My couch surfing host’s driver gave me a ride to the bus station. I planned to catch one of the many daily buses to Pai. Unfortunately the faster and more comfortable minibus I hoped to catch was already full so I ended up waiting in the bus station for an hour and half for the next bus, a local bus. The two primary ways of getting to Pai are by minibus, faster and slightly more expensive, or by local bus, slower and slightly less expensive. Frankly the difference in cost wasn’t enough to sway me either way, nor the difference in comfort which is quiet relative on such a twisty road. Catching the earlier mini-buss was mostly just about getting there as soon as possible to start the search for somewhere to sleep. Like many popular backpacker destinations most guesthouses in Pai don’t take reservations. The guesthoueses just trust that as one guest leaves another is likely to show up looking for a room. At any given time half of the guesthouses will be full, but walking past a few door to door you’ll easily find one with space. The guesthouses know from experience that most people do not stay a predetermined amount of time and they don’t want to get into the position of having to tell someone to checkout because someone else is comming. Here in Pai many people stay for weeks… or even months. Talking to one GH operator they said the longest guest they’ve had was 8 months and counting. Most people staying that long though get out of the guesthouses and just rent an actually house. Anyway I ended up on the local bus.
I like local buses they always have the most character. Having the most character is really a euphemism for being least comfortable and having the greatest number of things falling off of them. Seriously though I always like the people better on the local bus, it’s typically a mix of locals and travelers, unlike the minibuses which tend to be 100% foreigners. Well, let me clarify and say I like the local buses for day trips, over-night trips become a different story all together although in that case I’d really prefer a trains and then VIP (sleeper) bus…. I digress… On this local bus I met some fun local guys who very much wanted me to go have a beer or twenty with them as soon as we got to Pai. I kept telling them I had to find somewhere to sleep first and that after finding a room I’d be happy to join them in there debaucery, but they didn’t want to wait… Although really there was no waiting really involved since they were already drinking on the bus.
I was actually a bit surprised by the two local guys I befriended on the bus, namely because they looked typical local for the area yet on the bus ride one whipped out a iBook and started playing music from it for his friend. I took the opportunity to ship out one of my cameras memory card and ask for some Thai music which he was very happy to do. Thai music is a interesting mix… I’ve never been good at describing music, but they listen to the standard international popular fair (from Christina Aguilera to Rappers I’ve never heard off) as well as a Thai version of that sort of music… most of the Thai music tends to be swoony love songs. Talking to him more I learned he works in marketing and graphic design, but I didn’t get much more than that. It left me wondering what marketing and graphic design looked like in Northern Thailand.
On arrival in Pai I started to my search for a bed. I’d gotten to town fairly late in the day and it took longer than I expected to find a room. It didn’t occur to me until later but I got into town on the first day of a big Thai holiday weekend… hence the local Thai’s on the bus coming home from city jobs for the weekend. Eventually the nice people at Good Life, a restaurant I would come to know and love, helped me find a bed in a dorm room a few doors down from them. It’s pretty typical that when one guest house is full they’ll point you towards their friends guest house that has space, which make the searching much easier. The dorm room was good enough for the night to set my bag down and allow me to search unencumbered the next day for something better. Now I could go back to good life for a well earned beer and dinner.
Good Life has a great setup. They only have a handful of rooms, maybe even just a handful that is missing a few fingers. Their restaurant is small and cozy, highlighted by two large community tables, a long bar with swings instead of chairs and another community table surrounded by floor cushions for seating. It serves a pretty simple menu, a little Thai food, a little western food, and lots of beverage options especially in the Tea, Coffee and fresh fruit shake/juice section. It was swinging on a chair there that I met two women, Lucky and Sarah. They helped educate me on the layout of Pai and what was going on around Pai. On there advise I promised to check out the bungalows just outside town on my planned search the next day.
In the morning I had breakfast again at good life, again bumping into Sarah who was there for her morning coffee served in a French press. Then before it got to warm I took my walk to explore the town in better detail by daylight. It doesn’t even take an hour to walk every street in Pai and having not found anything I loved, I started the walk out of town over the river. Over the river there are dozens of bamboo bungalow operations, some look like bamboo versions of tract homes back home. I walked further and finally found a wonderful bamboo bungalow at a place called Eden Garden. It is next to the more expensive an posh Sun Hut. It is kind of a miniaturized version of Sun Hut. Where Sun Hut has 5 hammocks around a large garden to relax in, Eden has 2 around a very small garden. Where Sun Hut has a full restaurant/cafe, Eden has a few snacks available if you can find someone to sell them to you. For half the price and the ability to walk next door I was quiet happy with Eden Garden. So happy in fact that my two or three days planned in Pai quickly turned into a week…
So these are just a couple of random photos from that I took the first few days in Pai… I do just love funny signs. It constantly amazes me in places like this where there are endless numbers of fluent and native English speakers that no one every seems to bother to ask one of them to proof read a sign or a menu… The Thai’s certainly do care about keeping you safe.