12 Nov

We left on a bus around noon to get to Pai, a small river and mountainside town a three hour drive from Chiang Mai. The drive, especially crammed in a poorly air-conditioned van, was fairly nauseating down the sharp curves and endless twists of the single road to Pai. Thanks to some Dramamine and the ability to now sleep most places, I was able to avoid vomiting. We arrived at a parking lot in town and luckily the hostel we were staying at, Purple Monkey, was only a short walk away. We headed over to the hostel and instantly took in the chill vibe. The place had a nice outdoor bar that doubled as reception, cheap food, a swimming pool, a raised hammock area and a small gym space. We checked in, threw our stuff in the room, and had a few beers while I caught up on some writing.

We decided to head into town for dinner and found ourselves walking through the nightly market. While we had already made the executive decision to go to a burger place, Burger Queen, which came highly recommended, we were impressed by he amount and variety of street food, mostly Western, including lasagna, burritos, kebabs, and falafel. See, Pai was never really a tourist spot until a bunch of hippies established themselves here and now backpackers find their way to the town for a relaxed atmosphere. While there isn’t much to see in Pai, you just feel happy there. It’s like the backpacker’s downtime spot. And with the hordes of Westerners flocking here, the Western street food made sense. We walked down to the burger spot, ate some really good quality burgers and fries, and headed back to the hostel for an early night.

The following morning we rented scooters to do the motorcycle loop around Pai, which was a mere 20k in total, with a few stops along the route. The easy drive offered picturesque scenery right from the start, with a mountain view behind the curious “I am Pai” sign and gorgeous flowers and greenery everywhere. Our first stop, after taking the necessary pictures at the sign, was the split house, an odd tourist attraction that was established following earthquakes in the area that split a farmers land in two. Since he could no longer farm, he decided to open it up as a tourist location. You don’t have to pay into the “attraction,” which simply contains a donation box and the sweet owner offers you endless fruit and drinks from the surrounding land. We took the walk around, had a laugh at the anti-climactic feel of it all, took a pee in the canyon (sorry owner man) and headed down the same road to the Pam Bok waterfall. It didn’t take us long to realize this waterfall was a swimming spot. We had not considered this at all and failed to bring bathing suits so we decided that we would return later that day better prepared. Following, we ventured up to Pai Canyon which offered a thin walking trail around the canyon that we did not walk around in favor of our lives.

Somehow, we failed at completing the loop and ended up going back the way we came. This was fine by us because we dropped by the hostel to get our bathing suits before continuing on in the opposite direction. We went to grab some food at a cafe called Earth Tone, which serves up excellent health food, including acai bowls, kombucha, chia seed puddings and more. I got emotional over my acai bowl, which trumped any I’ve had in America. Afterwards, we continued on through the nicer part of the drive which included gorgeous flower overpasses, winding roads and elephant sanctuaries, before hitting the hot springs. The hot springs was definitely one of my weirder tourist ventures. First of all, you have to pay 300 baht to enter the national park, which in itself is an absurd amount of money for a quick tourist activity. We entered and only saw local’s gathering around, so we headed up a path that pointed up the slight hill. When we got to the top, we noticed it was smelling like eggs and actually saw a sign that said do not boil eggs, encouraging people to only boil eggs in the designated areas of the springs. We realized that we were at the top of the springs at the hottest point, as the water was bubbling hot, so we made our way back down to where the people were. We found some Westerners in a section of the springs and decided we were safe to go in. The water was excruciatingly hot, but I persevered to reap the alleged benefits of the springs’ water. Within seconds of entering, we noticed egg shells around us and realized that for some absurd reason people actually do come here to hard boil their eggs. While I wanted to stay the recommended 10-15 minutes in the water, it was so hot that I thought I was going to faint, so we emerged from the steaming water and returned to the cold water of the waterfall, where we ended the day’s activities.

After a shower that evening, we decided that we were going to go to the night market for dinner before coming back to the hostel to pre-game. While walking out of the hostel through the dark I walked into a concrete step and stubbed my toe. While the pain wasn’t any different than your average toe stubbing incident, I looked down to see that the skin from the top of my toe was flipped back all the way down my cuticle, exposing my flesh. I instantly started panicking and gagging, of course, and sent Angela to get any and all first aid items that I had. We didn’t really know what to do since the skin was still attached, so I doused my foot in iodine and put the flap back over my toe, throwing multiple band aids around it. After some deep breathing exercises I hobbled along to get some food into me. The evening prior I had seen the most gorgeous falafel in pita made by a Thai woman married to an Israeli man. She assembled it so carefully, layering the falafel with cucumber, red cabbage, onion, pickled jalapeño, tomato, herbs and probably some more things that I’m missing. It was exactly what I needed to ail my throbbing toe. We headed back to the hostel after, got ourselves some buckets and got to drinking and playing cards. We then headed out to two of the popular bars along the nightly route, according to a girl we were with who had been in Pai for three weeks. We went to Yellow Sun which was a casual drinking spot and then shortly after to the Don’t Cry bar that opens late and closes when the last person leaves. Pretty much right when we got in I hit my toe against a bench and was immediately over the evening, which was disappointing because the bar had a really cool vibe. It was completely outdoors and had fire pits and sand all around the sitting area.

We woke up the following morning to rain and immediately returned our motorbikes, which we had intended to ride, but definitely not in the rain. That pretty much ended our adventures in Pai and turned the rest of our days there into chill time. We spent the next two days walking around town and grabbing coffees, reading in hammocks, doing laundry, going to the night market for food and chasing sunsets. The rainy weather, while definitely annoying in terms of trying to keep my toe dry, was perfect for the lazy and chill mentality we were in. On our final night, Angela motorbiked through the rain to pick us up burgers, fries and dessert – the perfect last binge in Pai.

While my toe was hurting pretty badly and clearly infected, I decided that I would wait until we got back to Chiang Mai, which had a reputable hospital with Western doctors who could understand me. On our last half day in Pai, we returned to Earth Tone for breakfast, where I got a matcha chia seed pudding, avocado toast and kombucha, before getting onto our noon bus to return to Chiang Mai. The bus ride was just as nauseating as the one to Pai, so when we arrived back in Chiang Mai I was definitely irritable. We had to take a taxi back to Spicythai, the hostel that we booked again after our initial stay there in Chiang Mai. The taxi would not barter down, putting me in an even more irritable mood as we rode back to the hostel.

We got into the hostel and, while waiting to be checked in, I heard a familiar voice from behind and a tap on the back. Josh (refer to Dalat blog circa one month ago for those who are unfamiliar with this name), who we were planning on meeting in Bangkok on the 15th, had come to our hostel in Chiang Mai to surprise me. I was in absolute shock and so, so happy. It was exactly what I needed. After I regained some sense of composure, the three of us headed out to the hospital to get my toe assessed. The hospital was extremely clean and I was seen by the doctor straight away. He quickly determined that my toe was indeed infected, and that he would have to cut out a part of my toenail. After some painful numbing, he removed the skin that I had ever so terribly tried to reattach, and cut out the whole right edge of my toenail. Anyone who knows me knows that losing a toenail and anything related to toes or toenails is literally my worst fear in life. After it was wrapped up I went to pay and get my medicine, which included a mix of pain killers and antibiotics, we headed to feast on some Mexican food, the same place we had gone when we were previously in Chiang Mai. I sadly drank my last beer I would have for a few days before starting my medication.

The following day, we had been planning on taking the night bus to Ayutthaya, an ancient city north of Bangkok. However, we got stuck in our lazy ways and didn’t feel like figuring out our lives, so instead headed to the mall in search of a bowling alley or movie theater. As you ascend the levels in the mall the stores and the atmosphere get more troubling. When we reached the final floor, we found ourselves in an arcade with seemingly vintage machines and played basketball, bowling and air hockey arcade games. After determining that bowling did not exist, we headed back to the hostel to look up movies playing in other theaters, where Andrew, the guy who works at the hostel, told us that there actually is a bowling alley in the mall. We returned to the mall to find the nineties bowling alley that was in the most obscure location, and bowled for three rounds. I couldn’t get the shoe on and had to bowl one shoe on and one foot bare. Overall it was a pretty miserable time for me and it reminded me again how much I don’t love bowling. That evening consisted of changing hostels, since there was no room at Spicythai for another night, to a super disgusting hostel on the other end of the old city for a one night stay, getting my wound re-dressed and seeing the disgustingness of not having a toenail, and eating salads. The following day was much of the same, wandering around the city and eating and getting my wound cleaned yet again, before getting picked up at 3:30 PM for our overnight bus to Ayutthaya. Why we had to be ready so early we did not know.

As we get ready to head back down towards central and southern Thailand I already miss the north. The vibes of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Pai could not be beat. Each place felt quaint and homey. The atmosphere was always relaxed and positive and I didn’t feel bad taking my time doing things, or doing nothing at all.The 17 days that we have been in Thailand have completely flown by.


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