Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pai: Of cuteness overload, food trips and a motorbike ride

It was a spur of the moment trip when those restless feet started to itch and there is that feeling of wanting to go away even for just a few days. Airline's online bookings were scanned for good airfare deals and travel blogs are pored over for inspiration. Lured by the cuteness overload and promise of good food and cuppa, the tickets was booked and the travel plans were finalized.

As we landed in Chiang Mai on a balmy morning, we hurriedly took a taxi from the airport to the Railway station to make sure we can secure our train tickets back to Bangkok.
As we approached the Railway station, there was this feeling of foreboding when we saw the ginormous tarpaulin with an announcement written in Thai characters.
Tarpaulin + Lack of activity = Trouble.

signboards at Coffee In Love

About a month ago, we read that the rail station will be under repair and they are shutting down the operation from Bangkok to Chiang Mai temporarily. Carefully calculating the days, we knew that it should be operational during our travel dates but we did forget to consider government efficiency.
We went down the station and was totally clueless on who to ask and check about the train to Thailand when a lady approached us and asked in broken english and lots of hand signals.
"No train!"
"Train going to Bangkok"
"Train closed", " Take Bus" (walked off with a toothy grin)

It was not a good start for our trip, we weighed our option of getting a flight or to ask around about the bus that the lady said. Keeping a more sane head on her shoulder, my friend suggested we go check out the bus since taking the flight will be way more expensive. We walked to the entrance of the railway station and asked if the driver can take us to the Bus terminal where we can get a bus ticket to Bangkok.

At Arcade Station, there are a lot of bus companies offering bus trips to Bangkok and since the bus fare is cheaper than our allocated budget for the train we decided to splurge and get the first class tickets that offers bigger recliner seats, food and toilet on board. Finally after a full morning of rushing from the airport to the railway station and finally to the bus stations, it was time to tuck into a plateful of Pad Thai.

After 3 hours and 762 turns, the colorful and artistic facades of Coffee in Love and Strawberry Pai greeted us as we sped past the highway into the center of the town.It was cuteness overload once we arrived in the walking street where there is a high concentration of shops and cafes that are artistically designed. It was like being transported in a very surreal place where each piece of wood, tin and cement are transformed into an artistic piece. Everywhere I looked are colors beautifully blended and designs that were creatively pieced together.
Brightly colored shops littered both sides of the street hawking t-shirts, souvenir items and what nots. The lingering smell of a freshly brewed coffee wafts from the coffeeshops.

After arriving and settling in our cozy hut that we will be calling home for the next two days, we went out to try riding a scooter for the first time. There is one big problem for us in travelling to Pai and that is the main mode of transportation in this town is the scooter or moped. Pai is a case of "so near yet so far" with a town boundary of a 10 km. radius it is actually considered a small town but you can't just walk around. There are no public transportation or tuktuks which can be a challenge for non-scooter riders like us. Our host was generous enough to let us try to practice on their scooter before we decide we would want to rent one but to make the long story short we thought that a 15 minutes scooter training may cost us our life. Not just because every tourists here are riding motorbikes doesn't mean you have to ride one too if you are unexperienced rider, there are other options that you can take it might cost a little more but it is better to be on the safe side. Probably it was our pained expression but our host took pity on us and offered to take us around instead the next day to the places we wanted to see at a very reasonable that is even cheaper if we rented out two motorbikes.

That night after a long day full of adventures and misadventures, we had dinner at Witching Well that serves mostly western food and cakes. The pesto pasta and dark chocolate cake come highly recommended.

LEDlit dinner at Witching Well

The first full day in Pai is spent on visiting the places located on outskirts of the town. A big breakfast and coffee at Black Canyon kickstarted our day before starting with the Chinese Village with its manual ferris wheel and beautiful views of rolling hills. We went to the popular overlooking view point at Low Yat View Point where our 20 baht entrance fee comes with a hot tea and banana. 

Coffee cup at Black Canyon
Manual ferris wheel at Chinese Garden

Low Yat View Point
As noon approaches, we went to the Pai Canyon but we just walked around a bit since some of the trails are very steep and off we went to the Memorial Bridge where we enjoyed a naturally made ice cream to cool down from the hot sun. 
Pai Canyon
Memorial Bridge
Deciding to grab a late lunch we asked to be dropped off at Strawberry Pai which is a strawberry plantation which offers just about anything made with strawberry that they even had a strawberry fried rice. It would have been interesting to taste it but it's probably a best seller since it is sold out when we reached. Right after lunch, we plunked in one of the hammocks in the Container. The Container is made up of two levels of shipping containers, with the second level filled with hanging cocoon like hammocks while the first level houses a store selling colas, junk foods, instant noodles and coffee. Here we stayed to our heart's content catching a power nap, getting lost in thought, taking pictures and just enjoying the country breeze and the view. Before heading back to the walking street which is the main heart of the Pai, we stopped by the picture perfect coffee shop just a few minutes from The Container. Coffee in Love is indeed love at first sight with its picket white fence and beautiful views while we sip on our coffee (again) and dug into our cakes.

Hammocks at The Container

Coffee, cake, view = Love

As night comes it transformed the walking street into a night market with side walking vendors selling artsy items for souvenir, hand woven scarves, the ubiquitous souvenir shirts, hand knitted bonnets and of course food. At almost the end of the street where much of the food stalls are located, is a tattooed guy selling the tastiest and fiery bacon and mushroom barbeque which is a steal for 10 Baht.
For some healthy thai food that night we opted to dine at Charlie & Lek where we also got to try their unique blend of drink pineapple and basil drink which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

As the morning of leaving Pai dawned, we were up early to get some breakfast at All About Coffee before leaving for Chiang Mai. We almost didn't find this coffee shop because it was in a nondescript old house with just a little square board that identifies it as "All About Coffee". Different paintings and illustrations covered its wooden walls, it is an art gallery within a coffee shop. On a small wooden table we enjoyed a steaming cup of coffee, french toast and the best banoffee pie I have ever tasted. 

Found the best Banoffee pie at All About Coffee
With the sweet taste of the banoffee pie we bid goodbye to the pretty little town of Pai.

Places to See:
Pai's Walking street
Chinese Village
Low Yat View Point
Memorial Bridge
Pai River
Strawberry Pai
The Container

Eat and Drink:
Witching Well
Black Canyon
Coffee in Love
Charlie & Lek
All About Coffee


Post a Comment