Chiang Mai is fantastic. I had booked my hostel on the overnight train and as soon as I arrived, I hopped into a red truck taxi and made my way there for some sleep and a hot shower. I was staying at ‘thunderbird’ hostel. A funky, edgy, design hostel right next to the fruit markets of the old city. The place looked pretty cool on Hostelworld, but it was even cooler in real life. It was around 2 pounds more per night than the average 4-5 pounds that you’d pay to stay in Chiang Mai but after that train journey I decided to treat myself and live the high life for a night…or 4…
The only downside to a stylish hostel is that it’s not always the most sociable place to be, especially as a solo backpacker. While it was pretty slick to look at, the only ‘common area’ was particularly uncomfortable to sit in and so most people opted to head out and have a look around rather than sit in the metal seats in the reception lobby. When I woke up the next day I asked to be moved rooms to see if I had better luck at finding a group (one that didn’t scream in Chinese when you turned the light on at 11pm on a Saturday night… YIKES). My decision was a good one as instantly I met the people I was to spend the next couple days of my trip with. I met April and Cole in my new dorm, with Woody arriving swiftly afterwards and JJ we picked up in the hostel lobby on the way to a ladyboy show which was absolutely brilliant. As you do when you’re travelling, we became really close really fast, drinking Changs by the river on top of an old double decker bus and even hiking up to the top of Doi Suthep, through waterfalls and hitchiking 11km in the back of a pick-up truck up the side of a mountain to see Chiang Mai from an aerial view-point. It was absolutely incredible.
Chiang Mai is one of those places where absolutely everything is within walking distance and as a budget-conscious backpacker’s rule of thumb, if it’s less than 5k – you can walk it. We walked all over the city together, wandering aimlessly through the Sunday night markets Chiang Mai is so famously known for. The market are dozens of streets long, selling everything from food, to home decorations, to clothes and Thai memorabilia in keeping with the style of the region. In total we spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, extending our stay day by day until we decided it was time to move on to the place we’d heard so much about. We sat on the hostel roof top on bamboo chairs, checking out the sky and we collectively decided over a game of kings cup that we were heading for pai in the morning for some more chilled vibes and to experience the ‘road to pai’ for ourselves.
I had plans to visit the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai and was a bit skeptical about postponing it, but once you meet a good group it’s necessary to adapt and change your plans. You can’t plan everything down to the mark – although it is nice to have a rough idea of what you want to see and do – you meet people, plans change and you’ve just got to roll with them and see where you end up. In this case, I was heading to Pai – a chilled-out-hippy-town in the Thai mountains, only reachable by scooter (for the brave) or a minibus driven by shumackers’ apprentice who weaved you through the hills for the 3 hours it took to drive to Pai in northern province of Chiang Mai.
The next morning we were up, dressed and ready to go to start our new adventure, we’d heard so much about Pai by this point we had a rough idea of what to expect from it but nothing could have prepared us for how laid back and chilled this lazy little town is. No one hurries anywhere, everyone lazes around in hammocks, reading, eating and just enjoying the scenery with the distant mountains visible in every single setting. It sounded idyllic, and it was exactly where I needed to be.