Wednesday, 14 December 2016


There are 762 curves on the 135km road from Chiang Mai to Pai – except ‘curves’ doesn’t really do the journey description justice. What this really means is three hours of sharp hairpin bends and steep mountain roads – a journey for the strongest stomachs only – made in a minivan by a driver who thinks he’s on a race track! (The minivan drivers here have a reputation for speeding and blindly overtaking on these mountain roads – perhaps because they want to get there quicker and squeeze in another journey, or perhaps they drive the route every day and know the roads well – but it’s not for the faint-hearted! For those who are familiar with the hairpin bends between Penberth and St Buryan in Cornwall, this is a fair description of the majority of the journey, without exaggeration!

Everyone in Pai hires a scooter when they arrive. All the main sights are a few kilometres outside of the centre – too far to walk, but easily accessible by moped – and at a cost of just £2 a day to hire one we decided to take advantage. Our accommodation was also up a steep mountain road and at night there were a lot of barking dogs – they probably meant no harm but it was hard to hold our nerve when the dogs ran up to (greet?) us – so the scooter also meant we didn’t have to run the gauntlet after dinner every night and we got back unscathed. 

We stayed in a hut/bungalow in the aptly-named Mountain View Guest House – and what a view it was! Every morning we woke up in the clouds and watched the mountains appear during breakfast as the sun burnedt though the morning mist. I could get used to waking up like that every morning! Some days we awoke to thick fog – and it was really cold – other days we were above the clouds, looking down on them like we were flying above the mountains in an aeroplane. By 10.30 everyday, however, the sun had won out and we had a week of perfect, sunny weather.

Our breakfast view
There is a downside, however, to living up a mountain in an area of dense jungle – that’s being closer to nature. Our bathroom at night kept on surprising us – one night we went in to find a scorpion (who on closer inspection put its sting up – eek!) We came back another night to find a large frog in the toilet (which we gladly flushed back down!) and pretty much every other night 2 large slugs came to visit – but always disappeared by morning. I’m not sure how they got in, or where they went but we always made sure we put flip flops on to go to the toilet in the night!

Our bungalow
So off on our scooter we went, visiting Mhor Pheng and Pembok waterfalls, Pai Canyon and the Land Split.

Pai Canyon
Mor Pheng waterfall
The Land Split is just that – where the land has split following earthquakes in 2008 and 2011. It’s not hugely impressive to look at in itself, but the enterprising farmer (who can no longer use the land for farming) turned it into a tourist attraction by giving all visitors a picnic of fruits grown on the land, including passion fruit, papaya, banana and roselle (which is in the hibiscus family) juice and jam – all for a small voluntary donation.

Roselle flowers drying in the sun
Pai is very beautiful and consequently, it’s almost impossible to do it justice on camera. The impressive mountain panoramas, ever changing as the sun and shade moves throughout the day, and picturesque natural wonders. There’s always the smell of wood smoke in the air (due to controlled burning in farming) and a humid, verdant smell which adds to its beauty.

The Land Split
The town itself is a small square, of which three streets are pedestrianised every night and as the sun goes down they turn into the night market – or walking streets, as they are known here. The stalls sell a combination of street food and drinks, clothes and souvenirs and are a great way to spend the evening, soaking up the atmosphere. 

Walking Street (market)
Pai is hugely popular with Chinese tourists and western backpackers and as the evening progresses the streets get busier as everyone heads into town for dinner. When we’d had our fill of beautiful scenery for the day, we enjoyed just hanging out in the town over a fruit shake and noodles in a street café, or a beer by the river.

If you’re ever in Northern Thailand I would highly recommend a visit to Pai – assuming you can stomach the minivan ride there, it’s definitely worth the effort.

Next up we’re continuing on to Chiang Rai (back via Chiang Mai for a couple of nights), then over the border into Laos. I’ll blog again next week.

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