After 6 days in Yangon I fly back to Chiang Mai. I spend two days there before heading to Pai. I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s this joke among backpackers in Northern Thailand that when you go to Pai, you get stuck in what we call “the Pai hole”. After hearing countless stories of people going to Pai for 2 days and staying for 2 weeks, I was excited to see what it was all about.
To say the road from Chiang Mai to Pai is winding is an understatement. It’s made up of a total of 762 curves – which leaves me wondering every time which person decided to count them all. Is that just me? After toying with the idea of renting a scooter and doing the drive to Pai myself, I decided I just didn’t quite have the gut- yet. Minibus it is.
200 baht (about 5.50 euros) later I was ready. A taxi would pick me up at my hostel and take me to the bus station where we’d load into the minibus. 3 or 4 hours later – depending on how reckless the driver was – we’d be in Pai.
For someone who gets motion sickness on a 15 minute taxi ride in Amsterdam, it’s safe to say I was mildly nervous. I took a double dose of motion sickness tablets, didn’t eat or drink much, and told myself I’d be fine. Fake it ’til you make it, folks.
On the way out of Chiang Mai I chatted with the girls seated next to me. I had wound up heading to Pai without any accommodation arranged and now the place I originally wanted to go to was booked. I asked where they were staying. One girl said she was staying at Circus. “Oooh. A party hostel. Good luck,” one of the others said. Not having ever experienced a so-called party hostel, and apparently beginning to lean into making decisions on the fly, I asked “mind if I join?” “Not at all, check if there are still beds available!” One minute on Hostelworld and a grab of my credit card and I was set. Party hostel, here I come. I figured I’d stay there for a few days and then head to the hostel I really wanted.
Roughly 30 minutes later, the bumper-to-bumper traffic had subsided and we were on the more rural roads. It immediately looked like something out of the Jungle Book . We all put our headphones in and stared out of the windows, taking it in. A few sways of the bus as it rounded the bends, and we were all lulled to sleep.
About halfway we had a pit stop. Wait this is halfway? Why am I not feeling sick yet? I bought a can of Pringles and ate the whole thing.
The rest of the journey went on in the same fashion. I slept, was jolted awake by a turn, slept, jolted awake by a turn, slept – ok I think you get it.
Then suddenly, there we were. Jungle, jungle, jungle, and then our driver was navigating through smaller, shop-lined streets. I could see people with backpacks – probably looking for hostels. It all seemed so small- town, so cozy. Foreign concepts, at this point. What is this place? I think I like it here already.
I followed my new friend to our hostel. We walked along one of those cozy streets. We crossed a bamboo bridge over a river. We passed rice paddies. All the while, we were surrounded by mountains.
We arrived at our hostel and it was an open space. Dirt, trees, hammocks, a pool, and lots of people socializing, playing games, hula hooping. The view of the mountains took my breath away.
The phrase “coming home” popped into my head, as it had in Bangkok and again in Chiang Mai.
I recognized how bizarre it was to feel so immediately at home in such a surreal world. To feel so comfortable in a place that is such a departure from everything I know.
My insides laughed, thinking: oh honey, I hope you will always continue to be so surprised.
You clearly have no concept of all of the unexpected beauties that await you.
And so I dove headfirst into the Paihole. I would be there for 10 days.