In the north of Thailand, 172 stomach turning curves from Chiang Mai, lies a small town built along a river, with rice paddies and jungle-covered mountains encircling it. Pai is not your run of the mill rural town. It is home to many foreigners who visited and then couldn’t tear themselves away from the quiet. It is also home to many artists, crafters, musicians, yogis and healers. It is a magical place where you can easily spend long days drinking tea, reading your book in a hammock overlooking the river, enjoying crystal healings, taking yoga or reiki courses, cycling or motorbiking around the hills and joining the hippy community for music festivals and art exhibitions. It is a place where it’s easy to hang up your travelling shoes and stay for a while. It is also my favourite place in Thailand.
On my trip around South-east Asia two years ago I stopped in Pai, and stayed for a few weeks. I found myself working on a farm in the area, sweating in the May heat and content with being dirty. I also had the prerequisite Thai motorbike accident there and quickly learnt about the dangers of humidity to open wounds, as well as my way to the local hospital.
A fall off a motorbike during my stay in Pai two years ago meant daily visits to the hospital to clean my wounds, which battled to heal in the humid weather. Sadly the story doesn’t involve drinking, speeding or even me driving, but the scars remind me of that beautiful journey.
This time my stay was short; it was really just to remember the stillness of Pai, and the lush green grass surrounding bungalows on the other side of the river. (If you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember that I’m missing Joburg’s summer green grass.)
During the day the streets are pretty quiet, but each evening two streets are blocked off for the night market. Just like in Chiang Mai the market is brimming with stalls selling jewellery, clothes, handicrafts, leather goods and all kinds of food treats. But here there is a twist. The T-shirts, magnets, postcards and handmade gifts all bear the quirky “love Pai” slogan. You can love/be in love/fall in love/spread the love/post the love.
Walk for 10 minutes and you’re out of town. Walk another 10 minutes and you’re alone, with the sounds of birds chirping, banana leaves rustling and water flowing as your soundtrack. Bliss.
Go to Pai. And stay. Walk, cycle, lie in a hammock. Drink tea. Drink beer. Make music. Make friends. And don’t forget to eat.