Wed 10th – Fri 12th Oct
After a fairly chilled week (which I desperately needed), it’s time to move on from Chiang Mai. At first glance there stemmed an awful lot to do there but the more I read, the more I had question marks over certain places and activities….like Tiger Kingdom where the tigers are now just bred in captivity to keep the business going with no chance of ever being released into the wild. A lot has been done on the elephant welfare side and many sanctuaries don’t offer elephant rides as it has been proven that carrying weight on their backs is extremely bad and painful for them. The treatment in order to get them trained to do so has also come under question. Having seen elephants before in Thailand and Sri Lanka, I decide to give this a miss too for now. There’s also a visit to the Karen Long Neck communities but the more I read about this I felt really uncomfortable going to a place where you’re there to just gawp at these people.
It’s a hot morning in Chiang Mai and I get sunburned just waiting for my mini van! Finally it comes and I set off for the well known windy and twisty road…a hour journey to Pai where they advise u take motion sickness pills and bring a sick bag! Having travelled through the Andes and not ever suffering with motion sickness, I didn’t have much of a concern but the 762 curves along this road are certainly something. Feeling a tiny bit ropey, I have to stop reading and writing and just look out the window. It is certainly nice to get off.
Pai is further north in Thailand and not far from the Burma/Myanmar border. Every backpacker on the planet bangs on about Pai and it’s mountainous beauty, that once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.
My hostel is minutes from where I’m dropped off and once checked in, it’s straight to find some lunch. There’s a place full of locals on the same street and I get a pad thai for only £70p! I wander around the small town full of cafes, bars, scooter shops and tour offices. It’s a bustling little place that has over time become massively westernised. I read an article a few days ago by the author of the Thailand Lonely Planet in which he said when he first came to Pai there was nothing more than 2 shack style guest houses to stay in. Things have certainly changed – there’s even a Tesco Express!
Back at my hostel, chilling on the terrace I meet Jeff from the States who’s casually strumming some tunes on his ukulele, Juanita from Peru (awesome – someone I can speak Spanish with and talk about Peru) and there’s Michael from Oz who now lives here along with a few others. Walking Street is famous in Pai, especially in the evening when the length of it is bustling with food stalls. There is all kinds of food on offer here from kebabs to lasagne, empanadas to meat sticks, juices and crepes to your obvious Thai street food. One local delicacy u must try are the coconut and banana pancakes – delicious!
Thursday and I’m on a tour to the Lod Cave which includes a few other places also. I had an awful nights sleep and I’m not really feeling it for today. It takes 3 attempts to get the right size transport for the number of people we have, finally settling in a mini van – which is great as the heavens have decided to open and the weather is pants!
Our first stop is to the White Buddha of Pai which sits on a nearby hilltop and can be seen from the town itself. It is only 2km away so you can walk if you want if not on a tour or got a scooter. From the car park and it’s adjoining Wat, it’s 353 steps up. It’s not a tough climb, just steps. Photos taken of and with Buddha in the rain then it’s back down and into the van.
The day looks really glum and not at all like it was yesterday. It’s onto one of the must do tourist attractions here in Pai – the Lod Cave which is about 90 minutes from Pai. Once off the bus, each group of 3 is greeted by a local guide and it’s a 10 minute walk through the forest along the river to the cave entrance.
Once here, the guide lights a miners lamp and we’re escorted in until we have to get on a long bamboo raft to cross the Nam Lang River that flows through the 1500m cave to the other side.
There’s a guy with a big bamboo pole like on a gondola taking us across. Once on the other side, we clamber up some steps taking in the colourful stalactites and stalagmites. This is a cave still in its primative way and not yet been adjusted with handrails or lighting. You just follow the guides gas light through the tunnels and chambers. The cave itself is fairly impressive
(although feeling under the weather I’m not bowled over by it), less more so by being pointed out tiger teeth, an elephant’s head and a UFO to name but a few of the shapes the guides claim you can make out here. I think the people who claim to see these, must have been on the mushroom shakes down at the bars in town!!! We get back in a bamboo in a bamboo raft but this one has a few problems…namely being several inches below the water than above it!
Lunch is included in the tour price and is only 5 mins away from the cave. All starving we eagerly tuck into the fresh fruit platters that were brought out. The rest is very little to write home about and a few of us comment that this is the worst Thai food we’ve had to date. Oh well, it filled a hole at least!
Next stop is the Doi Kiew Lom viewpoint of which we can see nothing but clouds.
Not a great day for views. There’s also a giant swing here, I guess to get a better view of the forest down below but there’s nothing to see so we just let a bunch of young uns carry on having their fun. It’s cold, dark and wet and a few of us cover upon our towels to keep warm…yesterday was so hot that a jacket or such like didn’t enter our minds!
Next is a visit to one of the many hot springs. I think I was expecting something like a place I went to in Costa Rica with different pools etc but this is hot pools in the river in the forest. A lovely place but being cold and wet, me and another girl just go in up to our knees and then grab a cuppa.
The next port of call is the Mae Na Toeng waterfall. There are many you can visit from Pai but they seem to be spread out. I’m not sure if there is a hike you can do to incorporate more…
The last stop is to Pai Canynon to watch the sunset but I feel absolutely crap and as we’re dropping someone off 2 mins from my hostel, I decide to jump ship o get places and can’t follow a sat nav than too and miss the last part of the tour. All in all it wasn’t a bad day out and a lot covered for only £10. If I wasn’t feeling so shitty and the weather been better, I’m sure it wd have been great. Grabbing a light bite for dinner I take advantage of no one being in the dorm yet and get an early night.
I have a lazy Friday morning, chatting to people in my hostel, debating what to do for the day. I’m a bit dubious about getting a scooter but more because I don’t know how to get places than anything else. I quickly make my mind up thou and within minutes, I have me a 100cc for less than £2.50 for 24 hours! Where else in the world could u rent a moped so cheap!
With my new found wheels and freedom (feels sooo good) I head off on the open road to tick off a few more of Pai’s must see tourist attractions. Starting with the Bamboo Bridge.
It was built to connect the Pam Bok village with the nearby Huay Khai Khiri House of Priests and spans 815 meters across rice paddy fields.
It’s a beautiful tranquil place although walking along the bridge is a bit hairy in parts as it feels as thou it cd give way. Some beautiful places to take a few photos too.
Just a km or 2 down the road is the Pam Bok Waterfall. There’s a shirt walk to get to it and you have to wade throu some water as the main attraction is hidden by the rocks. Much more comfy if you have shoes on you can walk over the stones with and is worth the effort.
Back on the bike and only another few kms back down the road is the Land Split. The guy in my hostel told me this wasn’t worth doing a tour for but as I’m passing with my scooter, will call in. What’s more interesting here is the story itself rather than the place itself. Before there ever was a split, this was a soy bean farm. One morning back in 2008, the farmer got up to farm his land only to find a giant crack separating his land with no means of harvesting his crops. This was caused by an earthquake followed by 2 more in 2009 and 2011 causing more severe splits in the land.
With some entrepreneurial spirit, the farmer has turned his now un-farmable land into a tourist attraction and offers fruits and juices from his land in exchange for a small donation of your choosing.
Lastly, after not going yesterday, I ride along the main road to the Pai Canyon (or Kong Lan as it’s also known). It’s described as Thailand’s version of the Grand Canyon but this is bugging itself up to something it most definitely is not. There are signs to say you are a km away but nothing to note you have arrived. The biggest give away sign is usually food stalls do I pull up, grab some lunch and go in search of the canyon. There is a short walk up to the first viewpoint giving lovely views all around. However, the paths and ledges which have been formed by years of erosion leading further into the canyon are a lot more dangerous and not for the faint hearted or those with a fear of heights. There are thin pathways along the ridge of the canyon with 39-40m drops either side. Only wearing a pair of flip flops I decide to give this a miss.
It’s a hit afternoon and with all the ticks done of what I wanted to see today, more confidently on my moped, I zoom back into town with a nice cool breeze. Back at the ranch I chill with some guys from my hostel. They’re all heading out but as I’m leaving for a retreat tomorrow, I decide it’s probably not the best thing to do and manage to stay in and get an early night.