Pai - The Shire of Thailand

Pai - The Shire of Thailand

Pai is in the mountainous northwest of Thailand, about 140KM from Chiang Mai. As a frequent visitor to Chiang Mai I've heard all about Pai, yet I had never been. I can trace my reluctance to visit down to the arduous road journey by minivan, and by hippies.On one of my early visits to Chiang Mai (perhaps in 2021) I was on the train to Chiang Mai when some hippies got onboard. They had no shoes on and their feet were dirty, and they were putting their feet on the seat! If there was a train version of Passenger Shaming you would see their feet on it. Even the poorest person in Thailand can scratch together a few baht to buy some flip-flops, and then you take your shoes off when you are inside. I can't imagine a Thai person inviting you into their house with blackened feet.They were on their way to Pai, so that encounter put me off going for a while.I visit Thailand a few times a year but I always tend to gravitate towards the same places (i.e Bangkok and Chiang Mai), so I make a point to visit a couple of new places every year. On my latest trip to Chiang Mai I resolved to visit Pai, mainly out of embarrassment for not having been there yet. I also wanted to see what Pai as a town was like. Most of the "things to do in Pai" blog posts I've read are actually about things to do around Pai. It sounded more like a place where you rest and then go out exploring the surrounding hillsides.I was most dreading the minivan ride, of which the drivers in Thailand have earned a bad reputation. The minivans I've caught from Bangkok to Hua Hun felt unsafe, and the mini van ferrying visa runners from Krabi to Penang made me swear off this form of transport for the foreseeable future.Once we got going I was surprised how comfortable this trip was. Part of it was because they didn't squeeze an extra row of seats in, so there was at least some leg room. And part of it was because I felt comfortable with the driver. He drove at a steady pace, not speeding or taking any risky overtakes.I was thinking about his driving and how well he must know the road. If he does this return trip 250 times a year, over a 10 year career he would have driven this road 5000 times. We had a 30-minute break midway through the mountainous section. It was a long break for a short drive, but I was totally cool with letting the driver have a rest if he is doing this twice a day.According the the Pai T-shirt that you see everywhere, there are 762 turns in the road. I didn’t count but I’ll take their word for it. I liked Pai immediately, though I was suspicious if it was because I was happy to be out of the minivan. No, I really liked the vibe here. It felt like a smaller version of Chiang Mai, with a mountain at each end instead of just the one like in Chiang Mai.After the three hour minivan ride and then 20 minute walk to my guesthouse it was already way past my lunch time. I’m known to make bad decisions when I’m hungry, and today was no exception. After checking in I went hunting for food and ended up in the backpacker area. I was too hungry to keep walking so I sat myself at a backpacker eatery and had an overpriced vegetable stir-fry (mostly onions) and rice. I got a banana smoothie, which was more like a crunchy with chunks of ice and grainy bits of sugar (which I forgot to ask without).To be fair if you are coming from Chiang Mai you get a bit spoiled with smoothies there. If you are making smoothies in Northern Thailand you should make a visit to Mrs Pa and see how to make a real smoothie.With my hunger sated but disappointed in myself with such a mediocre introduction to food, I made a note of the local noodle stalls as I went walking. I went by a stall which had no English but had all the ingredients for a Khao Soi, the famous noodle dish of the north.

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