Exploring Pai

I got back from the Chiang Khong field trip today and I am excited to write about the week I just spent. I had the most exciting, adventurous, exhausting and yet beautiful 6 days of this summer. Like I mentioned in the previous post, some students and staff members planned to spend a weekend at Pai. Our group included 4 students, 2 alumni fellows and 2 interns. We left Saturday morning at 6, returned on Sunday by 6pm, and left for the field trip within the next 15 hours. In this post, I am going to focus only on our weekend at Pai.

As charming as Pai is, the winding road from Chiang Mai to Pai is surely a test. I don’t normally get carsick, but I threw up twice during the journey. We had booked tickets for a minibus that carries 12-13 people. According to this review, there are around 762 curves on the route to Pai. I couldn’t sleep either because I was too curious to see everything along the way (which was a bad idea!).

When we got to the city, we quickly checked into The Heart of Pai Resort. The first thing I noticed outside our hall was a signboard that mentioned distances to the closest attractions and to Chiang Mai. Looking at it, I realized we had traveled over 100 km (64 miles) and given that I (and one student) threw up, it would be good to take some rest. But we only had 30 hours in Pai, so we had to make the most of our time. We headed for lunch to a restaurant one of the students (Jay, who hails from Bangkok) knew. Sadly, it was closed. We could’ve explored more restaurants right then but I think all of us wanted to visit the major attractions and experience the beauty of Pai more than eat. So we visited Wat Phra That Mae Yen, which had a huge white statue of Buddha. We climbed up a good number of stairs and rested on the top for a while, took some photographs and admired the view of Pai from the temple. Pai was cloudy that day and the clouds hovering above mountains made for a spectacular view!

 

We then went looking for a restaurant, as by now, all of us were extremely hungry. One of the students located a comfy cafeteria called Fat Cat Restaurant. It had an open air seating and was surrounded by a number of trees. The peaceful ambiance of this place was magnified when it started to rain heavily. After finishing their meal, some people took a nap and others relaxed on the cushions, while I tried a coffee-flavored Kombucha (Kombucha is basically a fermented drink). I had never heard of it before and I was not disappointed when I tried one. Though it did not taste like coffee at all, I enjoyed trying such a unique kind of drink. We had to wait for a while before we could go out to explore more.

 

We had a list of places to go to and things to do in Pai, but we didn’t really finalize a schedule (which turned out to be great for us that day). We knew we’d visit Pai Canyon as that was the most popular attraction. Jay knew another coffee shop close to the canyon and we decided to go there after visiting the canyon. On our way, one of the students saw a board that said ‘Park’ or ‘mountain (site)’ or something similar, and there was a trail she was curious to explore. So we went ahead and reached the middle of a farm. Jay thought he knew the mountain that was mentioned, so we kept walking and later realized that there was nothing at a walking distance that we could explore.

Like I mentioned above, we did not do anything according to our plans (even the short plans!). I thought we were going to the canyon but I also remembered someone mentioning a historical bridge. Now known as Memorial Bridge, it was built during World War II by the Japanese to cross Pai river, and was called Ta-Pai bridge then. When the war ended, the Japanese burned it down and it was reconstructed by villagers several years later.

 

It was around 3 pm by now and the canyon was visible from where we stood. Already short of time, we did not want to spend time walking over the bridge, and after taking a few pictures, we (finally) reached the canyon. We climbed up the stairs and I almost ran out of water when we reached the top. Five of us went to hike ahead while others rested and waited for us near a seating area. The depth of this canyon was mind blowing and I sat on the edge when we decided not to go further. It wasn’t too high to be scared of, especially as I have been really fond of heights! Even though tourists plan on watching the sunset at Pai Canyon, we visited it during the scorching afternoon hours, because we were going to go relax at another cool cafeteria in Pai later. We did not watch the sunset, but something even better!

 

I am so glad that we had Jay join us for this trip because it wouldn’t have been easy to decide what to do and when if it weren’t for him. He suggested to go to Coffee in Love, where we spent nearly 1.5 hours drinking coffee and listening sweet, wonderful songs while admiring the fascinating view that was in front of us. All of us lined up our chairs so they’d face the mountains and it so happened that we got to see a very bright rainbow that faded and emerged again in different directions. It was a bliss to sit there and just look at the gorgeousness of it all for so long. Now, I’ve only seen rainbows a few times (that too extremely dull). So watching it near the mountains, trying to capture it in my phone and listening songs like La Vie En Rose while also being accompanied by such a wonderful group of people made the evening incredible.

 

It was a relaxing time for everyone after surviving in the heat all day. At one point, I saw some plants decorated on the wall behind us. Remembering how much my mother loves flowers, I jumped with excitement to send her a picture. It was at this point when one of the students asked me, “How do you get so much energy?” which made me laugh, but I managed to answer briefly. Our plan after this was to go to the walking street, before which all of us got a massage! After such exciting and tiring trips, I think everyone was delighted to get a massage (and most people had a nice nap, too!).

At the walking street, I found some delicious naan (Indian bread) and we later stopped at a restaurant to get dinner. Music from neighboring bars made me want to go inside but we were all just so tired that we could only think of getting a meal and sleeping early. We also briefly planned to watch sunrise, and that was before we ended up hanging out in our rooms until 2 am. When I went to bed, a couple of people were still interested in watching the sunrise at this spot that we never saw (unfortunately!). I felt a little feverish Saturday night  and had a headache even when I got up in the morning. Right at 7, I walked to seven eleven and got myself a painkiller, which helped a little. But my headache wasn’t the reason we did not see the sunrise.

Everybody was exhausted after 3 hours of travelling and exploring everything we could in 12 hours (10AM – 10M) that day. Later that night, the men planned to go to a tea shop located on a hill which offered another spectacular view of the city and I joined them. The name was written in Thai and Chinese, and I forgot to write it down in English, but here are some pictures!

 

Then we went to have breakfast and on the way, I noticed some very interesting graffiti on almost all the houses. Below are a couple of pictures I was able to take when we stopped for breakfast. I had fermented eggs for the first time! I had ordered an egg salad and when I did not see what I expected, Jay told me how they used fermented eggs for that particular kind of salad. The variety of dishes is another thing I am surprised by here every time I go outside. Meanwhile, the other women went to a coffee shop located close to our resort. The plan was to leave for Sai Ngam Hot Spring at 9:30, but we got quite late. When everyone reached the resort, we packed our things and checked out.

 

Sai Ngam hot spring is located 17 kms (~10.5 miles) away from where we stayed so it didn’t take us too long to get there. It was located in a peaceful area, surrounded by mountains. We spent approximately an hour (I think) because we had a bus to catch in 2.5 hours. After the hot spring, we quickly went to a cafeteria named Earth Tone and started discussing alternatives for getting back to Chiang Mai, as we felt we couldn’t make it to the bus. Our minibus was scheduled to leave at 3PM and at one point, all of us felt that our money was going to go to waste and we’d have to buy other tickets. We thought about all the possible ways we could go back to school if we missed the bus.

Like all the cafeterias we had been too, Earth Tone had a great ambiance and delicious food but we could only eat in a rush. It was funny because we were literally running from the bike rental place to the bus station after we returned the bikes. Luckily, we made it exactly at 3PM and the driver was quite patient, too. The journey back to Chiang Mai wasn’t nearly as bad as the one I had on Saturday, mainly because I tried to sleep all the way through. By the time we got to school, I was exhausted but somehow managed to started packing for the field trip next day. Three field trips (and 4 with some who went to Pai) have added to my incredible experience knowledge of the communities here and a close bond with the staff and students.  In the next post, I will write about my experiences throughout this field trip.

 

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