West invades East; but you can’t beat the scenery

You may wonder if you’re still in Thailand when you pop into a store on Pai’s main walking street, and see a Frida Kahlo bag for sale.

img_7208

And the food…if you’re looking for a burger or an Irish breakfast, or a brownie (chocolate and otherwise), there are no end of food stalls and restaurants catering to tourists looking for a break from noodles and rice.

img_7160
Pai is set in a valley ringed by mountains, with a river running through it, but the town is not all that pretty, and not the reason tourists flock here in droves. A few very walkable streets form a grid downtown; seeing all the town has to offer can be done in a day. We stopped for a coffee at a riverside resort and enjoyed the people-watching and the view.
image
We crossed over the bamboo bridge and followed a path on the other side for a while. We were watching a young boy spear-fishing by the bridge;  the 36 degree heat was almost enough to entice us to follow him into the river. It looked clean enough, but the only humans you ever see in these rivers are young Thai boys, and they may have a natural immunity to whatever travels through here.

image
The main walking street in Pai is wide open to traffic during the day, but by late afternoon, the stalls come out, and the night market begins to take shape. The food stalls are so exciting – it is like being at a food trade show in North America, where you can’t decide so you have sushi and curry and sausage and a smoothie – all at the same time. We have paid for such indiscretions with little tummy upsets, but it is hard to resist. The food is so fresh and made to order and ridiculously inexpensive – a big bowl of noodle soup costs just over a dollar.
img_7141

Alcohol is a different matter. Wine is very expensive in Thailand, and often improperly stored in hot stores, so we have limited ourselves to beer, which suits the food and temperature better. Whisky in buckets is a thing here, but the idea of drinking quantities of cheap whiskey in the heat has been very easy to resist – even for the sake of research. So, we are drinking very little and not missing it – quite cheering on both counts. Not everyone is abstaining, of course – Pai’s streets are lined with bars, including this one that aptly captures Pai’s “anything goes”approach to life.
img_7161

Tattoo artists, especially ones with bamboo needles, are another attraction in Pai. With our hepatitis shots up to date, we might have considered bringing home a Thai souvenir, but something tells me a tattoo virgin should never consider the first ink while away on vacation.
img_7151

So…on to the real reason Pai is such a popular destination – the surrounding countryside. We signed up for an all-day excursion, taking 12 of us to a cave, bamboo rafting, hot springs, and a sunset at a local canyon. It was an absolute deal – with lunch, water, fruit, tour guide and air-conditioned transportation provided for just $20. They delivered beautifully, but for a small let-down with our transport. We did not travel in a comfortable minibus (as suggested); instead we travelled all day on hairpin turns at breakneck speed in a songtaew (which is inarguably air-conditioned). Posing in front of our songtaew is one of our guides and his little buddy who came along to hand out water.

image

This mightily uncomfortable vehicle forces one to sit sideways on a brutally hard bench and hang on to the overhead bars for dear life. We travelled out for an hour to the cave, with Stephen feeling very queasy. On our way to the hot springs, Stephen’s feeling of queasiness grew until he threw up. At this point, the driver pulled over and brought Stephen into the front seat, where he was allowed to remain for the duration of the trip.

image

Our first stop was Tham Lod – a gigantic cave divided into three distinct chambers. It is compulsory to enter with a guide – this cave is very basic – no lights, not even pathways, and pitch black. Our group was divided into four groups – three to a guide, so Stephen and I were accompanied by Georges, a very French gentleman now living in Corsica. Our young guide carried a lantern and led the way, carefully watching for us. She spoke little English, but somehow we managed to understand a few things she was pointing out. After I bashed my head into a low-hanging formation, she giggled. She also said,”many steps”, and giggled again as she watched us look up and contemplate a few flights of rickety stairs.

image

There were two immediate impressions of being in the cave – a smell of bat guano and a humid claustrophobia that comes from being in the absolute dark. Both impressions faded as we made our way through – a journey that took over an hour.

After our guide pointed out the remains of teak coffins that had been brought in over 1400 years ago (no bodies), we hopped onto bamboo rafts for the rest of the trip. The river that runs through the cave is swarming with really huge whisker-y fish (like carp) so they were almost as entertaining to watch as our gaslit voyage.

image

For the last 15 minutes or so, the sound of squeaking bats really intensified; the ground and stair railings are covered in guano. A recommended way to visit the cave is to come late afternoon, and be at the entrance to the cave as thousands of bats and swifts leave en masse.

We had lunch with our group after that very enjoyable visit – Nick and Jenny in front (newly married from England, taking 18 months to travel the world before they settle down), and Molly and Steve from Oregon, travelling and trying to digest the fact that Trump is their president.

image

On to the hot springs, which we were all skeptical about, since we were hot enough already. They were in fact warm springs, with crystal clear water and a therapeutic mud we rubbed on our faces. I doubt an expensive spa gives better results.

image

And, the piece de resistance – a gorgeous sunset over Pai Canyon. Pai Canyon is place that really should be visited twice – once early in the day to hike before it gets too hot,and again for the sunset. The canyon trail can be dangerous, as the ledges are narrow in spots and the drop is hundreds of feet below. Since there were so many people gathered, we felt quite unwilling to walk along the ledges amongst such a crowd.

image

And speaking of crowds, a small sampling of people waiting for the magic moment. There was enough room for everyone to have their own little spot; it all added to the moment.

 

image

The last bright glimpse of the sun setting for another day.

image

And…the afterglow.  A  fitting and memorable last day in Pai.

imageAnd now, we are on the move for a few days. Tomorrow we take two three-hour buses – one back down to Chiang Mai, then another back north to Chiang Rai. We’re in Chiang Rai for two nights, which will mark the end of our time in Thailand.

We will cross the border into Lao and begin a two-day slow boat journey on the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. Our next blog will be full of details about our boat trip – see you in a few days.

35 thoughts on “West invades East; but you can’t beat the scenery

  1. Eveline Boysen January 29, 2017 / 5:10 am

    We have not been to Thailand however you make that country come very alive for us. Thank you Ginny and Stephen!

    Like

  2. leavingourselvesbehind January 29, 2017 / 5:44 am

    I remember our conversation about Thailand, Eveline. I have certainly witnessed some of the things you’ve talked about and they are so disturbing. This is such a complicated country – I hope to find some good books about Thailand once we’re home again. I also look forward to talking to you about it.

    Like

  3. Nanc January 29, 2017 / 5:47 am

    My one phobia…. no caves for me. Glad you enjoyed it and came out the other side. Carry on Indiana Jones.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 29, 2017 / 2:50 pm

      Nancy – I have to say – being in caves is not my happy place, but as long as they are huge caverns, I can manage the creepiness, because they are so otherworldly. What I know I will not be able to do is crawl on my hands and knees in the tunnels in Vietnam.

      Like

  4. Patti January 29, 2017 / 8:40 am

    Sounds tremendous. Such a great adventure. What a wonderful way to widen your already wide scope.

    Like

  5. Lorne January 29, 2017 / 8:58 am

    You need Francis Ford Coppola to guide you down the Mekong

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 29, 2017 / 2:52 pm

      Lorne, he’s peeking over our shoulder. So much of this scenery makes me think of Apocalypse Now – I hope the river trip will be as impressive as people say. although one person did sum it up,” ah, green on both sides, brown in the middle – no big deal.” We’ll see.

      Like

  6. sawgblog January 29, 2017 / 9:01 am

    Thoroughly enjoying the armchair travelling along with you; there is much to take in and I imagine that you posts are only skimming the surface of your experiences, thoughts, and reflections.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 29, 2017 / 2:53 pm

      thanks Marti, and yes, these blogs postings are wordy enough – I edit myself a great deal! I’m so glad you’re enjoying them.

      Like

  7. Sue January 29, 2017 / 9:06 am

    Sounds like you two are having a wonderful adventure Ginny, and I am certainly enjoying following along! Will you go into Malaysia? Big hugs to you both 🙂

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 3:04 am

      No we won’t make it to Malaysia this trip – we’ve probably bitten off too much with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Next time!

      Like

  8. Laurence January 29, 2017 / 9:14 am

    I feel for you Steve, motion sickness is a bummer, I would have been on that front seat with you my friend! However, it is all well worth the nausea in the end!
    Do you book these excursions as you go or, did you do it in advance?
    And all that beautiful food, ready for you anytime you wish, who needs a kitchen eh!
    Enjoy Lao!

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 29, 2017 / 2:56 pm

      Hi Laurence – it is almost always better to just book when you arrive – cheaper for sure, and you can get a better idea of what is being offered. We just booked the day before.

      We got the bus rides today, armed with Gravol, so keep your fingers crossed!

      I have a very funny story to share with you about my attempts to speak French – I’ll send you an email.
      xo

      Like

  9. Doug Beaton and Brenda January 29, 2017 / 3:17 pm

    Love the account if your trip on your blog. Brings back memories of our several trips to Southeast Asia. Like you, we loved Pai. We look forward to your next instalment!

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 30, 2017 / 6:39 am

      Hi Doug & Brenda – It would be fun to compare notes on your travels to this part of the world. I remember Alanna telling me how much you loved Sapa in Vietnam. It’s impossible to see everything in one trip – I’m sure we’ll be back.

      Like

  10. Elisabeth Charlotte Dieryckx January 29, 2017 / 4:03 pm

    Hi GTinny! the photo of the warm water River shown on this Blog, is exactly the type of River I was mentioning in my last comment, with the hundreds of fishes nibbling at your toes and legs.
    Exactly this same idea, just more surrounded by wonderful palm trees and tropical vegetarion.
    Lovely trip you re having! stay healthy, hugs, Lis

    Like

  11. Heather Scott January 29, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    Your pics of the cave and talk about bats are as close as I want to get to either! Thanks for allowing us to experience them from the comfort of our armchairs.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 30, 2017 / 6:40 am

      I wish we had been there at dusk – I can’t imagine what a sight it must be to witness thousands of bats and swifts exiting the mouth of the cave.

      Like

  12. Linda & Gary January 30, 2017 / 3:54 am

    Great post you guys. Loving it! I too can relate to Stephen’s nausea….sideways on a bus or train…forget it! Wish we would have talked about this as I have some inexpensive tablets from the Health Food Store that are amazing. And completely without side effects not the drowsiness you get with Gravol. Hylands Motion Sickness is the name. They have come in handy on the bus trips here in Argentina. Keep the posts coming…so entertaining. So happy for you and your adventure.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind January 30, 2017 / 6:43 am

      Well after all your travels you are such a source of valuable information – I’ll make note of the health food store meds, for sure. I took a Gravol today to survive the trip to Chiang Rai, and slept for hours.

      Hopefully we will see each other in the spring – I’d love to hear more about your fantastic travels.

      Like

  13. K. Miller January 30, 2017 / 5:15 am

    Anyone wishing to send best wishes for Ginny
    and Stephen’s wedding anniversary – it is
    January 31st.

    Like

  14. Jen Reed-Lewis January 30, 2017 / 10:26 am

    Loved the sunset pic. Good reminder about noting the things that need to set and patiently awaiting to what will rise tomorrow. Hugs to you!

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 3:09 am

      Thanks Jen. It is also a good reminder to manage expectations. When we got up there and saw so many people, my first thought was “oh brother” (or words to that effect.) But everyone was there for the same reason, and everyone had their sunset moment.

      Like

  15. linda ogle January 30, 2017 / 2:33 pm

    Now that the cat is out of the bag, Happy Anniversary! You both are an inspiration, The way you live life to the full as a couple, while still staying connected to all of us who love and admire you seems to me to be a sure recipe for maintaining such a vital relationship through the years, [how many, by the way?]
    linda

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 3:11 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Linda. I have a patient husband – that’s been the key. 36 years, and yes, most of them glorious!

      Like

  16. K. Miller January 31, 2017 / 5:12 am

    Sending love & best wishes to you both.
    Happy Anniversary from Mum & Dad

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 3:13 am

      Thanks Mum and Dad! I was a bit of a drag, but we did attempt a short walk (good idea) and beer at our hotel patio (bad idea). We don’t take it as an omen. Much love, Ginny

      Like

  17. Donna & Garry January 31, 2017 / 9:15 pm

    Happy Anniversary you two, what a great way to celebrate, travelling together to exotic lands! Garry & Donna xo xo

    Like

  18. Joy February 1, 2017 / 10:04 pm

    Happy Anniversary Ginny and Steve, memories of Mexico this time last year.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 3:16 am

      Oh boy, we remember our time together in Puebla so well – what great memories. We were just laughing about meeting at a bar and listening to the terrible band. I wondered how long they had been playing, and Oscar, in true form, said, “not long enough.”

      Like

Comments are closed.