Pai, Thailand – For people travelling Thailand, Pai might be one of the most controversial places to go. While it may be paradise for backpackers partying all night and drinking lots of alcohol, others searching for a calm place and an „original“ Thai culture experience will probably want to stay at another place. My first impression of this little hippie town, located in Northern Thailand and a 3 hours bus ride away from Chiang Mai including over 700 turns on a road through beautiful hills, was – let’s say – not the best. I felt like visiting a funparc that could have been built anywhere in the western world and which represents a miniature thai village with a lot of food stalls selling mostly western food to the visitors.
I was more than happy that our guesthouse was located a bit outside the center so that I could enjoy the peaceful nature Pai is surrounded with. I may not have liked the inside of the town, the setting, however, is beautiful. Nonetheless, when I finally lay down under my mosquito net that night, I didn’t mind having planned only a 3 day trip to Pai.
The next day, we joined the popular tour to the Tham Lod cave provided by basically any of the travel offices in Pai. Yes, everybody does it, yes, it’s overly touristy, and yes, it’s beautiful. After another hour of curvy roads through the hills you find yourself in a huge cave with thousands of stalagmites and stalagtites, float over the water on a bamboo raft and listen to the sound of bats hanging from the ceiling. We decided not to include all the other attractions and rather spent our afternoon enjoying the view over the green covered hills in front of our little bungalow.
Dinner in one of the many restaurants was nothing special and so we wanted to finish the evening strolling through the small streets, when we heard live music coming out of a small bar. I had read about the Pai Reggae House before when I had been searching for vegan places in Pai, but kind of forgot about it again. We didn’t have any other plans and liked the music, so we took off our shoes and sat down on a small table.
And there I was, sitting in a small bar, cuddled up in a big armchair, listening to subtle guitar sounds and story-telling voices. Suddenly, I could forget all the bustle outside, I forgot the stress of planning the next day and I forgot where I was. I forgot everything around me and lost myself in the music and the dimmed lights of the bar. Occasionally sipping on my cup of mango-tea – my stomach hadn’t yet fully recovered from the food-poisoning a few days ago so I didn’t want to disturb it even more by nourishing it with alcohol – I felt completely happy and light for the very first time since I had started this trip. And I fell in love – I fell in love with live music for the nth time in my life, I fell in love with the vibe of this bar, I fell in love with the musicians and I realized, how beautiful Pai can be.
As with many things that may not appeal to you at the first glance it’s worth having a second one. Pai isn’t just a party place, it’s also a place for artists to share their work and a place to relax and calm down. In it’s otherness it offers more than drunk tourists and cheap food.
After this evening, I would have loved to spend a few more nights in Pai, sitting in small bars, listening to live music and artists telling the stories behind their songs, but all we had left were a few hours. We walked along rice fields to a beautiful place called Earth Tone that serves organic vegetarian and vegan food and spent our last hour there, eating raw banoffee pie and drinking kombucha.
I might never come back, but I’ll remember the music in my head.
Discover hidden places and get inspired!
Photos: Matthew Alexander, Anova
Edit & Art Direction: Anova