November 28th, 2014 - Huay Xai, Laos
Last Thursday, I woke up early and had my first encounter with food poisoning in Asia, then conveniently boarded a bus through the windiest road in Thailand, turning 762 times over 151 Kilometers on the way up to the tiny town of Pai in the mountains. Along the way up I made acquaintance with Peter, who lives in Austria but is currently on assignment in Afghanistan, and Emilia, a fellow solo travel who surreptitiously was able to brief me on Vietnam and Laos, having made Thailand her third stop. As the minivan wound it’s way through the mountains, we were greeted by impressive vistas and misty clouds around almost every turn.
Upon putting our feet on the ground in Pai, neither Emilia nor I had a place to stay, so we teamed up and hit the streets, exploring housing options and asking fellow travelers for advice. Eventually, we stumbled across a makeshift bamboo bridge and discovered an open bungalow in a secluded patch of grass, facing out over a beautiful mountain view. At 400 Baht a night ($6 USD each) for a private room with hot showers and a hammock on the front porch, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to leave.
After gratefully depositing our bags, we met up with Bill, who had been enjoying Pai life for the last few days. He told us about a popular pool just outside town, and we all agreed lounging in the sun, taking a few refreshing dips, and enjoying some cold beverages would be the ideal way to while away the afternoon.
Living on Pai Time is simple; each day follows a certain cadence dictated by the city, the weather, and the people:
The mornings in Pai are misty and wondrous. From sunrise to 10 or 11 each morning, a thick layer of clouds and fog surrounds the entire town and the mountains behind our bungalow, slowly unveiling as the sun burns them off. As the first rays of light begin to warm everything up, it’s a great time to take advantage of our beautifully manicured lawn and do some yoga or indulge in a morning workout while enjoying free coffee and bananas, courtesy of “Phu View” Bungalows.
After a long, slow morning sipping coffee in the hammock, it’s probably time to take the motorbike out for a spin and grab some lunch at one of the restaurants either in town or on the way to one of the waterfalls. With a plethora of fresh, local produce, there were a ton of healthy cafes in Pai, serving everything from kombucha to wheatgrass smoothies.
One day, I encountered a tiny stand off a dirt road with a sign that read: “You decide pay by donation.” After I sat down, they proceeded to not stop feeding me ridiculously fresh fruits and juices grown steps from my table.
The cost ($3 USD/day) and convenience of a motorbike rental, combined with the prevalence of waterfalls and gorgeous canyon vistas made it the most economical and enjoyable activity of my trip so far. From lunch until sunset is the perfect time to glide around Pai’s windy mountainside streets as the sun angles across the sky and into the canyon. Emilia and I very much enjoyed the peacefulness of just riding around, enjoying the sights and finding it impossible to ever really get lost.
The sunsets in Pai are postcard material. The last few red and purple beams of sunlight reflect off clouds and mountains for breathtaking views, then the real scene in Pai comes alive just as darkness flows over town. Evening ushers in the creation of a sprawling street side market throughout most of the downtown area. Complete with locals performing entertainment acts, beautiful handmade crafts, and more delicious street carts than your stomach can handle, Emilia and I ate our way through the town each night, stopping every 20 minutes to sample dumpling, kabobs, sticky rice, and drowning it all down with beers from 7-11. Even though we enjoyed a veritable feast, I can’t have spent more than $5 USD food each time.
At night, the main stretch of bars slowly erupts as the massive crowd of travelers migrates from one bar to another in unison, all the way from just before midnight until sunrise. One of my favorite parts about this tiny little village is the ease with which you can see smiling familiar faces due to the town’s nature as a congregation location for longer-term travelers. Emila’s ability to speak a multitude of languages constantly came in handy as we wander around town letting our extroverted natures take over and making new friends.
After going out, the best part is taking in the epic show mother nature puts on each night. With minimal surrounding light in the area, a new moon, and clear cloud cover, the stars are the brightest and most bountiful I’ve ever seen them.
This morning, I crossed the border into Laos to embark on the next leg of my journey. Tomorrow at sunrise I’ll be departing for 3 days in the jungle, ziplining through rainforest canopies and sleeping in treehouses over a hundred feet above the ground.
Traveling for three weeks now has been an amazing crazy wild ride. My favorite aspect has been the destruction of monotony. Every day brings with it new opportunities to encounter something or someone you’ve never been exposed to in your life, and I’m loving learning as I go.