Pai – Hippies, Canyons, and Street Food

After a few days in Chiang Rai, we wanted to visit Pai, a small town in Northwest Thailand.  Unfortunately there is no direct bus from Chiang Rai, so to get there, we had to first travel back down to Chiang Mai and then up again to Pai.

First we had to get a tuk tuk to the Chiang Rai bus station, where we were pointed toward a booth to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai.  The bus to Chiang Mai was pretty uneventful and took about 3 or 4 hours.  Once we got there, we had to figure out where to buy a ticket for Pai.  We asked the woman sitting at the kiosk thing and she pointed us to another bus station “bus station 2” that was right next to the one we were in.  Once we found the right place, we bought our tickets and had to wait about half an hour for the van to leave.

The van to Pai bordered on agonizing.  The trip is famed for its 762 curves, some of which are vomit-inducing hairpins, and the driver was persistent on maintaining a ludicrous speed the entire way.  To top it off, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we were in an unpleasant state of hungry yet nauseous…

It took another 3-4 hours to finally get to Pai, but it was definitely worth the trip!  We found a cheap room right on the main street right away, just as the sun was going down.

Pai is known for being a “hippie town” and very tourism-oriented, but picturesque and laid back.

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Cute little town of Pai

We spent four relaxing days in Pai enjoying the superb scenery, drinking smoothies and kombucha at all the different cafes, enjoying some of the best Thai food we’d had in the entire country, and having a few drinks at the various bars around town that had live musicians every night.

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There were lots of street vendors every night selling food and clothing.
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Couldn’t resist a photo of this little guy
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Iced chai masala, yum!
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Street art in Pai
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Sitting at a bar on the main strip, enjoying a beer and people watching
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More street art

The last day was probably our favorite.  We let ourselves sleep in past breakfast and got brunch at a place called Ohm Garden Cafe which was delicious, then hung out at our bungalow for a few hours before heading to Pai Canyon to see the sunset.

We took a roundtrip tuk tuk for 100 baht each and got there about 30-40 minutes before the sun went down.  We explored the area and climbed around the rocks.  The view was breathtaking!  (Though some call it the “Thai’s response to the Grand Canyon” which is really reaching.)

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The sunset was amazing and it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Pai.

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When we got back and were trying to decide where to eat for dinner, Joe had the idea that we sample a whole bunch of street food instead of going to a restaurant.  It ended up being a great idea!

We started out with sushi that was only 5-10 baht per piece!  Then Joe tried a couple of different sausages on a stick.

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Next, Joe finally made good on his promise to try a fried insect while in Thailand.  His choice was cicadas, but the woman threw in a couple of meal worms as a bonus.  He said the locusts were crunchy like potato chips and he actually ate a couple of them until he got one that was a little underdone and described it as being “meaty.”  He did not eat any more after that.

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To take his mind off of the chewy insect carcass he had just ingested, we tried some homemade beef jerky which was pretty good.  They even warmed it up over a fire for us.

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Lastly we got a piece of BBQ chicken which was pretty good but it was weirdly salty…kind of like ham.

We finished our street food tour with a warm Soy Chai Masala.

After that, we decided to head over to a bar called Edible Jazz (where we had spent the last two nights as well…really liked it there) where we sat on pillows on a bamboo platform and watched the live band they had that night.

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After a couple of drinks, we stopped for one last snack at a “Grandma’s Pancakes.” Where an older Thai woman made us the most artistic silver dollar pancakes stuffed with bananas and drizzled in chocolate.  They were only 40 baht for 10!

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We had a few debates about Pai and whether or not it we liked it.  Pai is undeniably a fun place to be, but it’s not exactly ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional.’  It didn’t really feel like being in a foreign or exotic country and sometimes it felt like there were more tourists than Thais there.  It could have been a town in California or something.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool or enjoyable, just not exactly what you picture when you think of visiting Thailand.  We agreed it was still a place well worth visiting, though.  The vibe was nice and it was a great little vacation from vacation!

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