Here you can talk to the artist, see their body of work, and even talk them into posing with their piece before they part with it.
Four days wasn’t nearly enough, and saying goodbye again so soon, after waiting so long to return, was a little bittersweet. But I know one thing for sure — one of these days, I will fulfill my dream of a month in an apartment here. Until then, Pai will live on as one of my favorite go-to mental vacations — and it was nice to feel that a place really lived up to the hype I’d given it in my head, upon return. There’s just something about Pai.
Stay tuned — I’ve got one more post coming up this week about my favorite little quirky Northern Thai town!