The day we arrived in Thailand we took a mini-bus to Chiang Mai, five hours from the border crossing at Chiang Khong. We were excited to go to Chiang Mai, a city much-loved by Western tourists, and known for it’s food, shopping and trekking. However, as we approached the city, we felt distinctly underwhelmed by the sight of traffic, highways and buildings. This feeling only intensified, and conversations with our mini-bus-mates revealed that we were all experiencing a dose of culture-shock to be in a city again after the green and silent expanses of Laos.
Rationalising that we needed to give the city a chance to reveal its charms, we spent the next two days walking the streets and sampling the offerings at a few eateries. Maybe it was just us and our state of mind, but we could not get excited about Chiang Mai. The tourist attractions seemed cheesy, we didn’t find any food that was particularly good, and we heard that many of the treks on offer were badly organised and seemed to exploit the hill-tribe communities. In the two days we were there I didn’t take one photograph, which for this snap-happy girl was a clear indication that something was amiss. We decided to abandon Chiang Mai in favour of Pai, a small town in the hills north-west of Chiang Mai, only three hours away.
Pai is basically a little hippie town filled with beards, dreadlocks and tattoos, and that’s just the local Thai residents. Everyone here, tourists and locals alike, is a little bit ting-tong (local slang for “crazy”), which makes for a great deal of colour and humour. The locals are really funny and friendly: street vendors demand that Colin removes his shirt so they can see his tattoos, bar owners join you for a drink and encourage you to come back for open-mic-night, hotel staff beg you to eat their mango pancakes, and dogs curl up for a nap right in the middle of the quiet streets.
Peace, love and tofu abound in Pai. We stayed here for seven nights, hanging out, making friends, eating well (more on this in the next post), and listening to live music in little candle-lit bars most nights. Colin found a kickboxing school, and I took several yoga classes with a 66-year-old Thai woman with an impressive Bridge, red hair down to her bum, a studio with a seriously wonky floor, and two vegetarian dogs. These classes, and a couple of forceful massages from the indomitable Mamalon (“Soft is No Good!!!”), have helped to get rid of my little traveling kinks. Hopefully I am now well fortified, because we still have to face Bangkok in just a few days time…