It came as a bit of a surprise when we rolled into a charming little westernised town with a population just under 2000.
The first thing to hit you is the incredibly relaxed atmosphere. The usual frenzied attack from the taxi drivers & street sellers wasn't there. A refreshing start.
The town is made up of shops, stalls, bars, restaurants & accommodation for the rich & poor. It is set in the middle of a large, beautiful valley about 4 hours by bus into the mountains, west of Chaing Mai. After a few days soaking it up we decided that it would be nice spot to stop in for a while. We could save some cash by doing a monthly deal on accommodation & bike hire.
We ended up in a place called "Stone Free", 2-3 Km out of town. A good looking blues bar complete with horses, stables & a bunch of bungalows built round the back. It had family feel to it. It took a bit of time to see just how dysfunctional this family was. All the guys who where drinking there when went to bed were also drinking there when we got up. A nice bunch who had consumed large amounts of rum before we had contemplated breakfast. Alcoholics & business don't tend to work well together & the result was better drama than TV. It became a pain in the arse after a couple weeks when staff relations got a bit sour.
When the house band "Sticky Rice Blues" where on form they were great. They do note for note covers of Hendrix, Creedence, Floyd, Clapton, Steppen Wolf, Skynyrd etc. They need to learn a few more tunes though to keep from driving the people who live there (us) totally mental. They had there problems too with one evening going a bit pear shaped & the bass player getting his nose broken in a vicious drumstick attack.
Rock n' Roll baby.
Luckily there are plenty of other things going on here to fill your day.
The only time you need to use your brain here is when deciding where to eat. There is a huge amount of choice & almost nowhere disappoints. Na's kitchen was a late discovery & since finding it we feel the need to try everything on the menu. They can knock up some of the finest food I've ever had. It causes great despair amongst the regulars when they decide to have a day off & the opposite restaurant gets filled with all the Na's refugees. Its good also.
So when your not eating there are many beautiful places to go & see. If your here for as long as we've been here, you go these places many times with all your new pals.
The Waterfall - A nice drive which takes you past China Village. Quit a strange little place which is annoyingly expensive to eat in. You drive through 3 Small villages on the way up, the last of which is full of drug dealing pensioners. Weed & opium are in an abundance in the mountains.
Another Waterfall (I forget the names) - Worth a visit but wont fill the day. The road ends at the waterfall according to the tourist map. If you continue up the track for a few miles you will find a stunning valley & another small village with a school & a temple. A really nice place & a great drive. Pai Canyon - Fantastic views off this bizarre rock formation.
Hot Springs - Just what you need on a blistering hot afternoon. We were left a bit light headed after cooking ourselves in the springs. Some people seem to enjoy boiling eggs in the water.
There are nice view points & caves a bit further afield. Its a pleasure just to take the bikes & explore all the roads in & out of different valleys as most of the time the weather has been lush. Hot & sunny during the day & cool enough to sleep well at night.
Our accommodation has been nice. A spacious bungalow (that's the fancy word for shed around here). Everything is brand new. We have a rock hard Chinese bed & an on-suite but still very much out-side bathroom with a temper mental water supply. The decor has a woman's touch courtesy of Kate, the Glaswegian Lass who owns part of the establishment. (Good luck with everything). There's a platform built from the bungalow onto a passing river. I'll miss the sound of it at night.
I've enjoyed the company of some very interesting characters who find themselves wandering ambiently around the place. We have gathered another small group to cross into Laos with, including a 58 year old tennis instructor from New Jersey. Tony has brought some cool, smart, oldskool, black style. No one before has been able to say profoundly "You know what I think?" , & follow with such well thought out statements. But he needs his early nights.
We're also going to be traveling with a couple of stand up Israeli guys (Roman & Adam) & Roman's soon to arrive Lady friend. She's a French speaker apparently.
Life in Pai is almost too easy & the more permanent western residence, those who aren't trying to run a business, are 50+ men who have found the perfect place to sit & drink all day & get fat. Some have found that pretty young western girls can indeed be seduced by playing a mean harmonica (in joke).
The place is stuck in a time warp & the Thai locals have a high hippy concentration. Its mellow mellow mellow. Its getting more & more touristy all the time though & had changed massively over the last 5 years. A recent hit Thai movie shot in Pai has increased Thai tourism to the area hugely.
We came at the right time. Things go a bit bonkers in high season which is going to kick in as we are leaving. There has been plenty if life during our stay with a different festival every week.
Anyway, its been really great part of Thailand to stay in & get to know & I would love to come here with all the friends I know would really really appreciate the vibe.
Its definitely time to move on though.
Bring on Laos