I was going to skip Pai. Even though people were telling me how beautiful it was and how I had to go I wasn’t sold. A “backpackers paradise” isn’t the same when you’re 32 and everybody else is 20 and European. I feel old enough out here I didn’t want to feel older.
Then I started talking to fellow travelers in Thailand, many of whom extended their stay by weeks, and the allure became impossible to ignore. I booked a private room (with the strongest A/C) for 4 days and called to make sure I had the option to extend if need be.
Once I got there, I immediately understood the appeal. It’s beautiful, it’s remote, it’s a constant party. Every day fresh faces arrive and every night you live it up.
People go to Pai to reset. I’ve already done the whole “go to a beautiful, transient, remote location for a few months and end up staying a few years” thing in Hawaii. I would have stayed longer but Pai felt too familiar. I’m looking for something unfamiliar.
While Pai didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would, I really enjoyed it.
The First Slice of Pai
Pai is like living the first 2 weeks of college over and over again. The atmosphere is exhilarating and you’re sharing an experience with everybody around you.
Clubs in America can feel like hostile places. Dark rooms packed to the gills with unpredictable, blackout drunk strangers constantly bumping into each other. It’s a recipe for disaster. Not in Pai. Everybody, well, most people are trying to make friends. And a lot of people know each other because there are only so many routes you can take through Asia.
During the day, Pai is all relaxation. When the sun goes down, the entire town turns up.
Walking Street (Drinking Street)
During the day, Pai looks like countless rural towns in Thailand. I wouldn’t give it a second look. But at night, it’s transformed into a massive night market/block party. They close the streets and the vendors emerge from the jungle to sell you cheap jewelry and delicious food.
We started the first night off eating dinner where I ordered what I thought was homemade noodles but turned out to be spicy beef ramen with vegetables. My friends tried to tell me it wasn’t but bitch I know what spicy beef ramen tastes like I’ve been poor.
After the subpar meal we head to Boom Bar, the most popular bar on a street inundated with them. I’m not exaggerating when I say I saw everybody I had met in Thailand up to that point at the bar that night. It was surreal. The people from my Chiang Mai hostel, the group of people from my elephant sanctuary tour, my friends from Bangkok. I loved it, it felt like going to your best friend’s house party.
We also got some neon paint all over our bodies because that’s a thing you do apparently. It was a standard club night, dancing to some god awful house music playlist amongst tourists from all locations and walks of life. I stupidly took a few tequila shots, again because of the environment, then tapped out around 1 AM because it had been a long day and I didn’t feel like being hungover for the rest of the trip.
I was still hungover but it was manageable.
Not The Best Place for Adventure
If you’re coming to Pai looking for exhilarating outdoor activities you will be sorely disappointed. You can do most of the activities in a day except for Lod Cave which is a 90 minute moped ride away.
I skipped the cave because it was on the second day when I was hungover and the local, easy to reach activities were all I could muster. Also because I had just come from one windy ass drive, I didn’t immediately need another one. From what I heard though, you should check it out.
Pai Canyon was an enjoyable way to kick things off. It’s a slightly dangerous, mildly difficult hike that has views of the countryside where Thai people are constantly burning shit. I still haven’t figured that out. What looks like a series of house fires through the country are actually people just burning piles of things. I have no idea why.
We go to Pai Canyon for sunset 2 hours early because our Belgian friend assumed it was at a certain time without checking. We stayed about an hour then left because rain clouds rolled in and made the sunset worthless. If the cloud cooperated it would have been breathtaking.
Mo Paeng Waterfall
The Mo Paeng waterfall can occupy your time for about an hour, maybe more if you bring food, beer, and music. The rocks are slippery as fuck and you can slide down them into small standing pools. My attempt didn’t go so well but I didn’t get hurt so I call it a success.
Like temples, if you’ve seen one waterfall in Thailand you’ve seen them all. If you love them, check this one out.
It’s a big white buddha at the top of a bunch of stairs. I could try and describe it in more poetic terms but why? That’s what it is. The buddha is really big which is cool but it’s also something you’ll find in literally every other town in Thailand.
It also takes about 20 minutes to see the whole thing unless you want to meditate in the searing heat.
This was my favorite spot we stopped. It’s a natural hot springs with a cold pool and a hot pool. Any temperature water you want to sit in, you can find it here. We spent about 2 hours just sitting around, getting hot, then getting cold, then, well, you get the point. It has beautiful scenery and wasn’t too crowded unlike the other tourist traps. Still, compared to Chiang Mai or Bangkok the crowds are very small.
BUT, it’s a mosquito breeding ground. I spent 10 minutes showering and getting changed, by the time I was done it looked like I had shingles. Bring bug spray and douse your body in it the second you get out of the water.
I like Vegan Food For Once
If you know anything about me you know about my utter distaste for vegan food and the unhealthy “lifestyle” they promote. I wouldn’t hate it at all if the community wasn’t so sanctimonious about it.
I mean, do whatever you want but don’t act like you’re better than me because you saw a documentary and made a drastic life change. When somebody starts evangelizing veganism I want to take the opposite opinion RIGHT AWAY. It takes a lot for me to admit that vegan food is good, even when I like it.
Earthtone Vegetarian Restaurant in Pai almost turned me. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Thailand and borderline in the last 6 months. No bullshit, the only thing I hated was the “brownie” and “ice cream” because it’s impossible to make good dessert without milk or butter. Vegans should concede this point and stop trying. Your cookies taste like pressed sawdust.
But my spring rolls, the salad, and the smoothie were on a level of flavor I didn’t think as possible in the Vegan realm. And I felt great after eating it. No big insulin spike, I felt energized for the rest of the day.
Take a Break From The World, If You Need It
Even if I did come to Pai to escape something, what I’d really be looking for is clarity. That’s what I learned in Hawaii, you run away from what you know not because you’re scared, but because you need to grow. And sometimes you need the world to shut the fuck up for a minute and let you process.
Pai isn’t just for people looking to party, it’s for anybody looking to hit the pause button and figure life out. There was an older British couple that I shared a hostel with who turned a 3 night stay into 20 days and showed no signs of leaving any time soon. I also talked to 3 people who came to Pai and never left. They fit in like a missing puzzle piece. Instead of finding what their next step was they found the place they were meant to be.
The only time I truly feel alive, inspired, and happy is when things are brand new. When there’s a crackling unpredictability in the air. I keep trying to find an environment that will figure out my problems for me. The corporate world, Hawaii, southeast Asia, I’m thinking that maybe my problem isn’t that I haven’t “found my place” yet but that I never will. My ideal location is always changing.
I used to be jealous of people who grow roots in a place and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I need to stop basing my needs off of the preferences of other people, stop trying to compare my life to theirs and focus on what’s best for me. What feels right in my gut.
Everybody is different. Even if all of your friends and family live a certain way it doesn’t mean you were meant to. This is pretty obvious stuff but it still took me years to figure out. What’s best for you is unique to you, there’s no universal place that will make everybody happy, not even Hawaii. Don’t do things that don’t make you happy.
If and when I find the place meant for me, I’ll know. If I never do, I’ll be happy searching.