From Flood Fighter to Full-Time Tourist – Exploring Pai

Back in 2011, Bangkok faced one of the biggest floods in its history. I was a Thammasat University student back then and our campus is the biggest hub for the flood victims. Therefore, we tried very hard to save our campus and the neighborhood by volunteering for making sand sack barricades or taking care of the victims who came to stay at our campus since their homes were already flooded.

However, at the end, we all had to move out because we couldn’t stand the flood any longer. People were sent to other aid centers and we, students, got time to go back home.. Kind of holidays. 

Gigg, my friend ever since we rocked kindergarten and I went straight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus. It was a very long trip (Thai bus, you know..) but once you travel with your good friend,time flies. We went to visit another friend of ours who studied at Chiang Mai University and stayed with her. It was in May but Chiang Mai was still very chilly and cold. We rented a motorcycle and drove around the city, buying a Chiang Mai Tourist Guide and following the book for nice places to eat and eat and, well, eat (Full-time tourists here baby ;). At the end, we ended up at Librarista, the library café and then Gigg just had a great idea for our next trip…

“Let’s go to Pai. It must be cool!!!”

Pai - North of Thailand

At first I wondered a bit how we could get there, but who cares? We got plenty of time. We got a motorbike. So .. “Why not? Let’s go!”

And that’s the beginning of our trip to Pai, the small town up on the mountain in Maehongsorn Province, with 1,864 curves challenging you to get there. Gigg bought another tourist guide for Pai and I booked the homestay. Told you, we were the full-time tourist here.

Bike checked. Clothes checked. Food checked. And here we go! We left Chiang Mai very early in the morning with our beloved motorbike that we rented, a Suzuki Wave 250 CC. Heading from the city along the road to Mae Rim and then to the highway number 1095, the road was pretty tough and kept getting higher and higher along the way. Imagine fully twisting the accelerator and you still went on like 20 kilometers per hour until you questioned to yourselves.. “What the hell am I doing here??”

As soon as we were away from the city for almost an hour, in the middle of nowhere on the mountain, I stopped questioning. We passed the best mountain view that no one could ever see. We passed Huay Nam Dang National Park. We passed the hidden coffee shop that once we entered; we thought we were in Paris. Finally, after a long long way up and down the hill with more than a thousand curves, we arrived.

Maybe it was because it was a weekday when we arrived, so Pai was much quieter than I thought. Even though, there were not many tourists, the souvenir shops were still open as usual and very lively. We stopped one by one without boredom. I let Gigg shop some gifts for her friends and I left for other shops. They had post service there if you wanted to send a postcard, so I didn’t miss the chance to send some to my friends as well. The later the night got, the cooler the temperature became. We went back to our little home and I couldn’t really wait for the next day.

pai nightmarket

Pai in the morning with 14 degrees Celsius was even calmer and more charming than in the evening. I left Gigg at home and walked alone along the street. The night market that used to be full of people and colored with lights and sounds now was shut down and left only a few shops that opened for coffee and breakfast for tourists. I walked along the street till I got to the end of the village and found a small bridge crossing a small canal to a village. The water flow was so calm with the cool breeze blowing along. Sun shined brighter but no heat at all. I couldn’t remember how long I sat there with my diary on that bridge, but I know that maybe.. I could sit there forever..

All the 1,864 curves I had been through was nothing comparing to the time I spent here. Even now Pai might be more popular, but I still deeply believe there’re still some hidden corners that are waiting for you and me to discover.

So you out there, let’s go escape the city! Share your experience if you have any of your favorite Pai or other places. How do you fall in love with it?


Niti is a former exchange student of AFS Intercultural Program in Czech Republic in 2004. She's now persuing her master's degree in Mass Communication Administration at Thammasat University and particularly interested in media scenes and journalism.

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