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Well Mel was very daunted having convinced herself the journey from Chiang Mai to Pai would be a puke fest as per the internet comments. We booked a minivan via our guesthouse (Funky Monkey) and awaited pickup…. The previous day we met someone who did similar but they got collected and then dumped at the public bus station for a public minivan. Ours however went direct to Pai so it must depend who you book with, and our driver was pretty smooth, fairly slow, and in the end it was fine and a non event. We will use the same company back rather than public minivan!
Pai is described as a travelers haven in beautiful countryside, akin to Khao San Road. Now Khao Phi Phi was a stunning location turned to trash by travelers so we expected little from Pai. However, the surroundings are stunning and the small down isn’t yet ruined. Touristy yes, but not as bad as we feared. The only place we’ve seen lasagna, pumpkin gratin, and pasta bake available from street vendors!
From here we head to Sappong (aka Pang mapha) )and we really need our own transport, so we hired a motorbike from the most recommended place – and whilst a bit more expensive it did seem straight forward. Sadly he only had automatics which made it a bit confusing as no clutch or foot brake but at least the brakes appear to work.
We did a loop visiting Pai Canyon (a stunning vista with a canyon like landscape) and a ww2 memorial bridge, and a quiet country lane back to Pai – with the most traffic being elephants on the road.
The route to Sappong is around 50km on mountainous roads with tight hilly hairpins. All fine normally, but on a 115cc automatic scooter, 2-up, with Mel carrying both rucksacks, it was very underpowered! It did just about make it though!
Our first choice accommodation was Cave Lodge, which has a great website and loads to do. They were full so we emailed and got a room at Pencave Homestay instead. And, well, what luck! Cave lodge has loads of rooms, hippie vibe (bearded travel experts and guitars). Pencave is tiny, run by a local woman, and has a few well-travelled nice people. And us. One lady stayed a night at cave lodge and escaped to Pencave next day. One couple dropped in for a drink and stayed 4 days! Its that sort of place. Rooms fine, rustic as expected, but Pen the owner is really nice and genuine – fires in the evening chatting with fellow guests with none of the bravado of some places, and home cooked authentic local tribe food each night – really very very good.
All in such stunning surroundings which just call to be explored. We did try and book a few trips at Cave lodge but none came off and really none were needed, we could stay here for weeks exploring on foot or bike and not get bored.
We did the Tham Lot cave, a huge cave maybe 3km start to finish with a river through which we took a bamboo raft on. Impressive cave, rude and useless guide. At sunset 600,000 (and counting) birds (swifts) return to the cave as one to make quite a show, and then bats exit. Lots of poo.
We also did some long walks, some semi dangerous with long drops, and some the homestay dog came with us all the way! Though he did get into a fight or two… The walks are always impressive with no one else around. A very pretty part of the world.
The bike came in handy as we explored further north to about 3km from Burma,and found a giant golden Buddha temple. The mountainous road was a bit much for the bike and Mel had to walk up a steep section. Sand covered broken concrete isn’t much fun going downhill either as the grip is iffy and I don’t really trust the brakes that much…
More walks covered the river, some farms and valleys – all very pretty indeed. The homestay dog chose to come and brought his mate too! Interesting lifestyle for the dogs here very different
After our last evening at Tham Lot (where we escaped to cave lodge as a fancied burger n chips) we ventured back to Pai on the bike and returned it with no hassle. Our last meal in Pai was at the best rated restaurant and yep, very good and authentic food at fair prices (70bt).
From here we head to Chiang Rai for a few days, but the journey is challenging…. Minivan back to Chiang Mai (fingers crossed it will be a good driver!). 4hr bus to Thaton where we have to stay the night and then get a 3hr boat (on a good day) and then back of truck ride to the city. So a day and a half, and that is if it goes to plan! Being Thailand…… we’ll see on next instalment!