Not all backpackers venture further north from Chiang Mai in Thailand but a four hour bus journey which meanders through lush green mountains will bring you to Pai from Chiang Mai. It twists and turns for a good two hours as the bus travels with a slight ‘tip’ leaving your stomach churning and your head in a haze.
But, once arrived, you will quickly ease out of your queezy state and be lulled into Pai’s soothing security. Everyone walks at a slower pace here, there is no rush in Pai, the most movement sensed is from the gentle lifts of coffee cups being slowly sipped at by cafe loiterers or by the finger-tapping of dread-locked, vegan-eating travellers, whilst they listen to the Reggae rhythms which echo throughout town.
By night, the energy picks up as the bamboo-built watering-holes begin to empty out their Samsong bottles to backpackers. Thus, everyday in Pai feels like a lazy hangover, making it difficult to do much and even more difficult to leave.
If you fancy getting more active there are waterfalls and hot-springs only a short scooter ride away from town.
I was quite happy absorbing Pai’s cafe culture at the quirky, vibrantly coloured vegetarian eateries, spreading myself across a futon at the giant tree-house common room at Spicy-Pai Backpackers and, as with the rest of Thailand, finding food stalls to satisfy my need for authentic local food that would keep my stomach stuffed and my bank balance in good stead.
At the miniscule ‘Morning and Afternoon Market’ (the only daytime market in town) I picked up a Yellow Noodle Yellow Curry. It slightly set my face on fire but the flavours were unreal, a sharp but creamy turmeric based broth with tender chicken and chewy noodles. I added a sweet and zingy finish to counteract the spice by squeezing in lime and sprinkling on palm sugar.
Spicy Pai Backpackers have their own small rice paddy field which lies central to the dorms and common area. Spicy’s owners and workers not only run the backpackers day and night but regularly cultivate the paddy.
However, they don’t do it alone, they lure their lodgers with an ice-cold box of Chang into helping them do the job of de-weeding, reed planting and mud stamping. These all sound like tiresome monotonous jobs, but drunk backpackers on a muddy field will result in monumental mud fights and by the end of it a group of new friends. Plus, every so often you all cool off in the river stream to enjoy a natural jacuzzi with your beer in hand.
It’s also an interesting thing to see exactly how rice paddies operate, you see so many rice farmers doing this back-breaking work in the sweltering heat throughout SE-Asia(without the beers, changing company or regular intervals), but we rarely get the opportunity to understand it from first hand experience.