We flew into Chiang Mai late at night and caught a taxi to our hostel. There was a note on the locked door for Taylor to call our host...she was gone for the night! Once again we were having late night check in problems! We called her on Skype multiple times since we never got a sim card for our phone but had no answer. Finally, I was like, "What are we doing?" I had an out of body experience where I saw two millennials sitting outside this locked door, doing everything in our power to avoid having a conversation with a stranger! I got up and walked down the street to ask a Thai person if they have a phone we could borrow to dial our hostel owner. Half a block down I saw an old woman in a shop and asked if she could help me dial the number. She called and just like that our host was on her way back to help us check-in. Turns out she was out at the bar. She was super friendly and funny but clearly intoxicated as she showed us to our room. We were starting to get a bit annoyed as we waited for her but after seeing her smile we calmed down a bit. Here you just don't take things quite so seriously (and the room is only $10 a night). Everyone is friendly and wants to make you happy, but it's a mutual relationship between service and customer, not just a "customer is always right." Asia puts things into perspective and reminds you to be a little friendlier and patient in life.
We only had a morning in Chiang Mai before taking a bus to Pai. We wanted our final stop in Asia to be a bit more remote. Pai is three hours northwes of Chiang Mai along a windy road into the mountains. The land reminded us a bit of Appalachia with the rolling mountains and trees. Pai only has a few thousand residents but plenty of tourists and guest houses. We rented a motorbike so we could get to our guesthouse outside of town and explore the countryside for the next few days. We slowed down a bit and spent plenty of time in hammocks and having coffee.
There were a few sites around town to visit, but they were quiet and didn't have the giant tour buses like the major cities. Our major excursion was to Conserve Natural Forests. It’s a non-profit working on reforestation and giving home to a few endangered animals. The main attraction is two pregnant elephants. One was 6 months overdue, 27 months pregnant! We met in Pai and then rode our motorbike with a little convey of other guests to the property 40 minutes away. There were probably eight visitors total, where as the elephant sanctuaries in the rest of Thailand churning tour buses through from the big cities to make as much money as possible. We spent almost four hours feeding, petting, and washing the elephants in the river. Its a really laid back environment and its obvious the elephants are well treated. At the end of our stay we planted a few trees on the farm. They requested a 500 Baht ($15) donation each, which we found totally reasonable. They also sold really cheap Thai dishes and drinks. Somehow this place is floating under the tourist radar, but it should be #1 in Pai. Go see Conserve Natural Forests! If you do a little research about elephant training methods at elephant shows or riding attractions, you quickly learn that the animals severely mistreated. If you go to Thailand, please visit a sanctuary or nature conserve instead of riding one! On the way back from CNF, we stopped by Pai Canyon. Its a weird place where most of the land has eroded except some very narrow pathways. Its good for some panoramic views and watching the sunset.
We also visited The Land Split, where an earthquake had caused a 10 ft wide, 30 ft deep crack in the ground. Before the earthquake it was a farm, so when the land couldn't be used anymore the friendly owner had turned it into a tips-only tourist attraction. He gives away some fruit juice and snacks, all of which are grown in his garden. We relaxed in his hammocks and then headed further on to a waterfall. There’s a few around Pai, but it was dry season so there was only a small pool and trickle of water at Pam Bok Waterfall. We enjoyed (struggled through) a little hike to the small falls and realized we had lost our Patagonia fitness!
In the evenings, we spent our time on the walking street in Pai. There were many art vendors, coffee shops, and bars with live music. A plate of Pad Thai went for 40 Baht ($1.16). We stopped and people watched at a few bars. We saw plenty of tattoos, man buns, and backpackers “finding themselves”, or just stretching their last bit of money before making their way home. Pai just has a super cool vibe. It’s an escape from the real world where you can relax, eat healthy, and explore on a motorbike for about $15 a person per day. There are also some highly recommended yoga retreats in the surrounding hills.
Soon it was time to start making our way home, so we took the bus back to Chiang Mai and spent one evening there. We visited the markets one last time and grabbed a few souvenirs to take back home. We also had some street food and visited a very loud bar filled with young backpackers. We were glad we decided to stay in Pai. Chiang Mai had a lot of guided excursions, but in Pai we could just use a motorbike to go at our own pace.
We woke the final morning for our long trip back to The States. We flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, then took a shuttle to the international airport across town. Our next flight was to Guangzhou, China for a quick layover before the 13-hour flight back to Los Angeles. Total we spent 17 hours on planes and had 7 hours worth of layovers. We were pretty exhausted when we landed in LA!
A month in Southeast Asia went by so fast. We are most going to miss the food the most. Its so fresh and we felt healthier without even trying. We saw lifestyles that contrasted so much with ours back home. Work, wealth, food, family, and politics are so much different than then the USA. To visit such a distant part of the world and travel through these countries was truly a blessing. We were both thankful for the luxuries we have at home, but also to take away an additional perspective on life and happiness.
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.