International Writers Magazine: Thailand
Art of Doing Pai
and Justin Furry
a place whose merits one is reluctant to broadcast. It is, after
all, the slow, off-the-beaten path charm of this artsy mountain
hamlet that makes it so appealing. Its motto is Do Nothing
in Pai, and if youve ever wanted to perfect the art,
add Pai (pronounced Bye) in northwest Thailand to your list of
places to experience in this lifetime.
The four-hour bus
ride from Chiang Mai was a zig-zagging, switch-backing, knuckle-whitening
experience as our driver attacked the sharp curves and blind corners
with a vengeance (remember to take Dramamine). It was enough for both
of us to affirm our religious beliefs. Once on safe ground, we set out
to find a home for our burdensome packs.
Crossing the Pai River on a rickety bamboo footbridge, we happened upon
one of the towns many resorts. Most of these resorts
are simply clusters of huts made of teakwood or bamboo, nestled in the
hills, valleys and flood plains surrounding the town. We found our home
at Suan Doi Resort (84 Wiang Neau Road, 053-699801) tucked away in thick
vegetation in the foothills, our hut no more out of place than any of
the neighboring trees. The babbling mountain stream flowing through
our backyard was a nice added touch and made for good sleeping.
Idleness gripped our souls and we didnt leave the confines of
our refuge for three days, except for the occasional outing to replenish
our food stores and revolving library.
Somewhat reluctantly, we decided to venture into the Pai nightlife.
The town beats to the sound of Bob Marleys drums. So abundant
are the reggae joints piping his music into the streets, his greatest
hits seemed to be playing simultaneously in a surreal sort of harmonic
Eating our way through town, we couldnt find a place to disappoint.
We did stay away from the popular guidebook suggestions, as we found
eating amongst tables full of tourists with their heads buried in the
Lonely Planet not to be the ideal atmosphere.
Occasionally, shops were inexplicably closed during normal
business hours and it eventually occurred to us that Pai has a dearth
of Gone Fishing signs. At the end of the night, street vendors
simply throw a blanket over their wares, thus securing the lot until
the next day. As Thais are primarily Buddhist, stealing is almost unthinkable
as such an act would instantly bruise their karma.
Having been starved of Western entertainment for some time, we decided
to take in a movie. With no formal theatres in town, we opted for one
of the local movie houses. Apprehensive at first by the advertisement
for private rooms, the movie selection dispelled our fears
of nefarious goings on and we enjoyed watching The Motorcycle
Diaries on a standard television and the comfort of a well-worn
Hungry for some exercise, we rented bicycles for a couple days to get
a feel for the countryside. We thought we were getting such a great
deal for the $1.50 set of wheels, until we discovered they were more
fit for the circus. Because the area is hilly, more tourists rent motorbikes,
which can be leased without any sort of permit. They remind you to drive
on the left side of the road and look out for runaway buses, then send
you on your way.
Upon our bicycles, we visited surrounding villages, canyons, hot springs,
waterfalls and elephant camps. One particular elephant, perhaps simply
by her close proximity to the road, drew us to a halt. Before we had
dismounted, a village woman was trotting toward us with bananas. Changing
bath for bunch, we began doling them out to 47-year-old Bunmar. However
one-sided, we felt a deep and mournful affection for this chained pachyderm.
The joy in communing with this magnificent beast was tempered by the
knowledge that we were complicit in her exploitation and quite possibly
We found in Pai both solitude and camaraderie on a budget affordable
to all. Nothing our room, dinner for two, laundry service, movie
night, bike rental, bus ride, used books cost more than $6.
Our three-day trip was extended to more than a week, but was rudely
interrupted when our Thai visas were on the verge of expiring and we
had to head for the border on a visa-renewal mission. And so we left
having beaten the path slightly wider, straighter and easier to find,
the art of doing Pai nearly perfected.
For even more information about Pai, visit http://www.paithailand.info.
Furries December 2006
Travel in Hacktreks
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