September 30, 2014

three days in pai

i had 3 - 4 nights that i could do some thing outside of Chiang Mai and i chose Pai.  the last time i  was in Chiang Mai i really wanted to go there but did not have time.  the trip started with a very windy 3 hour minivan ride over the mountains.  thirty years ago the reviewer for LP said 'there was only one place to rent rooms, a two storey teakwood building with six rooms, a shared toilet and shower and a one-room opium den out back'.

well it's a little bit bigger than that now with closer to 500 accommodations scattered in town and along the river.  the minibus station is in town which is four streets in a square and some alleys running inbetween.  there are a few stoplights that are completely unnecessary but are good for orienting.  as soon as you step out of the minivan you are approached by touts for tours and of course it's the hottest part of the day so i grab my bag and a free map and navigate my way over to the yoga studio [via the longest possible route].  i wanted to spend a few days at one of the yoga spa/retreats outside of town but i didn't plan far enough ahead for that and so i go to scout out the local option, Mam Yoga.

Mam is the spunky 69 year old woman who runs and teaches yoga.  she is a force to be sure.  she is Hindu and starts each yoga class with a 30 minute meditation.  on the second day i was there one of the temple dogs followed us to yoga and stayed through the whole class.  her yoga is a very gentle yoga with more stretching than sweating.  it was perfect for me since i was out of practice and after three days i was feeling more flexible.  there are tons of organized activities and one afternoon i join an Australian for a two hour river float on tubes. in the two hours we saw only one other person, a fisherman.

the following day after yoga, it was my birthday so i booked in for a two hour massage and then met up with some new friends for cocktails and dinner.  the massage school is tucked away off the street but they give great massages and the two hours cost $10.81US.  one of the girls i met at yoga is doing a three day course in Thai massage which would be a great way to spend a few mornings.  next time i'll try to schedule a class because i can definitely see myself coming back to Pai.

the next day we hit up the hot springs after yoga and wandered down the walking street [in a lot of the tourist areas they close down a street to traffic and turn it into a market at night].  they way i pick a food cart is to see which ones are most crowded because people tend to return to the carts that have the best food.  another vegetarian pointed out this cart to me and the food was fantastic.  the woman makes each spring roll on demand so there is always a line.  everything is super fresh and at 30 Baht [$1US] a very good dinner.

there isn't a lot of stuff in the markets that i wanted or would carry around but i did find these rings and at $2US each i decided i should have them.  it was after all my birthday weekend.  as we were walking down the street we stopped to discuss something and a guy invited us down a hall way to a lounge.  it was dark with some low light colored light bulbs, reclining seats around low tables with privacy screens in between and an open fire in the center of the room.  it was surreal, we didn't stay long enough to look at the menu but i'm pretty sure we found the opium den that was mentioned by the original lp reviewer.

i stayed at a great place in Pai, the LiLu Hotel.  it was super clean, with a very contemporary feel.  it is still the low season so it was a great deal at $15 a night.  the staff was great with a small misunderstanding on the last day.  it was just two blocks to the bus station so i walked over to catch the 10AM minivan back to Chiang Mai.  the maid from the hotel roars up on her scooter and starts shaking a paper at me and although i didn't understand a word of the Thai she was speaking i knew exactly what she was saying.  as i was leaving the hotel room i knocked over a basket that held a blow dryer and some other items.  i was already half out the door so i didn't stop to pick it up and the blow dryer had fallen behind the safe.  she assumed i had stolen it and chased me down to the bus station to recover it.  enter the tourist politce who fortunately spoke english, but unfortunately wasn't of any help to me.  so i hop on the back of the maid's scooter, go back to the hotel room and show her where the blow dryer is.  she thinks this is really funny and laughing and smiling tells the front desk that i have not after all stolen the blow dryer.  i make her give me a ride back to the bus station where she explains to the tourist police and everyone else that i am not a thief and it's ok for me to leave.  in the moment i was put out by the whole situation but in the end i was leaving and she having made an idiot of herself would be living there.

here are some random signs i found in Pai.  they do not allow car taxis in town and most everyone gets around on scooters or motor bikes which you can rent at one of the many bike shops.

the unintended result is there are a lot of tourists riding around who don't have enough experience on two wheels and you see a lot of crazy things.  the bandage on the calf is pretty common not just here but everywhere in SE Asia.  i thought this was kinda cute because this couple had matching burns.

oh, and remember the booking nightmare using my credit card?  well i contacted the Elephant Nature Park via email to schedule my arrival one day late because i set up a meeting with a Chiang Mai NGO called We women foundation.  they said they never take bookings over the phone and have no reservation for me so i'll be sorting that out when i get back to Chiang Mai.

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