Pai is a funky little hippie town situated in the mountains of northern Thailands’ Mae Hong Son Province. It’s right near the Myanmar border and around 146km north of Chiang Mai (…the city where my 14-hour-train-ride-from-the-depths-of-hell dropped me off). Chiang Mai is a great place with an abundance of things to see and do but over the years it’s become a popular ‘pit-stop’ point for backpackers to rest up before heading into the mountains for a little taste of Pai.
The road to Pai (as briefly hinted on in my last blog post) is definitely something to experience. The 3 hour drive consists of a staggering 762 turns with the driver chucking you mercilessly around the corners, almost as if his eyes are glued shut or he’s absolutely bursting for the toilet. Whatever analogy you wanna choose, it’s rough. And even if you don’t normally get travel sick, the road to Pai will make even the strongest of stomachs a little queazy.
Once you get to the sleepy little village you instantly understand why so many people make their way from all over the world to experience it. It really does have it all. From mountains, to hot springs, waterfalls and the best ‘walking street’ (yeah right more like “dodge the scooter while you eat spring rolls” street) food and clothes stalls I’ve experienced so far on my RTW trip. Pai quickly became one of my favourite places on the planet. Originally we intended to stay a couple of days, with plans to take the slow boat to Laos and then on to Cambodia but this picture-perfect-place stole all of our hearts and we extended our supposedly “short” stay to a week in the little lazy paradise.
(Pai’s rabbit cafe where you can order ice cream and chill out with these little guys!)
One of the other reasons we chose to stay longer was that our hostel (shout out to purple monkey backpackers!) was organising Electric Valley Festival, a mario kart-themed rave in the jungle that was happening THAT weekend. With our glitter purchased and our glow sticks at the ready, there was nothing that could have stopped us having the chance to go absolutely mental before going our separate ways as we followed our own routes round the rest of the planet.
The next day after the rave, once I’d recovered from the what was quite potentially the worst hangover of my entire life (whoever said you don’t get hangovers on holiday is a dirty LIAR) we sat and contemplated our next moves. As JJ and I hadn’t managed to get booked onto an elephant sanctuary tour when we were in Chiang Mai the first time, we decided to take the bus back down, stay one night in Chiang Mai and do the half-day elephant adventure before heading down to Bangkok that night on an overnight bus (notice I didn’t say train? NEVER again folks, NEVER again). After that, myself & April are due to board a second bus to Cambodia where we’ll be exploring the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, and JJ, well JJ has left us to go to Tokyo so he’s still in our bad books haha!
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It really is crazy the people you meet when you’re backpacking. You can go from absolute strangers to the best of friends within a couple of hours, FaceTiming each other’s families and arranging the next leg of the journey with your pal you only just met the day before. As I’ve already said, it’s so much easier to make friends when the common denominator is already taken care of. In ‘normal’ daily life we strive to find common ground to strike up conversations, but when you’re backpacking you’ve already found it. You’re doing it. The mutual knowledge that you’re both a long, long way away from home having the absolute time of your lives is enough to form the basis of a friendship that could outlive the existing bonds back home you thought were pretty solid.
That’s the beauty of it all. Yes, you’re travelling solo but really you’re just en route to meet your next best friend. Of course it sucks when you have to move on, flights have been pre-booked, trains have been arranged, and although it is nice to have some degree of flexibility, nothing lasts forever. Soon enough you need to get back on the road and get back to seeing what you set out to see. Your new friends might follow you, or maybe they have other plans to attend to first. But it’s never goodbye, not in this life full of so many means of connectivity. You’ll find them, they’ll find you – you’ll bump into them in a pub in Australia and it’ll be like you’ve never been apart. Pai has taught us quite well that it’s never goodbye, it’s always ‘see you later’.