Pai: The Rastafarian Town to the North

In Blog, Thailand by Laura0 Comments

We woke up this morning and packed up to head to Pai. We grabbed breakfast in Chiang Mai and then took a minibus to Pai. It cost us 150 baht each – $5.00. The ride is three hours long and has 772 turns. The man sitting in front of us on the bus lives in Thailand but originally was from Redding, California. He now teaches English here and has been here for six years. He told me there were that many turns and I believe him. It was a nauseating trip but I took motion sickness pills before the ride in preparation and tried to sleep throughout the drive.

It was already 4:30pm by the time we arrived in Pai and we headed to our hotel to drop our things. Our hotel is absolutely stunning. Avi done good. Walking through the streets and seeing our hotel definitely made us want to spend another night here. We had planned on one night but upon arrival Noam asked if we could reserve for two nights. It was a great call because I am definitely not ready to leave Thailand.

Our plan is to head from Pai to Laos via a slow boat. We will be here for Saturday night and Sunday night and then on Monday we will take a minibus to the border, spend the night there, then cross into Laos on the Mekong river. The boat spends two full days on the river and we will arrive in Luang Prabang on Wednesday evening. I have not decided whether or not I will continue with the boys down through Laos or if I will stay in Luang Prabang until Sunday morning. I need to be back in Bangkok for my flight home Sunday and that is the only plan I have set in stone.

Pai is beautiful and grungy and a little rastafarian. It is packed with what Avi likes to call “authentic tourists.” Noam compared it to Isla Vista. I think its a cross between Santa Cruz and IV. The hotel Avi found cost us $13/night per person which is definitely on the pricier side of things in Pai. The city sits on a river but I would hardly call it a city because it really feels like a small town. When we arrived it started pouring rain which might sound horrible but I thought it was incredible. Warm rain is still foreign to me and I love it. The hotel is set up in a u shape and is more so a cluster of small cottages than a hotel. In the middle of all the guesthouses is a gazebo filled with cushions and small tables. It is surrounded by a moat filled with fairly large orange fish. Noam and I went to sit in the gazebo once we arrived and we sat and read and wrote for about an hour. It was so pleasant to be able to just sit with nowhere to be and nothing to do. I love how peaceful Pai is. It is much slower paced than Chiang Mai.

After nearly falling asleep to rain pouring around me, fish swimming at my feet, and my blog in hand, we decided to grab some dinner. It was around 6:30pm and we were all pretty hungry. The hotel offers free road bikes so we grabbed some keys and biked into town. The rain had stopped at this point and the weather was perfect. I think I’ve adjusted to the heat and humidity. We are staying in the main area so the bike ride was very short. Avi had some trouble with his bike – he said, “they lied about the phrase ‘its just like getting back on a bike.” Noam and I had a good laugh as the hotel owner held the back of Avi’s bike seat.

The streets are lined on either side with street food, vendors, musicians, and travelers from the west. Women were hula hooping as a musician drummed along to the sound of samosas being fried in a large vat of oil. We ate, walked along the streets, took our bikes for a spin, and then deposited them at our hotel. From our hotel we walked to the river.

All along the river are shops hanginh strings of colored lanterns. It reminded me a bit of pirates of the carribean (the ride at Disneyland… sorry east coast friends) but to compare it to a ride in Anaheim doesn’t seem fair. There was a bridge made of bamboo that crossed over the water and on the opposite side was a large water wheel. I could have sat staring at the water and the lights for hours. We stopped in some shops along our way back to base and the boys got ice cream. I bought a handmade bracelet which I love, designed by a Thai man with huge dreds and Bob Marley pants.

We recuperated at base for a bit and then Noam and I ventured back out. Avi was exhausted but I was not ready to call it a night. Noam and I did a long loop around Pai and discussed traveling, India, travelers, and Pai. Live music played in the background as glowing red lanterns hung over our heads. I posed the question of, is Pai better or worse off because of tourism? On one hand we are helping their economy sustain itself but on the other hand, we are compromising their culture. There is the argument for wanting to share cultures and the Pai culture we see now being more so preserved because of that, but who really knows? We didn’t come to a consensus – we sort of just let it sit.

We have no plan for tomorrow. I am hoping it involves doing yoga in the gazebo, getting Thai massages for 150 baht, playing cards, walking along the river, and eating delicious street food.

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