We residents think of Chiangmai as a great little city to live in with just enough modern conveniences and international flavor to be interesting. Still, sometimes it's necessary to have a diversion. A trip to Pai is a pleasant experience for you and your family.
The drive is very scenic. The asphalt road is in good condition all the way. There are plenty of twists and turns. The few hairpin curves bring to mind the drive between Ohio and Pennsylvania through the Allegheny mountains. The drivers of the orange government buses that travel continuously between Chiangmai and Pai are courteous in that they wave their hands when the way is clear to pass. Just a reminder to fill up the gas tank at Mae Malai with your favorite brand of petrol. There's only one place to get petrol between Mae Malai and Pai and it's a small oil drum setup for motorbike service.
The road climbs up and up. It seems odd to see so many long needle pine trees in this tropical country situated so near the equator. They stately stand on the side casting long, cool shadows in the afternoon sun. On the way to Pai is a huge mushroom farm where it's possible to buy shitake mushrooms.
Upon reaching Pai there is a trisection with three roads shooting off from the main road. The extreme left road goes past the town on to Mae Hong Sorn. The center road goes into town and the extreme right road goes toward the Pai river. There are very relaxing accommodations everywhere in the city and on these roads.
The river seemed the perfect spot to look for a place to stay. With our good luck just by asking the corner vendor selling noodles and "somtam", she pointed out a most pleasant place, Rim Pai Cottages. We had our choice of rooms. We chose two river front cabins sitting on beams with a short staircase leading to a clean tiled bathroom. Other accommodations are a Thai style house on beams and small A-frame cottages with inside bathrooms.
Accommodations found, it's time to go exploring. A sign that caught our attention was the animal sanctuary and so we headed for the junction where we thought the road to Mae Hong Sorn would connect with the city street. We asked directions from a young lady, who was so startled by the face of a farang, she couldn't speak. No problem, on up the street we went. On we travelled until the end of the cement road surface near a temple. When asking directions from a man coming toward us on a motorbike he had a different answer each time we rephrased the question. We then decided to turn back toward town after taking pictures of the temple and the lotus pond at the entrance.
This time we recognized a landmark and returned to the initial trisection by the road to Mae Hong Sorn on which the animal sanctuary was located. We drove for about 7 kilometers and were still hesitant about possibly passing the sanctuary. Again, we asked directions from a soldier who was walking out of the army camp. He said he had never heard of an animal sanctuary. We still sought out our intended destination. At last Success!! We saw the sign but not in time to stop and turn. We made a U-turn and up the small dirt driveway we went. Judging from the ruts in the road we knew this would be a great adventure in someone' else's car but not in ours.
Up and around small curves we went. Just as we were about to call off the mission, we came to a hilltop and saw some small wooden buildings and houses. There weren't any people walking about. Off we went with binoculars in hand to scan the horizon in search of tigers and wild animals off . The scenery was wild enough but nothing to see. Not even any dogs. We did finally meet someone who said the wild animals were another 14 to 16 kilometers in the jungle. This was definitely an adventure for another time when we would be better equipped for hiking and camping.
Located on this road are several ongoing resorts and construction sites for new resorts. The local business people are definitely preparing for a large influx of visitors to this area. The airport which consists of a grassy field and a paved driveway for the landing strip. It's certain that charter groups of visitors will not be flying in to Pai via jets for a while.
The local eateries in the city have plenty of English language signs offering various kinds of food and drinks. At 4.00 in the afternoon most places were empty. A tour company had an irresistible name of "No Mercy Trek." Although we are not tough and gung ho candidates for trekking by any means, we wanted to investigate what the tours were. How about a 9-km bamboo rafting trip down the Pai River starting out next morning at 9.00 am? And so 3 generations of the Bhadungzong Family were soon to be travelling on a river adventure.
Around 7.30 pm we drove to the city for a meal at Our Own Bakery. What a fantastic menu they have. A few dishes were not available due to the current low season. They did offer several middle eastern dishes along with Pita bread. The usual pasta dishes, Thai food and fried chicken were also offered. The food was tasty and satisfied our appetites. The owners were taught middle eastern food by a Danish woman who at one time had two restaurants in nearby Mae Hong Sorn.
We had a walk around the city in the dark. The air was cool and the streets were very quiet. Pai is certainly a serene place for a long visit for those in need of escaping the pressures of big city living. Those who are planning to write a novel or biography would find Pai an ideal spot for concentration and contemplation.
The next morning we were up early in preparation for the trip on the River. It's best to wear slippers and light clothing. You can take along a plastic bag to wrap around your small camera during the interval when not taking photographs.
We were driven about 6 kms into the countryside on a pickup truck. There were barren fields where garlic had been recently harvested. Three hunters with rifles hanging from their shoulders followed by several dogs walked along the road. All in search of wild boar and large forest birds. At the village we walked through a field to the river where we saw the bamboo raft with two small seats waiting for us. It seems the raft builders didn't expect four passengers. As we all boarded the raft, it sunk deeper and deeper into the water.
The raft definitely needed more bamboo poles for buoyancy. More poles were notched and wrapped to the raft. It was fascinating to watch the villagers prepare and secure the poles to the raft. And away we went after about a half an hour. The weather was perfect for a slow trip on the river. It was an overcast day and cool with slight breezes. As the raft drifted on the slow current of the river, our captain who was a villager used the bamboo pool to push away from the dirt banks. We all wanted to be involved pushing with a bamboo pole. With so many first-mates the captain asked us to let him handle poling by himself.
Our first adventure was a small drop in the river nothing major really but it was a thrill anticipating the river had some surprises for us. Then we came upon a tree that had fallen over blocking our path. We got off the raft and pushed it around the tree branches. On we went. We came to some small dirt islands in the river where the captain decided which would be the better channel to take. Suddenly the current seemed stronger and around the corner the roots of a tree jutted out into the river. Here was some excitement. We had to step over the roots while maintaining our balance on the raft.
Occasionally at the river edge there were families washing clothes and dishes. One lady was bending over while washing an item and her sarong fell open. That was certainly a surprise for all of us. I thought she probably came to the river washing every day and her sarong stayed secure each time. Then the one time her sarong fell off, there was an audience floating down the river on a bamboo raft gawking away. Life sure can be a bummer.
Nearing the end of our lovely adventure the current became stronger. Suddenly on one side of the river exactly where the raft was heading was a bank of thorn bushes. Those of us in the front were saved at the last minute when the captain quickly pushed the raft away from the bushes causing the aft to crash into the bushes. Anticipating some nasty scratches, the passenger at the end stepped off into the river. When we heard a yell, we turned around and saw him laying flat out. The captain was so concerned he tried to reverse the raft. We laughed so much we forgot to take a photo of the mishap.
The raft pulled up within walking distance of the Rim Pai Cottage. Everyone had a thoroughly wonderful morning. The sun was just breaking through the cloud cover. I was sitting like a good little passenger all morning not being a bother to anyone. I stretched my leg out getting ready to get off the raft when my foot slipped between the bamboo poles and my ankle was trapped. That hurt. The captain was "helpfully" jerking my leg up but it wouldn't come free unless an adjoining pole was pushed under which I did with my other foot. I hobbled up the small incline to the guesthouse. In the panic to save me, the camera was inadvertently dipped into the river. All was well and the camera could be repaired. We were happy to have had the experience of riding on the isolated river.
It was midday time and time for lunch. After which, we admired four important temples of Pai. One temple had a 335 step climb to the top. It also has a driveway to the top which we opted for. On the city map a waterfall was indicated. We stopped to ask directions. A woman advised us the waterfall was in walking distance. How far? If we started at 8.00 am, we'd reach the waterfall at 11.30 am. We drove to another waterfall at the other side of Pai. This was a difficult drive for a passenger car as well. But the road went through the rural area where we viewed village life.
Getting to the waterfall proved to be another adventure. We asked directions again in front of the army camp where three soldiers were standing. The green T-shirt of one soldier had numerous small round holes. One of our group ventured a guess that they were bullet holes. To me, it looked as through he was attacked by a flock of voracious moths. The waterfall they assured us wasn't far just look for the sign to turn left. On we went looking for the sign. We turned left and entered a road with wild growth as far as the eye could see. This path would be more appropriate for a buffalo cart. At the sole building not much larger than a 1 car garage, the noodle vendor assured us the road surface would improve after a distance of 1 km.
The road did get wider but there was much construction work going on. The next time we visit this waterfall, the road will be in excellent condition. We passed a few resorts and came to the Moh Paeng Falls. The waterfall was indeed a popular place for residents. Plenty of families were enjoying a splash in the pond. Only 1 km from this scenic sight is the MUANG PAI RESORT . This peaceful place is on the hillside surrounded by mountains. The teak Thai style cottages contain double bed, private shower with hot and cold water plus a separate balcony from where visitors can sit to admire nature and birds.
Visit the Muang Pai Resort office just Behind the Max Food 3 restaurant, 249 Soi Chutima 1, Chiangmai Hangdong Road to get all up-to-date information on accommodations and transportation. Tel. (66 53) 270906.
Travelling back down the road we noticed a collection of charming wooden bungalows spread out on a hilly landscape. It looked like a wonderful place to escape from the trials and tribulations of the world. That would have to wait until the next trip to Pai. It was time to head on back to Chiangmai.
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