Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Welcome to Pai, Your New Home

Good evening everybody, writing from my guest house in Pai. We left Chaing Mai a few days ago, and the move is a major upgrade. It's wonderful up here and we've had great fun thus far, with a lot to look forward to still. So, on with it:

In the evening, we went out in search of dinner and new people, and only had marginal success. Finding food was easy but finding a bar/restaurant with people under 40, or one that wasn't empty or wasn't expensive seemed an impossible task. I'd expected it to be easy to meet people in Chaing Mai, but maybe we were doing something wrong... Anyways, this is a picture of one of the night markets. Once the sun goes down, the street seems to explode with people and street venders, and it is a lot of fun.

The next morning we awoke at 6am, got food at the market, and hopped on a songtaew (a shared taxi, two rows of seats in the back of a pickup truck) to get to Doi Suthep, a national park. No one else was coming up at that area, so we had to pay for the whole thing yourself. They like to go with 10 people for 50 baht each, but since no one else was coming to share the ride/cost with us, we ended up having to pay for just the three of us and it was a bit of a rip off, working out to $5 each, but we didn't really have another option. They dropped us off at what was the 'headquarters' of the park, but really wasn't much of anything. That said, there were still a lot of cool birds and a number of firsts for Brendan and Ryan, who were quite excited.

Our idea was to go on a walk through the park, and we asked at what appeared to be the front desk area about a trail. She quickly told us 'it's closed' and that was about it. We didn't believe her and wanted to go for a walk, so we wandered around for a bit and into an area that was marked 'staff cabins'. Naturally we figured that was not where the trail head would be, so we kept going.

As has happened so often on this trip, some clueless (or rather, lacking in knowledge, since facts are often hard to come by) travelers are wandering around, and a random local comes to their rescue. An old man saw the cameras, binoculars and bird guides Brendan and Ryan were holding, and pointed at the book and indicated that the trail head was past the staff cabins. The only English he seemed to speak was '5 kilometers' which he repeated often. We followed in the direction he pointed, and after one more wrong turn found an old road that lead down the hill. We were headed for a waterfall, and after some walking, we found a sign for where we wanted to go.

This is the Sai Yoi Falls, where we stopped to snack, look for birds and watch and photograph the pretty little butterflies and dragon flies that were all over. A nice spot to sit and observe nature, that's for sure. Here Brendan ran into some other travelers and we got a good tip; that we could continue on down the trail and it would lead us past another falls and to a road that will connect to the main road, meaning we wouldn't have to go back the same way we came (and uphill).

This new course lead us to this spot. Because the park is on a hill right up against the town, farther down the trail we were greeted with this view of Chaing Mai. Along the way we saw a number of interesting birds, and a really neat looking plant Brendan decided to call a 'Gumby cactus'.

Eventually we got back to the main road, and stood on the side of the road to wait for a songtaew to pick us up and take us into town. About 3 minutes later, we had a ride into town for just 50 baht each, and quickly arrived in the proper part of town. There, I noticed an old lady with a cart selling bags of fish food for 10 baht and had to have a go. Best 33 cents I've spent in a while! With each handful of food, the old moat would erupt with fat fish piling on top of each other for a bite. I then gave the remainder of the bag to Brendan, who used it to feed the pigeons, getting them to eat out of his hand then being paranoid of germs (can't blame him).

The next day we caught a mini-bus out of Chaing Mai for 180 baht each and were looking forward to Pai. The biggest reason we headed this way was because on Railay Beach I met a guy named Tom, who was a rock climber and planted trees as a seasonal job. He highly recommended it and gave me a card to a place to stay. Literally within one minute of arriving in Pai, he showed up at the same time, and gave us an enthusiastic welcome. It's pretty cool how you end up seeing some of the same travelers in different parts of the region. In addition to that initial recommendation, it is also supposed to be a cool town up in the 'mountains' and the forest. As we were driving up, the road turned steep, incredibly windy and surrounded in green. Right away I could tel Pai was going to be an awesome place just from the approach.

The place we ended up at is called the Mountain View Guest House, where we got nice bungalows for 200 and 250 baht a night. The place is one of the best places I've stayed at in my two months of traveling so far. It is a wonderful location on a hill outside of town, the view of the mountains really is nice, the people are friendly and relaxed, so on and so forth. It has a real community feel about it because many people come back every year for weeks/months at a time, and everyone seems to know each other.

This is the mountains that surround the town of Pai as seen from the common area at the guest house. We are in in the far north of the country, and it is much more mountainous out here. For the first time as well, it's rather cool. I've been wearing pants for the first time, and I am even wearing a fleece for the first time! After spending so much time on the beach and not even needing to wear a shirt this is a nice and welcome change of pace.

In the evening we walked into town, which is a very interesting place because it is so different from anywhere else I've been. Rather than being a huge western tourist draw, the tourists here are mostly Thai. It was a popular place for minor Thai celebrities in the 70s and was a little hippie town, but as a result of two recent chick-flicks that have taken place here the town has become a bit of a high-end tourist draw, and it is pretty strange to see. I mean, there are a lot westerners, but it is mostly Thai's buying cutesy t-shirts and movie-related souvenirs.

The next day, after my extensive 15 minutes of driving a moto on Koh Lanta, I walked into town and rented one from aYa, a tourist center in town that rents a lot of scooters. For just 100 baht a day (~$3.30), I got a a 110cc automatic Honda Icon moto and for an added 40 baht got insurance if I manage to crash it. Less than $5 a day for a moto with damage insurance, not bad!

After driving around for a few minutes, I took Ryan and then Brendan out giving them lessons on how to drive one (it's very easy) and then went into town with them to rent their own. There are no taxis here and things are spread out, so motos are the only way to get around. It's great though, because they are a total blast to drive. We are now mobile and self-sufficient for travel, it's great!

Along with paying for our rooms at the guest house, we also get to use the pool and limited weight room across town. We rode our motos out there and found some people we had met the previous night, and went for a swim, then relaxed in the sun. I certainly didn't come to Thailand to hang out at a pool, but it's a pretty chill place and I will no doubt be back a few times while here in Pai. That night we went back into town to eat, then hung out at the guest house where a little gathering was going on as a good bye party for one of the regulars.

Speaking of regulars, this is Paul, one of them. We got to talking last night and discovered we both to arborist work. He has recently been working in British Columbia with a company called “Burley Boys Tree Service” but has worked in England and France doing tree work as well. It was fun to chat trees and chainsaws with him, and I showed him some pictures of Some work with Seattle Tree Preservation as well.

After a late breakfast, we headed off in search of a new t-shirt for Brendan. We headed first to an open air market, only to find it was closed at the moment, and ended up at some random clothing shop. Outside they had a rack of used t-shirts that we said looked like what you would find at Value Village, a thrift shop that operates mostly in the Seattle. Well Brendan picked out a shirt and it actually had a price tag on it from Value Village! It's funny to think about how the shirt made it all the way from a Value Village in the American NW all the way to northern Thailand.

Anyways, our goal for the afternoon was a waterfalls, so we headed out into the hills beyond town. Along the way we passed through tons of other guest houses on the outskirts, small farms and many local houses. Along the way, we naturally stopped to look at interesting birds. Brendan calls this photo 'the dork patrol'.

We arrived at the Mo Paeng waterfall after a few wrong turns and it was very nice. A series of slides and pools cut into the stone, and tourists and a few locals were relaxing in the sun and swimming. A few of the sections you can actually slide down like a water-slide, and a local guy went down headfirst, entering the pool in a dive and swimming underwater to the other side. I don't think it was his first visit...

On the way down the hill back into town, we came across this sight, a line of villagers working in the fields across the valley from us. The kind of farming they do is a bit suspect however, because despite the coffee, bananas and other crops, they seem to have other things in mind when tourists drive by. On the way down the hill, literally every female we passed gave us the little 'shhhh' finger in front of the lips, then made the smoking gesture, trying to sell us marijuana. It was pretty funny riding down a hill on a moto and having old ladies trying to sell you weed. Haha.

On the way back into town we stopped at a place called 'Piranha Pond and Guest House' or something like that. It is another English owned guest house with fishing ponds, and is a very nice place. We were looking for some food to eat but it was all western food and not cheap, so after sitting in a cabana for a while, we moved on. It was a very nice place to stay I imagine, and was some of the nicest grounds I've seen on the trip.

Tomorrow we are getting up for sunrise to go out on a hike and going to a BBQ. In the next few days we will go out on more moto adventures to hot springs, caves, canyons, waterfalls and forests. This place is really wonderful, and I can see how some people planned on spending a few days and have never left years later. The owner of this guest house did just that, expecting to go to India after Pai, but that was 8 years ago and he hasn't left yet. I've got my ticket to India on the 2nd, and looking forward to it, so I hope Pai doesn't suck me in, but you never know!