Let me tell you about northern Thailand.
When I first arrived in Bangkok, I was a little taken aback by the tourist-Mecca overload that greets you the moment you leave the airport. To be honest I had been a bit disappointed, since I love cultural-adventurous travel more than anything. However, I was very pleased to find a change of pace in the northwestern Thai towns of Chiang Mai and Pai.
Chiang Mai is a relatively large city with tons of flavour and activities for anyone. It was here that I did the Thai cooking class and the elephant jungle sanctuary (no riding), as well as enjoyed delicous dishes and drinks with cool travelers from around the world. I stayed at Stamps Backpackers, a Canadian-Thai owned hostel that has a chill and welcoming vibe and is always down for a fun night out at Zoe in Yellow or Spicy. I made myself at home here, and at Lantern House hostel, for the greater part of a week (forever on the backpacker time continuum).
After a few days of activities I decided to check out the Chiang Mai Sunday night market, and wow, I’ve never seen a market like it (and South America had some good ones!). There were streets upon streets of vendors and food stalls, all selling unique wares and treats. I didn’t get to them all and I was there for hours. I bought way more than I should have because I really enjoyed the one-of-a-kind (cheap!) nature of what was for sale. My poor 45L bag is now brimming with purchases (cat purse not included) that I’m excited to use when I get home.
I. Love. Pai.
After filling my bag with things I don’t need, I said goodbye to Chiang Mai and took a van 3 hours northwest on a windy road to Pai.
Cute shops. Cute restaurants. Hikes. Waterfalls. Elephants. Farms. Hippies. Views. Fresh avocado-topped bruscetta on the street.
Is Pai heaven? Maybe.
The traveler vibe here was way more chill, and I met a cool crew of people who helped make my June birthday one of the most memorable yet. I had been waiting to meet a group of like-minded people for a while now and the timing was perfect. We cuddled puppies, soaked in sunshine, rode around the area on our 200B/day ($8) scooters, and took in a sunset at a local sunset bar where we stayed until the wee morning hours. My friend M. (who I had traveled with from Koh Tao to Chiang Mai) even bought me a celebratory mango sticky rice as a surprise gift. Best day ever!
Nights out until 4am were not uncommon in Pai, though they were never spent in clubs or getting wasted. My kind of place! They were usually pleasantly passed chilling in a hammock after a few drinks at a reggae bar, chatting, laughing, and sharing amazing travel stories until the wee hours over social lubricants.
Active in the day, connecting with people at night. That’s the Pai way. The days here reminded me how much I love the bonds you make when you travel because they are instantly strong, curiously welcoming and they feel like you’ve had them for a lifetime.
Chiang Mai and Pai – don’t miss these places, if you’re coming; it’s been a highlight of my world travels (and I’ve been a few places, I guess!)