Everyone told us Pai was a weird hippy town. Some liked it, some didn’t but they all agreed that it’s interesting. The rumors proved true when we started combing TripAdvisor for a room. The names that popped up included Unicorn Guest House and Resort, Happy House Pai, Rainbow House and Heart of Pai Resort. We went with the Breeze of Pai Guesthouse. The 15-person van wound its way up and around over 700 curves. It dropped us off in the middle of town, only a few blocks from our guesthouse. The streets were crowded with tourists, lined with food vendors and scented with incense. We passed a street vendor advertising dreadlocks, making of and repairs. Another stand had henna painting. Most sold clothes or food.
We bobbed and weaved our way through the crowd, scoping out the food and dodging shaky tourists on motos. Breeze of Pai was close to the hustle and bustle but tucked back into an oasis of quiet. We stepped up onto a wooden deck and rang the bell for service. A sign propped onto the short, wooden counter read, “sorry, we’re full.” A foggy, plastic awning covered the deck, letting through enough filtered sunlight to see, but softened it so it wasn’t too bright or hot. A sweet lady came out of house, got us checked in and showed us to our bungalow. We followed a line of flat stones through rows of palm trees, bamboo plants and potted shrubs with wide leaves. The bungalow was perfect. A steep A-frame with wooden shingles. It had a full sized bed in the middle of the room, two small tables along the wall and a single chair inside, one outside. The bathroom was in the back, small but clean. It was a pretty good find for $27 a night.
We got settled and changed then hit the town. I hid my iPad. You can’t trust hippies; they may be peaceful but they have sticky fingers. There happened to be a reggae festival in town while we were there. We thought we might go but first we wanted to eat. The first stand we saw was selling bruschetta. Nate bought one and was so hungry he would have eaten it cold, but the vendor heated it up for us. We shared it and continued walking down the road. We grabbed two walking beers from the first bar we saw, after double checking it was legal to carry glass bottles down the road. More street food and more walking then we finally ducked into a bar that was tucked back behind a business. They had a fire going, an outdoor bar setup near it and a guy providing live music on his guitar. It was a good atmosphere, I made friends with a lady from London who was traveling solo, Nate had a conversation with a lesbian gypsy from Argentina. Everyone we asked said the reggae festival was lame and not worth going to. That solved it for us since it was kind of expensive anyway.
We weren’t really feeling up to dealing with motos, or doing much touristy tings but we did sign up for what we thought was a sunset tour. The sign was confusing and made it look like you could take a taxi to Pai Canyon for the sunset, hit up a hot springs and a cave and it went from 5:00 – 7:30 for 500 baht. Turned out we paid $14 just for a ride to Pai Canyon and back. Okay, that’s reasonable for a taxi ride in the US but for local prices, it was expensive. We enjoyed the canyon – it had some fun causeways to play on and the sunset was pretty. We got back in our taxi and asked, “Where to next?” We weren’t very happy when he told us we were going back to town. It wasn’t that we cared about seeing the other stuff, just that we felt ripped off, but we weren’t going to argue with a fleet of taxi drivers in a foreign country.
We didn’t go out of our way to experience much outside of Pai but if I could do it again, I’d just skip Pai. We took the van back to Chiang Mia. I struggled with car sickness as it went around the over 700 curves, some of my most miserable moments on this trip have been in vans or buses – too hot, too crowded and this time nauseating.
Chiang Mai Part two
The only downside to Chiang Mai the first time around was occasionally having to turn down ladyboys trying to coax either or both of us into bars or ‘massage’ parlors. We stayed so busy in Chiang Mai the first time around, we didn’t take the time to explore the old district, so we decided to stay 2 nights before heading further north to Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai has definitely been my favorite spot thus far in Thailand, and now that we know which part of town to avoid, we should be good to go.
In the summer of 2010 we were living in Steamboat Springs, CO and McKayla had met a friend through her work, Crystal. I remember meeting Kyle, Crystal, and Tyler at the Big House bar while watching the Packer game. Being fellow Packer fans we hit it off immediately. Long story short, I ended up renting out Kyle and Crystal’s room, in a house with Tyler, while they were traveling in New Zealand for the winter. I’d stayed behind in Steamboat to become a dog sled tour guide, while McKayla moved to Bozeman, became a ski instructor at Big Sky and planned our wedding. We got along great with all 3 of our fellow Packer fans, but the rigors of life and being a few states apart we lost touch. However, social media can be a wonderful thing. Crystal put us in contact with her friend and business partner, Alaina, who was currently traveling through Thailand. Between Crystal, Alaina, and McKayla the 3 women arranged our friend of a friend blind date in Chiang Mai.
Alaina had brought her Australian friend, Jack, along whom she had met and been traveling with since Bangkok. There was a third travel companion but she was laid up with a stomach bug. We had a nice night swapping stories of Thailand and previous travel horror stories. I think Jack had the worst with his worm he’d gotten from eating under-cooked meat. Apparently it took 8 weeks to slowly coax out an 8 ft worm that had taken up residence in his left leg, all while taking a bunch of nasty medication to keep its offspring from wrecking havoc on the rest of him. Thanks Jack, thats the closest I’ve ever come to turning vegetarian. The same monkeys we’d barely escaped in Lopburi a few days earlier had given Alaina a pretty good bite. Thankfully, it didn’t break the skin but that didn’t stop us from giving her grief about rabies. It seemed as though our paths were only meant to cross once on this trip but we had a blast sharing some time with some -almost- familiar friends.
The following day got off to a slow start but I was determined to see some of the old district. As with most old districts, the streets were narrow and lacked sidewalks. Our patience didn’t last long but it lasted long enough to visit one of the most bizarre scenes McKayla or I had ever witnessed. In the southwest corner of the old district, there was a small park. The park was encircled by a jogging track with the occasional workout equipment and a basketball court. In the center, there was circus class practicing acroyoga poses where they did their best to balance themselves with themselves. Behind these scantily clad posing pairs, there was a wedding taking place right next to people walking tight rope, but across from the cult gathering listening to their relaxed yet intense leader. This place was a zoo; fortunately, there were concessions where you could buy a juice and watch the show.
One part of Chiang Mai that we forgot to mention on the first go round was the 3D art museum (Art in Paradise). I was a little reluctant to go to what seemed like a kids’ exhibit but I gotta say, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d never seen nor heard of any place like it but we had a lot of fun posing for pictures in front of, inside of, or part of the 3D art. I’m not even bothering with descriptions on this one, just look at the pictures. It was a nice change of pace from ruins and temples.
I’d booked us tickets on the morning of the 20th to fly to Bangkok so our trip to Chiang Rai was limited to two nights. We arrived to our guesthouse (the Lek House) late in the afternoon, took a walk and found spicy crunchy chicken at a place that’d come highly recommended in Lonely Planet. I don’t know the name of that dish but it was decent, pretty sure we could have gotten the same meal anywhere but at least we had a nice walk in Chiang Rai. We called it an early night because we signed up to take a 10 hour tour starting at 8:00 am.
Our tour was jam packed with all sorts of good stuff around Chiang Rai. The first stop was to a tea plantation. It had lots of nice views and rows of tea leaf bushes. To my disappointment, they didn’t serve tea at the tea plantation but then again, it was owned by a beer company, so who knows what these guys are after.
The White Temple was stunning. Everything was gleaming white with different designs and architecture than we’d seen at any other temple so far. The fact that it was so white and pure looking made it all the stranger that the place was dotted with all sorts of pop culture statues and paintings. There were sculpted heads turned house plants of Wolverine, the Terminator, Deadpool and the Ninja Turtles just to name a few. Before entering into the White Temple, you had to cross through Hell – Asian tourists. That, and there was a sculpted version of Hell that had hands and skeletons rising out of the ground towards their demon like tormentors. Inside the temple on the back wall, you could find Yoda, Neo, Transformers, Robocop…., you get the idea. We think the pop culture references were the representation of Earthly distractions. You avoid hell, get past the distractions then on your way to enlightenment. The front of the temple housed a large golden Buddha and left the 90’s movies scenes for colorful skies and areas to medicate. Definitely a unique place designed and built by a famous Thai artist.
Across town from the White Temple was the Black House complex. Again, an eccentric, famous Thai artist built a strange complex. This one was much more macabre with endless amount of furniture built from animals’ horns, bones, sculls, sheds and skins from a variety of creatures from all over the world. Allegedly, this guy went to the extremes to find inspiration: sleeping with dead animals, buying tons of animal sheds and having himself castrated. Cutting off his nuts must have done something to help his career, our tour guide could not stop repeating, “He serr two paintings for 1 birrion baht!” Still, I think I’d take my gear over a billion baht and a throan made of ox horns.
There was an option to go see the Karen Long Neck tribe and while we weren’t willing to shell out the extra cash, someone in our tour group was. You’ve probably seen images of these women. They have rings around their necks and overtime they add more to gradually stretch their necks. Some of them end up with a foot or more of neck but if they were to ever remove the rings, their neck would collapse. I’m all for respecting culture but when it comes to paying to see young women who are bound to a life of pain and discomfort – I’m out. We waited paitiently and watched the chickens while the other tourists walked through the village.
(Paragraph on monkey cave added by McKayla)
Our next stop took us to the Monkey Cave. When we walked under the entrance arch, we were each offered a stick. When a Thai offers you a monkey-beating stick, you take the monkey-beating stick. Luckily, we didn’t have to use them but the monkeys were at least twice the size of the ones in iLopburi and twice as intimidating. There were no monkeys inside the cave (just below near the food vendors), fortunately, because the last thing I want in a dark, enclosed area is a monkey looming above me.
The Golden Triangle is an area around the Mekong River where the boarders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos converge. Apparently the Gold Triangle contained no gold but its name comes from the opium trade. At one point it cost a kilo of gold to get yourself a kilo of opium. The Thai side had a scorpion temple while both Myanmar and Laos had fairly big towns on opposite banks of the river sporting casinos designed to lure Thais across the boarder. Our guide told us that gambling is illegal in Thailand but that it is pretty easy to find if you know where to look.
The last stop was the new Blue Temple. Again, this one had some pretty wild designs and statues and yup, it was blue. It did a good job getting us interested even though we are both at this point in our trip thoroughly templed-out.