Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pai: Deconstructing a piece of "pai" (pie)

Deconstruction (culinary term) - Take the ingredients or components in the dish, change their forms and then plate them together in a different way. It's not just about taking the dish apart but putting back its elements back together.

Pai, Thailand heralded in numerous blogs as a secret mecca of backpackers in Northern Thailand. The ultimate definition of CHILL. It might not come across any guidebook of Thailand but try to search for travel blogpost and you will be bombarded with endless praise of this quirky small town just about 3 hrs ride away from Chiang Mai.

If Pai is a dish these are the elements that defines it that I will aim to deconstruct based on my own experience. 

INGREDIENT (1) : From Chiang Mai to Pai and the infamous 762 turns
Search any blog entry about Pai and you will not miss out how the 3 hours travel from Chiang Mai to Pai is the Worst Ride ever with a very slim 10% puking survival rate.
How the ride was described instilled fear in me which prompted me to chew on 2 tablets of Bonamine while a barf bag is tucked inside my bag.
My mantra is "Better to be prepared than to puke inside the van".

DECONSTRUCTED: Surprisingly, booking a ride to Pai from Chiang Mai is a breeze. Tickets are purchased in Arcade 2 Bus Terminal near Berth 10/11. Pick the time you want to leave then select your seat from the booking system and pay. Just three simple steps and you are almost on your way to Pai. 
With a well prepared battle plan because of all the horror ride stories I read from the Internet, I took a light lunch (if you consider a phad thai as a light lunch) and chewed on 2 tablets of Bonamine (a local brand of motion sickness medicine). 762 turns, bring it on!
We were not cramped inside the van with most rows seating only 3 passengers except for the last row. Vans are clean and well-kept.
Departure was on time but I have doubts with our driver who looks like he just came fresh from university. These doubts were all erased as the lanky teenage looking driver expertly maneuvered the van over steep hills and sharp turns. Yes, the 762 turns are not a joke but it is not really a horrific ride that will leave you fearing for your life. Two tablets of the anti motion sickness medicine is way too much and it was really an overboard on my part.In the end, we arrived safely in Pai with 0 puking casualty. 

INGREDIENT (2): Quirky and Vintage places/shops
Pai is no doubt postcard perfect with its well known vintage and quirky designed shops. Walking along the 'walking street' is a design paradise from the nondescript coffee shop filled with painting and illustrations to a rustic restaurant with a wishing well. 

DECONSTRUCTED: The 'walking street' and the fringe of the town is just a small part of Pai. Beyond the vintage and quirky places is a Chinese village,  a hot spring with a nearby hot spring spa, an elephant camp, the Pai canyon and numerous waterfalls.Pai is a small town but it packs a lot of adventures and experience for the different type of travelers. It's beyond the quirky, vintage Pai postcard.

War Bridge Memorial
With only one full day to go around,I started the day with a big breakfast that comes with a steaming cup of coffee from Black Canyon. After breakfast, was a trip to the Chinese village which is quite interesting with its green vistas and replicas of Chinese architectures and temples also you will find the manual ferris wheel here. After the Chinese village is the viewpoint which is overlooking the picturesque mountains and fields.
Manual Ferris Wheel at the Chinese Village

The Container - hammocks galore!
As the noon sun burns, I walked along the World War 2 Memorial bridge and trudge cautiously at the dangerous precipice of the Pai canyon. Lunch break is at the Strawberry fields but unfortunately they ran out of the Strawberry fried rice which could have been an interesting meal. A long siesta at the container while munching on seawood flavor Lays chips on a hammock is a surprising highlight. Capping the day, is a slice of cake and flavorful coffee at Coffee in Love.

762 Turns!
INGREDIENT (3):  Riding a scooter/motorbike is essential
Pai is a small town but it still has a 10km radius which is a classic example of "so near yet so far". Most blog post encourages using a motorbike/scooter to explore the town considering how cheap is the rental rates at 150-200 Baht for 24 hours. 

DECONSTRUCTED: Indeed Pai is best explored using a scooter/motorbike especially if you want to go to the outskirt of the town. But don't let your lack of knowledge of riding a scooter/motorbike hold you from visiting or exploring this very unique.On another point, don't push yourself to throw caution in the wind and just ride the scooter/motorbike for the first time. The roads in Pai are not flat there are a lot of uphill and downhill roads especially when you get outside the town proper. 
So what are your options if you can't ride a scooter/motorbike but still want to come to Pai? 
1. Make sure to book an accommodation within the 'walking street' so that the shops and restaurants are just a stone's throw away
2. Walk! from the center of the town it will take around 30-45 minutes walk to the area of Coffee In Love
3. Arrange for motorbike taxi/service, car service or a day trip tour. Prices are not steep and can be comparable to renting a motorbike plus gas money.
4. For a more environment friendly approach, use bikes instead. It's more environment friendly and can definitely burn more calories in the process. Do this only if you know how to ride one.

Contrary to popular belief, that you need to ride a motorbike/scooter to visit Pai there are a lot of options for us none motorbike riding vagabonds.

What are you waiting for?  Grab a piece of this "Pai"


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