Pai. As I mentioned before, it's a bit of a favourite amongst backpackers in Thailand. If you say the word 'Pai' in conversation, it's pretty much a given that you'll be met with choruses of 'Oh I loved Pai! Pai was my favourite part of Thailand!'
After hearing only good things about it, Liam and I decided that we had no choice but to brave the seven hundred and thirty six bends in the road to see what all the fuss was about. We stayed at the Circus Hostel, which is reason enough to visit the area on it's own anyway, and although we initially only booked a couple of days there, we both ended up extending our stay due to there being quite a lot more to see!
In order to see Pai properly, you really need to hire a scooter. Liam and I were 'scooter virgins' but also fully aware that having one would make our lives a hundred times cheaper, easier and probably more fun. We'd already decided on hiring some when we arrived, yet our hopes and dreams (or at least our plans) were temporarily dashed upon arrival, when it seemed every single backpacker in the hostel was bound in bandages, which were very obviously in place as a result of various scooter accidents. Not to be put off, I made a point of surveying a large number of injured patrons to find out if their injuries were a result of bad roads, bad bikes, or simply just themselves driving like a dickhead. The majority of people surveyed were good enough to confirm to me that their injuries were in fact the result of them driving like prize twats, as opposed to the roads being rubbish, and so Liam and I had no need to abort our plan.
To put it simply, if you're in Pai and are looking to rent a scooter for the very first time (or if you need to hire a scooter in Pai at all) head to a little place called Vespai. The man who works there (Tam) is extremely cheerful and patient, and true to his Tripadvisor Reviews, he has no problem with spending some/a lot of time with you to teach you how to ride a scooter if you never have done before. We were both extra happy that we chose to rent scooters from Tam - most other places in Thailand don't even bother to ask if you've ridden a scooter before - they just hand you the key and send you on your merry way. Tam actually seemed to care for our welfare, which was nice!
After a morning crash course with Tam, we were ready to go and explore Pai. The roads in Thailand are crazy in general, so I was initially a tiny bit nervous, but Pai is a little more chilled than most places, and it actually turned out to be a great place to practice - especially as there's lots to see!
There's a 'Pai Loop' which pretty much covers all the main attractions, and we stopped at every one of them. 'Coffee In Love' is a coffee shop which overlooks a pretty valley. I can't stand coffee, so we didn't go into the shop itself, but it's apparently the setting of some famous Thai movie (Pai in Love?) so we pranced around in the flowers for a bit and pretended we'd seen the film (even though we'd only just discovered that it even existed...)
There's also a big Buddha statue on top of what feels like an Everest sized mountain. There are a million steps to get to the top and in the blistering Thai sun it's a pretty sizeable effort. Once you make it though, it's completely worth it. We got lucky enough that we practically had the whole thing to ourselves, and we spent quite a lot of time up there, feeling oddly serene in the presence of the 'awakened one.' It was an actual treat to get back on the scooters after though, and have the wind blowing in our faces to cool us down.
It didn't really take too long to understand the reasons behind Pai being such a popular little spot with the backpackers - a town that consistently smells faintly of weed, it's super chilled out and the street food choices are second to none - you can even buy lasagne on the side of the road if you're getting a bit sick of noodles and rice!
Whizzing around on the scooters simply reinforced our affection for the sleepy little hippie town - especially when we made a stop off at the famous Pai 'Land Split.' Back in 2008, a local farmer awoke to find a giant split in the ground, right through the middle of his land. There were apparently no earthquakes or natural disasters, he just woke up and found it that way one day. (Though I do have my suspicions he might just be hiding something extravagant from his wife after a wild night with the lads...) Instead of getting all upset about it and crying (like I would have done,) he decided to allow people to come and view the land split, and put on a FREE fantastic spread for each and every single visitor. All the food and drinks are grown and made on the farm. The farmer just keeps bringing more and more over and it's all delicious! There's a donation box and it was nice to see everyone putting in money before they left!
At the request of my mate, Chidgey, we went to visit the Piranha Fishing Park to see if his name was still on the record table after he caught a fish there in 2012. It was probably the highlight of my day when we arrived and it was actually still there - I don't think any of us were expecting it to actually still be on the board - for some reason I found the idea of Chidge holding a giant fish hilarious. As we were leaving, a cute little dog jumped onto my scooter and refused to get off because it wanted to come with me. I wanted to keep it forever but dogs are pretty expensive, and it was also probably somebody else'sdog. (It was definitely somebody else's dog....)
We rounded off the day at Pai Canyon for sunset. Pai Canyon is really cool - there are lots of really thin bits of rock to climb and walk across and the chance to get some really cool sunset shots. Most people left as soon as the sun had dipped below the horizon, but we stayed for a little longer and the sky went a really nice colour and we got to enjoy it with a lot less crowds, giving us the chance to attempt some more elaborate poses.
I've joined that list of backpackers who will exclaim 'Oh I love Pai!' if I hear it mentioned in a conversation. It was probably my favourite place in Thailand - an absolute must visit!