Pai is a getaway. Pai is wild, yet it smells like home.
“Pai. You have to go to Pai. Don’t miss Pai.”
As soon as I arrived in Chiang Mai, other travelers started telling me the same – go to Pai! I never even heard of this small town, nestled in the hills of Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand.
It was only a three hour ride from Chiang Mai so I bought the ticket. The ride itself felt liberating. Golden light peeking through the glass of the mini van… Driving through the perfect jungle scenery. Bananas. Only bananas and the mountain roads.
“Why are you smiling all the time?” – one German guy asked me.
“Because I’m happy!” – I told him.
“Why are you happy?” – he looked at me strangely.
“Because I’m free!” – I couldn’t explain him my fascination with banana leaves so I drowned myself into the beauty of the wild landscape.
Bamboo bridge and hippie huts
The mini van left us in a long street filled with colorful cafes, shops and fruit stands. We were right in the heart of this rural, mountain town. One Spanish girl, one Chinese and German guy and myself crossed the bamboo bridge in a search for a place to stay. Dozens of bungalows, wooden huts, guesthouses and only a few hostels is what Pai offers. Two most popular hostels are Spicypai Backpackers and Circus Pai hostel.
We got breathless when walking uphill to reach the Circus Pai, but oh my, what the valley! Green onion, rice fields and cows wandering freely around the villages. I felt fireworks in my heart. We all looked at each other without saying a word. Although with heavy backpacks, we walked around as children.
Is this the place I’ve been homesick for, I asked myself while grabbing heavy steps.
Circus Pai was full. I saw the swimming pol overlooking the hills and people doing acro yoga and juggling. Some were reading and others laughing and smoking. The Spanish girl and I threw our backpacks. Covered in sweat and dirt, we couldn’t believe what our eyes were seeing. Is this place real? This was my first impression of Pai. Never before I felt so much freedom under my feet. The following few days were like a strange dream.
“HAPPINESS CONSISTS IN
REALIZING IT IS ALL A
GREAT STRANGE DREAM.”
– Jack Kerouac
We rented scooters. We went into the jungle. We pet elephants. The skin of an old elephant was tough, covered with black hair. His eyes were beautiful but sad.
Swimming under the waterfalls was chilly bus some took a leap. We saw the canyon and the Memorial bridge and walked barefoot in China village. We waited for a sunset from the Buddha temple on the hill. We ate at the Land split – dry bananas, sweet potato, roselle jam, nuts, roselle juice and papaya, all donation based. We shoved food into our mouths, smiling and enjoying the swinging motion of hammocks. It was freedom and it was hugging us sweetly.
With no particular destination we gazed through the hills and dirt roads that led into the jungle. Wind on my face. Peace at my heart. Have I finally reached the life’s meaning? Is it simplicity?
I was inhaling the scent that followed us all the way, whose origin I still do not know. Was it bamboo? Or the purple flower? We were living our days in Pai so fully that we tired it out.
“ALL GOOD THINGS ARE WILD AND FREE.”
– Henry David Thoreau
In evenings we’d come down to the Walking street to eat, to drink coconut, eat mango with sticky rice and fried chicken for 10 Baht. American beef burgers and other foods for “farangs” as the lasagnas, garlic bread and small pizzas could be found. Except the street food, there was everything else that one traveler wants or needs – baggy trousers. Postcards. Homemade jewelery, paintings and tribal handicrafts. Live music and the nights buzz. Colorful lanterns and wooden tables with non matching chairs. Mojito buckets… No tuk tuks. Only a couple of 7/11’s and stray dogs colliding with the travelers and the locals.
In Pai you’ll meet friends
In Pai you’re going to meet everyone you got to know in Chiang Mai – your hostel buddies, a mate from the bus and random people you met along the way. Everyone! That makes Pai something like a spacious living room. It is so small. I see it now as a place where travelers come to slow down. To decide where to go next. Or to catch up with their thoughts. That’s why some never leave. Are those the hippies I’ve heard so much about? Or just the people who have found the perfect getaway?
Pai was light, magic and wonder. We all come and leave. Some of us are at the beginning of ourjourney and some at the end. But we are all searching for something, whether we want to admit it or not. That’s why we go to places. We allow places to change us. We walk barefoot and party hard and do bonfires so we could taste life to its fullest. Yesterday or tomorrow don’t exist in Pai. There’s only here and now. No waiting. Only lovely souls and getting lost in endless conversations. Maybe that makes Pai a home away from home. At least until the Road calls again.
“NEVER MAKE YOUR HOME IN A PLACE. MAKE A HOME FOR YOURSELF INSIDE YOUR OWN HEAD. YOU’LL FIND WHAT YOU NEED TO FURNISH IT – MEMORY, FRIENDS YOU CAN TRUST, LOVE OF LEARNING, AND OTHER SUCH THINGS. THAT WAY IT WILL GO WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU JOURNEY”.
– Tad Williams