Monday, January 7, 2013

762 Curves to Pai!


the "northern loop"
After Chiang Mai, the plan was to finish touring the north via the “northern loop”-- Chiang Mai to Pai to Mae Hong Son-- which is popular with many travelers. Then, instead of completing the loop back in Chiang Mai, we'd continue along the Thai-Burmese border to Mae Sariang, and follow the river to our final destination of Mae Sot in Tak province. 
Pai
          The mini-bus ride from Chiang Mai to Pai was like being on a roller coaster... for three hours. In total, there's 762 curves, up and down, side to side. The journey is  infamous amongst travelers. It's guaranteed that at least one person in every mini-bus will make good use of their barf bag. On my bus, it happened to be a pregnant Japanese women. I felt bad for her as she got sick again and again.


          If you're not too susceptible to car sickness, it's a beautiful drive up to Pai. In between the crashing waves of nausea, I'd peek out at the sprouting mountains. I'd stare for seconds at a time out the window at the budding country racing by, until the smell of the Ms. Miyagi's sickness slapped me across the face and brought me back to the reality of my uncomfortable situation. I glanced at the woman -- her cheeks, the color of the jungle outside. I looked away and tried to find distraction before becoming sick myself.


          We arrived in Pai and checked in to a guest house ($10/night with fan), then explored to see what there was to do. Not much.  Pai is a small, sleepy, mountain town. I liked it. I would've liked it more if it weren't as touristy. I constantly feel like I'm in Thailand twenty years too late.  I don't even want to think about what it will be like in another twenty. Still, Pai has a certain charm about it. It's chilled out, relaxed, organic. Unfortunately, this makes it big draw for hippies (I swear, I can't get away from them) and Thai Rastas.  When I lived in Surat Thani, there were tons of stray dogs -- literally, packs -- and more than once, they've been aggressive.  When walking at night, I'd constantly have an eye open for large sticks or rocks nearby, just in case I needed to defend myself.  In Pai, I felt the same natural sense of heightened alertness, but instead of a rabid canine lurking in the shadows, I was worried about the dirty hippies everywhere.  Like stray dogs, hippies very well may be rabid -- and without a doubt they have mange.  They seem to travel in packs; where there's one, there may be many. Word to the wise, when in Pai, carry a hippy-beater.  Better safe than sorry.
riverside bamboo huts-- hilltribe style
          But other than the multitude of unhygienic, "free-thinking" vagabonds, I liked Pai.  If I had a little more time and money, I would've liked to hang around a few days longer. There's waterfalls, caves, and a canyon nearby that are all supposed to be worth seeing. There's also rafting, dirt bikes for rent, or if you're up to it, piranha fishing in the river. Being on a budget, I couldn't do much. Instead, I spent two days reading, eating good food, drinking good coffee (and beer), and strolling through the nightly markets. Every night the town's rolling streets are lit up and lined with vendors selling food, northern-style handicrafts, and clothes -- particularly shirts with sayings like “I survived the 762 curves to Pai!”
Handmade Northern-style handbags and hats
          I was surprised at how many Thai tourists I saw there.  Most Thai people don't like to travel, especially not without organized tours.  However, Pai is one of the few towns popular with Westerners that is also a prominent destination for Thai tourists. Because of the popular movie Pai in Love that was filmed there in 2009, young Thai couples can be seen on every street corner taking very cheesy (very Asian) photos, posing and reenacting screenshots from the movie.
           After two days of this I started feeling the itch to pack up and continue my journey.  The final nudge came when I was walking through town and bumped into two of the Canadian hippies I battled in Chiang Rai the week before.  A dreadlocked mullet is always a sign to move on.  "Lets blow this popsicle stand," I said to Britt.  Our next stop on the loop was Mae Hong Son, and it would turn out to be one of my favorites.


*photo link #1: Northern Loop map
*photo link #2: Sharp Curve ahead
*photo link #3: Harley Tours Thailand
*photo link #5: Whats Dave Doing?

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