Pai & the Backpackers Familia
Pai is a tiny town in the northeastern mountains of Thailand, surrounded by rice fields, canyons, hot springs, and forests. It’s a hub for the hippies that are too chill for even Chiang Mai and want to live tucked away, off the grid, with other like-minded hippies, and drink mushroom shakes every now and then. It’s a great place… one of my favourites of the entire trip. The people we met up with here, truly made Thailand an unforgettable experience.
The Winding Road to Pai
We had of course disregarded our friends’ suggestions of having a calm night in before our trip to Pai, and we very quickly regretted it. It’s a long bumpy ride, with no pit stops and LOTS of curves… needless to say, it’s not very hangover friendly. It was 8am and we were the four loud girls sitting in the back of minibus shuttle laughing about the events that took place the night before – everyone there hated us. But we didn’t care, we were in a blissful wonderland oblivious to other humans that were not part of our newly found friendship bubble.
We finally arrived in the small town Pai and went in search of a guesthouse a friend of the Spanish girls had recommended. It really is a pretty small town with just 2 or 3 main streets and a couple of traffic lights. All the locals are well used to the backpackers and know exactly where all the guesthouses and hostels are –not that they can all communicate that in English, although they try! We walked about 15 minutes away from the centre of the town (considered a long distance for Pai standards) and found our little hippie paradise: Up2U Guesthouse. Ignore the silly name, and please stay in this hostel if you ever find yourself in Pai. It’s amazing. The whole place feels like a treehouse with hammocks and guitars lying around everywhere (free to use) and the bunk beds are all made of bamboo stacked all the way to the tall ceilings.
The Spanish girls’ friend Frankie was staying in that same guesthouse, and was hanging out with this awesome local girl named Ruki, who knew the all the best spots and took us out for lunch. We invited everyone in the hostel to join us and we quickly all became friends. We decided that since Cristi and I had been baptized with hippy names, everyone should also have a new nickname. Frankie became Mufasa, and then we had Moto, Coconut, Menta, Wolf, and a few others that slip my mind. It was a great crew, but the only name that really stuck was Mufasa. Lunch was amazing. Ruki taught us some Thai words and ordered us a delicious local dish that wasn’t even on the menu: seafood suki (a spicy seafood and rice noodle soup dish). In the front of the restaurant we noticed a woman boiling what looked like tiny balls of colorful play dough, which we found out was a delicious taro and coconut dessert called boualoy. Kin yuh yuh kah! (that means dig in!).
After lunch, we all hopped on a Thai taxi and went to catch the sunset in Pai’s Grand Canyon with a bottle of wine. What an amazing view. The canyon is incredible aaand also a bit terrifying. With no kind of protection or railing or anything, anyone could easily slip and fall a long and hard way down –but that’s also what makes it so beautiful.
After settling back into the guesthouse and taking a shower with a beautiful view of the stars (yes, the showers are pretty open to nature), we decided to walk around and find some dinner and drinks. The centre of town is filled with street food carts that offer any kind of Thai food you can imagine, and all for incredibly cheap. The spicy noodle salad was one of my favorites, made for you right there when you order it, by a lovely old woman. Other things we tried included some strange coconut dumplings, savoury rotees, tiny quail eggs, and some unique sushi.
As the night progressed, we hopped around little bars exploring and playing fun bar games and sharing laughs with our new friends. All the bars had a very relaxed, reggae-like atmosphere which we all loved. All of Pai was filled with this good, happy, energy. Throughout the night we continually ran into people we had already met and this made Thailand feel like a really small bubble. We were with the Spanish crew and we ran into people from our current guesthouse, but we also saw the French guys and part of the German crew, even some Belgian boys we had only met for a minute in the Sunday Market in Chaing Mai. Everyone was in great attitudes, ready to be best friends in an instant. We ended the night dancing around a bonfire in a well known late-night bar called Don’t Cry.
Very Hot Springs
It was a slow-moving cloudy morning in Pai, perfect for sitting in a hammock with a beautiful view of the fields and getting some design work done. We had planned to go to the waterfalls, but with clouds and sprinkles of rain, the weather was perfect to check out the hot springs instead. On the way, we saw the Belgain boys we had seen the night before walking in the street barefoot, and we pretty much kidnapped them to come with us. The Pai hot springs are more well-organized and maintained for tourists than I expected; but thankfully there weren’t many tourists they day we went. The springs are split up into several little pools, each with a sign marking the temperature (like an outdoor spa of sorts). Some signs also read “No boli egg” although we definitely saw some people boiling eggs there (that’s how hot the water is in some of the pools). It was a very nice relaxing day out, but with our crew, too much relaxing was simply not allowed. It was raining, so we bought a few bottles of wine and some chips and decided to start our own little party in our hostel. Everyone joined in and the staff in the hostel even ordered pad thai to be delivered to us so that we didn’t have to go out in the rain for dinner. That night was when the Ultimate Thailand Backpackers Familia was formed: Blanca, Vero, and Mufasa from Spain, the Germans: Jesse, Antonia, Theresa, and Stephan, Steven and David from the US, Gaii and Palo (Palo was another nickname that stuck) from Holland, and a few others that came and went (like this girl we called Confetti who got far too drunk that night).
Most of the Familia decided to go to the waterfalls, but I stayed back and got some work done in the most beautiful office anyone could ever imagine. Its days like these that remind me that the perks of being a digital nomad by far surpass the small disadvantages. As the sun came down and the crew came back, we were escorted to the town center by the most adorable stray dogs that always seemed to be happy to be around us, for another night of reggae bars and good memories. We ended that night watching the sunrise as we walked back from another well known late-night bar called Sunset Bar where we made friends with the bartender who later gave us an entire bottle of Sangsom (a local Thai rum) for free. Thai people are just too friendly sometimes (right Palo?).
We will never learn
The following morning, the whole crew went for a filling Thai breakfast (which is the same as a lunch or a dinner… food is just food there) and then we said our sad goodbyes. The minibus ride back to Chiang Mai may have been even worse than the ride coming in. I guess we’ll never learn…