Quiet Living ~ Loud Colours: A Weekend in Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Pai is one of those out-of-the-way and hard-to-get-to places that everyone seems to have been to. Situated in a lovely valley and surrounded by hills which are home to natural hot-springs, elephant camps and numerous ethnic groups (“Hill Tribes”), Pai has grown from a sleepy market town to a mecca for budget tourists, with plenty of cheap guesthouses, some newer resorts and spas, at least two yoga retreats, and numerous restaurants – all catering to vegetarians.
Centre of the Universe? Pai, Mile Zero, Mae Hong Son (ปาย 0 แม่ฮ่องสอน)
All the cosy cafés cater to Western and Thai pallets: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (It's August!).
Spicy! Take-away lunch in plastic bags is a Thai staple. The clashing, coloured table cloth is an added bonus. 🙂
Lanna Ladies Praying ~ Welcome to Wat Luang, Pai
Local clothing store. Pai has been called "The Nimbin of Thailand": an Australian reference to the alternate lifestyle that predominates in and around town.
Lines of Communication? The Burmese-style roof-line of Wat Glang, Pai, and the ubiquitous power and/or phone lines.
I had been wanting to visit for a long time. Six years ago at a travel expo we bought a weekend package at small local resort in Pai. Unfortunately, when we passed through on our way to Mae Hong Son just before we were due to stay, we discovered that our resort was one of the many casualties of the severe flooding and mudslides that year. The Pai river floods every year, but 2005 was especially bad, and a lot of housing and infrastructure was washed away.
Bridge? Apparently, there is a bamboo bridge here half the year. Along with the huts on the other shore, it gets damaged annually and rebuilt when the rainy season finishes.
Last month, we finally made it! Although it is only about 80 kilometres from Chiang Mai, it took our crowded mini-van three and a half hours to negotiate the 762 gut-wrenching switch-back curves along the way. Once again I had organised our accommodation, a new “boutique resort” in the centre of town, at a travel expo. Fortunately it was indeed in the centre of town, and fortunately there is a lot to do and see, because our room was essentially a concrete shoe-box with a prime view of the construction underway next door.
First stop on a day out: Buy a good-luck charm (a Thai one baht coin surrounded by rice, colour-coded for the day of your birth) before visiting Wat Phra That Mae Yen, Pai.
Old, but not out! This elderly Lanna woman is one of the sellers of the rice good-luck charms.
Inside Wat Phra That Mae Yen our guide Tae talks about his faith .
The Burmese-style roofline of Wat Phra That Mae Yen, Pai
Second stop: Take in the greens of spring! A Farmer Inspecting Her Fields
Teak tree in "blossom"
Yellow blossoms on a Khi Lek (Cassia Siamea) tree
Third stop: Boil your eggs for lunch in the hot water, or go for a dip at Tha Pai Hot Springs, Pai
Fourth stop: Cross the Nawarat bridge, renamed the Tha Pai Memorial Bridge to commemorate the history of Japanese occupation in WWII.
Fifth stop: Clamber around, over, into and through the amazing Pai Canyon (Kong Lan) - erosion has worked some natural wonders here!
Once part of the old Shan State drug routes, Pai was originally populated by muslim and buddhist Shan (ethnic Tai) people who migrated from Burma, and Lanna (Tai Yuan) from Chiang Mai. Tourism used to comprise predominantly foreign back-packers and hill-trekkers, but the area was the location for several popular romantic Thai movies in the 2000’s, most recently “Pai in Love” (2009), so many Thai tourists now visit the area to relive their favourite films and to enjoy the “cool” climate.
Stop six: Have coffee and cake overlooking beautiful green hills at "Coffee in Love", one of the many places built to cater to Thai tourists and cash in on the popularity of the Thai film: "Pai in Love".
Stop seven: Have lunch and shop for Chinese trinkets at "Shandicun", or "Yunnan Chinese Village". This "Chinese Village" park with souvenir shops, horse riding and even a replica Great Wall is the brainchild of a local Chinese merchant who wanted to stop the decline in population in his local community. We are looking here through the "Great Wall" to the actual village.
Stop eight: Take a picture of your friend in front of the Mo Paeng Waterfall.
The Pai area, like the rest of Mae Hong Son, is home to numerous ethnic minority groups (“Hill Tribes”), principally Lisaw (Lisu), Lahu and Karen. It is interesting to see people wearing their traditional clothes as they go about their daily lives – although these days, t-shirts, terry-towelling and flannel are often liberally mixed in with more traditional fabrics.
A Lisaw (Lisu) Auntie watches over her nephews as they experiment with the cool Mo Paeng waters.
Last stop: Before heading home to Pai town centre, take a walk through a Lahu village and chat with the residents.
It was a full and varied day, but we were still back in our shoe-box, listening to the hammers next door long before dinner-time. So, we took a walk around town and booked an elephant ride along (and into!) the Pai river for the next morning, followed by a hot-spring bath.
Cheeky, smiling Mahout ~ Thom's Elephant Camp, Pai
Bare-back on an elephant is less comfortable than you would think: unless you are up around the neck, that spine is unavoidable!
Too soon we were squashed onto the afternoon mini-bus for our 762 bends back to Chiang Mai and our evening flight to Bangkok.
I’d rather be back on the elephant…
‘Till next time!