Pai (pronounced pie) is worth at least an overnight trip for anyone in willing to take a few hour ride west of Chiang Mai. This quaint village on the river is surrounded by rice paddies, temples, waterfalls and hot springs while still maintaining an expat community making it easy to have a great time. Brian and I arrived in Pai the night before with packs strapped to our scooters. Now it was time we get to tool around pack free and explore this rural countryside.
We looked at a map briefly and noticed that there were dozens of similar sites to see with temples and waterfalls lining the outskirts of downtown. Picking one near our hotel was easy and we went off for a day of exploring. That first morning on the road is a wonderful feeling. In fact all mornings on a motorbike (in good weather) are glorious. This one enhanced by the fact that I was in Thailand!
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Stopping at a rice paddie we took a few photos before turning down an alleyway. Livestock roamed past as the roads turned into a green tunnel with jungle creeping in from both sides. Giant trees and ferns loomed high over the asphalt and I quickly discovered thorn bushes when venturing offroad. Just the act of driving a bike around Pai was a thrill. It didn’t matter that we were about to happen upon a massive Buddha and spend the afternoon in a waterfall.
Our road went from asphalt to stones and gravel before finally disappearing into a dirt trail. We saw a few people walking ahead but decided to turn around and find a safe route for the bikes. Back on the road we passed our British buds on push bikes and regrouped at a nearby temple. Underwhelmed by this first stop we agreed to head to the Giant White Buddha. It was on our map and visible from the other side of the valley.
The roads took us up and around the village past shacks neighboring expansive hotels. The stark contrast of tourist vs local was apparent everywhere in Thailand and Pai was no exception. After a few wrong turns later we eventually found the right hill to head up and parked our bikes at the bottom of an endless staircase. Luckily Brian and I have been hiking a lot the last few months and found our way to the top with ease. Along the way intricate carvings of buddha, animals and other deities lined the white staircases.
After leaving Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill) we made our way back through Pai looking for a spot to cool down. The map showed Pambook waterfall not far away and locals told us all the waterfalls and places to swim. This time our British buds parked their push bikes and jumped on the back of our now pack-free mopeds. Riding through downtown we eventually passed I Love Pai, a restaurant specializing in strawberry pie, and the Pai Canyon. Riding past rice paddies and another temple we eventually spotted the sign for Pambook waterfall.
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The previously infrequent signs of modernization were now all but extinct on this stretch of road. Locals who lived off the land were lucky to have a vehicle and electricity this far off the path as the road grew ever more decrepit. Coming around the next jungle-lined curve I spotted a foreigner wiped out on the side of the road. Slowing to a halt I noticed he was clearly in pain and bleeding from his foot.
“Are you alright” I called out.
“Yeah,” he responded with a thick accent as I parked my bike and approached.
This Irishman was definitely coherent but possibly in shock; his right foot got the worst of it and was bloody with road rash. His flip flops broken and gym shorts offered no protection but thankfully the other bumps and bruises were minor.
“Some asshole came out of nowhere and ran me off the road!” He continued while trying to stand.
I urged him not to get up and to stay calm. “Do you have any friends riding with you? How bad is the pain, what can we do to help?” I peppered him with inquiries as Brian slowed to a halt and the 4 of us rummaged through our bags for anything resembling a first aid kit settling for a bottle of water and tissues. Luckily he was fully conscious and able to get himself cleaned up as his friends arrived. They hadn’t seen the spill and kept driving a few kilometers before noticing they were down one.
A Thai local stopped by and offered to call the hospital as my cohort realized there was nothing else we could do. Wishing him a speedy recovery and the best of luck we continued forward grateful that we hadn’t been run off the road. I couldn’t help think that I might have maintained control of my bike better. I would have been more aware of the potential hazard on a narrow curve and I was certain that if I had to bail my sturdy shoes would keep my foot from looking like a 1980’s horror prop.
A few more minutes on the road tooks us through more farm covered rolling hills and a forest before arriving at a river. We parked next to a half-dozen other bikes and followed the nature trail as it mimicked the river. Not far ahead the path emptied into a rocky stream with a massive waterfall behind it! Other tourists were already jumping and swimming around the watering hole enjoying the refreshing dip in this afternoon jungle. We joined them and all thoughts of that Irishmen left our minds. Rinsing in the cool water soothed a day of sweat and gave us a chance to relax.
On our way back to the hostel we swung by Pai Canyon for a sunset viewpoint. Maybe tomorrow we’d check out the hot springs or perhaps jump back on the bikes and head to Mae Hong Son! Tonight we were off to enjoy some local street food at the night market.
Have you ever been to Pai or are going to soon? Whats your favorite spot?