Sunday, May 12, 2013

Episode VI: Return of the Pai

Pai continues to be one of my favorite places on the planet. I was a little worried that because of the wonderful time we had the first trip, I had built it up too much in my head. I hadn't. Pai is still awesome. We arrived via local bus from Chiang Mai in the late afternoon, and made the short walk to Baan Pai Village, our home for the next few days. We had just taken an overnight train from Bangkok, and then a five hour bus trip, so we decided an easy night in was just what we needed. It was a good decision. Once we settled in, the skies opened up and poured rain. Didn't bother us one bit. We relaxed in our private bungalow, and only ventured as far as the restaurant about 100 feet from our room to listen to a Thai guy sing his own renditions of "Wish You Were Here", "Tears in Heaven", and "American Pie" while we ate our dinner.

The next day, we headed down the street to a breakfast place we had found on our previous trip that has delicious breakfast crepes. On our way back, Courtney stopped at a little storefront and booked a motorbike lesson, while I went and rented a Honda Click 125cc as our transportation for the next few days.

She was a fast learner, and within no time, she was driving around like an expert.

Afterwards, we decided to see if we could find one of the many waterfalls surrounding Pai. We had ventured out to one on our last trip, so we picked one on our map and headed for it. We followed a paved road for a little bit. Then we followed a dirt road for a little while longer.

Then the road ended, so we did what any sane person would do. We marched ourselves up the stream into the jungle in search of the elusive waterfall. We followed a small path that lead up through the hills and past a few local farms, getting some good pictures along the way.

Eventually we came to a spot on the trail where the rain had washed a large chunk of it down the slope, and the skies were getting darker, so we decided to turn back. We'll get you next time waterfall!

We hopped back on our bike and headed back down the dirt road with a few other westerners that hadn't had any better luck finding it than we had.

We waited out the rain for a while in our cozy bungalow, and then headed back out to Pai Canyon. There are trails that follow the top of the canyon, and in some places, it only a few feet across.

The walk may feel a little treacherous, but the view is absolutely incredible.

Afterwards, we headed back for dinner and some good sleep. We got up the next morning and hopped back on our motorbike. Our destination today: Soppong. The drive is 43km of windy, mountain roads that are tons of fun. About halfway through the drive, we stopped at a lookout point on top of the tallest mountain in the area.

We were running low on fuel, so once again we bought gas poured from a recycled 1L Thai whiskey bottle. It's actually more normal here than it sounds.

If Pai is the party town of the area, Soppong is its quiet, nature-loving little sister that isn't allowed out after dark. It's just a little tiny one-road town that happens to be in the center of lots of rivers, waterfalls, and caves. We stopped at a little cafe for a freshly made honey-lemon soda, and then headed down another 'road' for Tham Lod (Lod Cave).

The cave is famous for the 'Swifts' which are small birds that nest in the caves. During the day, you can see hundreds of them swirling around the cave entrance, going to and from their nests.

Lod Cave was amazing. Not just pretty cool, but make-your-heart-race incredible. There are no electric lights inside the cave, so you hire a guide armed only with a reliable gas Coleman lantern to lead you through the cave. We opted to also hire a bamboo raft to help us float down the underground river in the cave to get from cavern to cavern. It's a little spooky, floating down a river, watching the light from the entrance disappear behind you, listening to the thousands of bats high above you, hoping your one lantern doesn't run out of fuel in the middle of a pitch black cave.

We huddled close to our guide, who lead us through these amazing caverns. The rock formations were bright white and beautiful, and there was a sense of awe that came from being underground and not being able to see past the 30 feet radius of our lantern, or not being able to see what was at the bottom of the rickety wooden stairs you were climbing down.

There was also evidence that people had been living in and around the cave for a very, very long time. There were cave drawings inside that dated back at least a thousand years. There were also remnants of ancient coffins in some places deep in the cave.

Eventually, we hopped back on our bamboo raft and floated our way back out of the cave. We stopped at a little roadside restaurant and had a delicious lunch of crispy pork with rice, and fried noodles with vegetables. We're comfortable enough with Thai food now that we don't need everything spelled out in English for us, and are perfectly capable of ordering lunch with the locals.

We got back just in time for the afternoon rains to come, which we had come to expect by now. During a break in the storm, we wandered down the street for dinner. Halfway through dinner, the skies opened up again, and we found ourselves jogging through the rain to get back to our bungalow. Surprise!

In the morning, we packed up our bags and headed back to the bus station.

After a warm send-off by the locals...

...we waved goodbye to Pai. It may be a little longer than a month until the next time were back, but I know for sure that we will. We'll probably stay a little longer, too... ;)


  1. So glad you got to return to Pai! Next time we'll be there to chase that waterfall with you. ;-)

    1. I hope you're as serious as we are about coming back here to open a clinic/teach English/run a motorbike tour company.

    2. I can't wait, Jacqui! Sophie can lead the way. :)