"You simply must visit Pai" I'd been hearing on a practically daily basis since arriving in Thailand. A good 50% - 60% of the time, that was followed by an enthusiastic "You absolutely HAVE to stay at Circus Hostel - It's the best."
So, that was that. I was going to Pai, and I was going to Circus School.
Liam had decided to join me on my quest to become good at spinning things and playing with fire, so we bundled into a minibus ready for the 148km journey, leaving from Chiang Mai in the morning. Three and a half hours, seven hundred and thirty six bends in the road (and two travel sickness tablets later) we finally arrived in the hippie little town of Pai, and took the short walk up to Pai Circus School and Hostel.
I fell a little bit in love as soon as I arrived - even from the reception desk, you could see that the views of the mountains were incredible. Upbeat music filled the air and for every smiling face, there was another, deep in concentration as they practiced spinning, twirling and dancing on the lawn. The hostel also boasts a gorgeous infinity pool, and I straight away decided that I would be taking a daily swim.
We were lucky enough to unknowingly have picked the best time to stay at the circus school - the exact dates of the annual 'Juggling Convention,' meaning that there were classes, shows and workshops all weekend, as well as free morning yoga classes (which the hostel provides every day anyway, regardless of whether or not there is a convention on!) It wasn't long before Liam and I had hired yoga mats for the duration of our stay, and planned which workshops we were going to give a try the following day.
Up bright and early the next morning for my first ever yoga class. Yoga, to me, has always looked really peaceful and relaxing. However, there are many different types of yoga, and 'Ashtanga' yoga, which includes a lot of dynamic movement with its postures, felt neither peaceful, nor relaxing to a completely unfit beginner, such as myself. I was surprised to find, the following day that I woke up feeling like I'd done at least seventeen rounds with Mike Tyson. I still managed to pull myself out of bed for round two though! Liam, and 99.9% of the other participants, were yoga regulars, (or at least Liam was, and the rest certainly looked like they were,) and I couldn't believe how effortless the postures seemed to look for them, whilst I was somehow managing to wobble away even with both feet on the ground!
The juggling convention itself was great fun. After my first contact staff workshop, I decided that I definitely wasn't destined to become the great fire spinning staff legend that I'd hoped, and made up my mind to pick another skill to practice. Initially I thought about Poi, but then I ended up joining a juggling class last minute, and becoming extremely frustrated at the fact I now knew how to juggle, yet still couldn't make my hands do what I wanted them to. My stubborn streak kicked in, and I decided that I was going to learn how to juggle by the end of the week. I ended up skipping the Poi class to stick with juggling practice.
For the next couple of days, I pretty much didn't move more than an inch from my little juggling practice spot. Armed with my very own, brand new set of juggling balls - purchased from the hostel itself - plus a huge bottle of water and a little bottle of suncream, I stood for hours on end, and relentlessly tried to get the hang of it. It was absolutely maddening - my brain was so focused on catching the first ball, that no matter what I did, I couldn't make my hand throw the third ball. I did have a little laugh to myself though - as I was there struggling to even throw my three balls, let alone catch them, there were people from the convention either side of me juggling sets of five or six knives, as they stood on one leg, used the other to balance a spinning plate whilst also having balanced a ball on their head. After my relentless practicing, every single person in the hostel would ask how the juggling was going - I was literally the juggling girl. (The juggling girl that couldn't juggle...)
You'll all be extremely glad to hear, (I'm sure,) that one morning, I woke up and headed to my juggling spot, prepared for another day of not being able to juggle, and something magical had happened overnight, my hand could throw the ball, and I could now juggle. (Very badly.) I also discovered 'Yin' yoga - a slow paced yoga, focused more on holding postures, calming the mind and stretching the body, whilst incense burned and Bob Marley softly played in the background. There was a lot more lying down in Yin yoga, and that suited me perfectly. (Although it was pretty hard to stifle the giggles when one of the hostels pet dogs came over and started licking my cheek halfway through one of the poses.)
Life at Circus was good. I ended up extending my stay by almost another week. There were fire shows and open mic nights on the evenings, which had absolutely no danger of ever getting boring, a cute little ice cream lady turned up each lunchtime and sold 5 baht ice creams, (5 baht is about 10 pence!) yoga took place every morning, and even though the juggling convention was over, circus workshops took place every evening. I actually found that there was sometimes too much to do - even though I'm usually a bit of a water baby, I didn't make it into that pool even once during my entire eleven day stay at Circus - and to me, that's the ultimate proof that I've got lots to keep me occupied!
If anybody is heading to Pai, (and you absolutely must) don't miss out on Pai Circus School and Hostel. A huge thanks to all those long lost backpackers (and Abby and Meg!) who recommended that I stay there - it really was a highlight of my trip!