What is this Pai you speak of?

When I arrived in Chiang Mai, a number of people in my hostel were talking about Pai. I literally had to look it up on the map. I had never heard of it. But after a week of being in a hostel of people raving about it, I found myself traveling  there. I found it incredibly odd that everyone and I mean everyone would review something so positively all around. It just doesn’t happen. There is usually at least one person who isn’t psyched about a place. The hostel I was in, in Chiang Mai, Spicy Thai, had a sister hostel in Pai so the transition was relatively easy.

A three and a half hour winding, mountain road mini bus ride later I found myself in the center of a kitschy, hippie town. (They say there are 762 turns between Chiang Mai and Pai.) The ride is incredibly beautiful as it wraps through the mountains of Northern Thailand but as we started to enter Pai, I thought to myself…really? There were cafes with giant strawberries and huge gaudy signs that seemed more fit for Disney Land than a place in Thailand. Once we actually got into town my attitude changed. There were cool little shops with clothes and artisan wares. People with dreds were  all around and no one was wearing anything that didn’t look like they went from bed to the town. Let’s just say it is hyper relaxed, pajamas encouraged.

The hostel was just out of town but with my pack it felt like a million miles. I kept thinking this can’t be right but it was. I was happy I arrived in the daytime as I was walking down a strange road with motorbikes whipping by and I was only about 50% sure I was going the right way. When I did arrive at “Spicy Pai,” I was pleasantly surprised. The hostel was made up of a hut/ almost tree house looking system of buildings surrounding a large fire pit. Mountains surrounded the whole area and a white Buddha statue could be seen on one of the hills.  I thought this can’t be real. The lounge is also one of these buildings, raised up off the ground, open air and dotted with hammocks. I was excited.

Spicy Pai Hostel (Note the Buddha on the hill, it is white because it is still under construction. It will eventually be gold. )
One of my favorite things about Pai, besides the uber relaxed nature of it, was the night market. The main street, trust me, you ‘ll know which one, sets up a night market each night. It was an olfactory delight. There were the odd trinkets, jewelry, hand made leather boots, scarves and travelers pants but the real reason to go was the food. Just like in Chiang Mai you can get a really cheap dinner in the night market. Hot drinks served in partial bamboo stalks can be found dotting the market and they put on a show while you wait. After your walking dinner you can easily stop by one of the many bars, some even have fire pits in their indoor/outdoor sections. The bars tend to close on the earlier side but one is always willing to stay open late for the hardier partiers. The Buffalo Bar plays European football games and a number of the bars have live music.

Bamboo stalk hot teas. 
I liked Pai but I don’t think I liked it as much as everyone who came back that first week I was in Chiang Mai. It reminded me a lot of the sleepy, east coast Carribean towns of Costa Rica. There is a drug scene in Pai even though it is quite illegal. Pai leans in favor of the partiers, the hippies and the people who want to relax and do nothing. The sites themselves are so-so except for the natural beauty. So if you head to Pai be prepared with a book, an empty belly and good friends.