Along our travels we have met a good amount of people who recommended Pai as a location that we could not miss. After hearing we had quit our jobs and were traveling the world many even suggested we would get stuck in the “Pai hole” as it is known. In fact, many of our fellow travelers and friends from the road themselves were joyfully stuck in Pai for months. Would that we could get stuck! It was easy to see how the laid-back speed, easy smiles from all, and beautiful views could lead to staying for some indefinite amount of time.
Pai is a small town whose main attractions can all be reached by motorbike. From a breathtaking sunset over the Pai canyon, to a stunning Buddha on the hill, to a bustling night life; there is a nice contrast between stunning nature and pieces of Thai culture. Pai is also a destination for many Westerners to party. The bars are open late and packed full of young people which cultivates a festival like vibe; live music, drinks, and a party that goes deep into the night. Our days of closing down bars and partying until the sun goes up are few and far between, but if that is what you are after, Pai can provide.
For us we were drawn to some of the culture and the nature in the sleepy mountain town. Some of the best sunsets that we saw in Southeast Asia were in Pai. Both at Pai canyon and at Wat Phra That Mae Yen Pai which features a giant resting Buddha. We captured the sun dropping below the mountain skyline like clockwork at 6:20pm every night (we were there in late April). Rays blasting through the smoke and clouds made for some stunning views. Often, we find ourselves at these locations, and my ability to enjoy the moment is interrupted by the people around us. I have been working on adjusting my attitude and learning how to tune out some of this unwanted noise. Close my eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on the natural sounds around me. The buzz of the insect by my ear, the rising crescendo of cicada, the sound of my breathing. It’s helped a lot but be prepared to share the space with others.
Pai is probably best visited in the wet season as opposed to the dry. The Pai bamboo bridge trail outside of town we visited would have been spectacular, if not for the dry landscape. The trail itself was well worth the visit despite the dampened aesthetics. Getting a few feet from a water buffalo and watching them walk underneath got our adrenaline pumping and the Buddhist temple at the end looked amazing, although we couldn’t go in as we forgot the necessary garb to be respectful.
Another highlight is the famous Land Split that is on the loop with the Bamboo boardwalk and a local waterfall. When life gives you lemons sometimes you have to make some lemonade and the owners of this land certainly did that. A massive earthquake struck several years back and literally split their land in half opening a chasm some 50-75 feet deep. Overnight their farmland, livelihood, and food source, was destroyed
With no way to make a profit from their crops they converted their land into a tourist attraction. On arrival the small family asks for a small donation and they bring you some of their fresh goods that you can enjoy. Fresh roselle juice (so amazing and refreshing!), tamarind, peanuts, banana, mango, and papaya is brought out in small wooden bowls and refilled until your belly explodes. After filling up on snacks you get to walk through and see the truly awe-inspiring natural wonder of the Land Split.
Perhaps our best moment in Pai came talking to a fellow traveler while eating. She passed along that she has been traveling for many years now and discussed the challenges of coming home. The challenges of trying to get back into the life you left, and the reverse culture shock one can feel. She had struck a balance by coming back to Pai every year for a little recharge of the energy that fills you up while traveling. Recharging her batteries by relaxing and embracing the things in life that really matter. Her words rang true with us. Life at home was slowly draining us, drop by drop, leaving us empty vessels adrift on a current rapidly increasing speed.
Pull that boat over, take some deep breaths, and live in the present. Plan a new experience that will fill up your soul, whether that be a weekend in nature away from the city. Or perhaps volunteering, putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation, serving others. Life is a balance and our modern lives drive us to slam our foot on the gas with no time to stop and see what we are missing as we accelerate faster.
Now sitting here on the bank of the river we are filling up on the energy of now, of new experience, of life. And it’s amazing.
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