The International Writers Magazine: Thailand

The Art of Doing Pai
Libby and Justin Furry

It’s a place whose merits one is reluctant to broadcast. It is, after all, the slow, off-the-beaten path charm of this artsy mountain hamlet that makes it so appealing. Its motto is “Do Nothing in Pai,” and if you’ve ever wanted to perfect the art, add Pai (pronounced Bye) in northwest Thailand to your list of places to experience in this lifetime.

The four-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai was a zig-zagging, switch-backing, knuckle-whitening experience as our driver attacked the sharp curves and blind corners with a vengeance (remember to take Dramamine). It was enough for both of us to affirm our religious beliefs. Once on safe ground, we set out to find a home for our burdensome packs.

Crossing the Pai River on a rickety bamboo footbridge, we happened upon one of the town’s many “resorts.” Most of these resorts are simply clusters of huts made of teakwood or bamboo, nestled in the hills, valleys and flood plains surrounding the town. We found our home at Suan Doi Resort (84 Wiang Neau Road, 053-699801) tucked away in thick vegetation in the foothills, our hut no more out of place than any of the neighboring trees. The babbling mountain stream flowing through our backyard was a nice added touch and made for good sleeping.

Idleness gripped our souls and we didn’t leave the confines of our refuge for three days, except for the occasional outing to replenish our food stores and revolving library.

Somewhat reluctantly, we decided to venture into the Pai nightlife. The town beats to the sound of Bob Marley’s drums. So abundant are the reggae joints piping his music into the streets, his greatest hits seemed to be playing simultaneously in a surreal sort of harmonic stereo.
Eating our way through town, we couldn’t find a place to disappoint. We did stay away from the popular guidebook suggestions, as we found eating amongst tables full of tourists with their heads buried in the “Lonely Planet” not to be the ideal atmosphere.

Occasionally, shops were inexplicably closed during “normal” business hours and it eventually occurred to us that Pai has a dearth of “Gone Fishing” signs. At the end of the night, street vendors simply throw a blanket over their wares, thus securing the lot until the next day. As Thais are primarily Buddhist, stealing is almost unthinkable as such an act would instantly bruise their karma.

Having been starved of Western entertainment for some time, we decided to take in a movie. With no formal theatres in town, we opted for one of the local movie houses. Apprehensive at first by the advertisement for “private rooms,” the movie selection dispelled our fears of nefarious goings on and we enjoyed watching “The Motorcycle Diaries” on a standard television and the comfort of a well-worn couch.
Hungry for some exercise, we rented bicycles for a couple days to get a feel for the countryside. We thought we were getting such a great deal for the $1.50 set of wheels, until we discovered they were more fit for the circus. Because the area is hilly, more tourists rent motorbikes, which can be leased without any sort of permit. They remind you to drive on the left side of the road and look out for runaway buses, then send you on your way.

Upon our bicycles, we visited surrounding villages, canyons, hot springs, waterfalls and elephant camps. One particular elephant, perhaps simply by her close proximity to the road, drew us to a halt. Before we had dismounted, a village woman was trotting toward us with bananas. Changing bath for bunch, we began doling them out to 47-year-old Bunmar. However one-sided, we felt a deep and mournful affection for this chained pachyderm. The joy in communing with this magnificent beast was tempered by the knowledge that we were complicit in her exploitation and quite possibly her suffering.

We found in Pai both solitude and camaraderie on a budget affordable to all. Nothing – our room, dinner for two, laundry service, movie night, bike rental, bus ride, used books – cost more than $6.

Our three-day trip was extended to more than a week, but was rudely interrupted when our Thai visas were on the verge of expiring and we had to head for the border on a visa-renewal mission. And so we left having beaten the path slightly wider, straighter and easier to find, the art of doing Pai nearly perfected.
For even more information about Pai, visit
© The Furries December 2006 <

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