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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Adventures Around Northern Thailand ↣ Part 3

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Pang Mapha ↣ Pai

After our adventures in Pang Mapha we were on the road again - this time heading southeast a bit towards the boho town of Pai. Our thinking was: after almost a week ‘off the grid’, Pai’s sprinkling of coffee shops, restaurants and ample WiFi options would give Adam a chance to work. Luckily, as a programmer/developer, he works remotely which has given him the generous freedom to do so much traveling with me all these months! Pai is the perfect blend of picturesque farms, delicious street food, mom and pop restaurants - and what I was missing the most: bakeries!

We stayed a five minute scooter ride from the ‘main town’ in what has become our go to option for accommodation: a beautifully crafted local bungalow appointed with cheerful Thai crafts. Our bungalow sat in a picturesque valley atop of a glowing green rice paddy surrounded by miles of mountains.

Every morning the roosters roaming about woke us, and we gazed upon cows lazily munching grass from our wooden porch. In the chilly mornings we’d sip hot coffee while surrounded by stunning views. Adam plugged away at his laptop alongside the roosters, dogs and cows while I read my book.

Leaving him to work, I’d make my way into Pai. Parting with six dollars, I suffered through a much needed Thai massage. Wandering up and down the walking street, I popped into shops filled with colorful crafts and my much missed bakeries (living in China has really left me wanting for rich baked goods)! My nostrils filled with the scents of rich spices and tropical fruits. Shops along the road were selling steaming teas in giant cauldrons, pork and rice soups, freshly baked granola and zesty fruit smoothies. Carts sold an abundance of cut fruit - mango, pineapple and strawberries were in season - and were sinfully sweet! Finally, I found my favorite of all traveler shops: a used bookstore! After perusing the shelves filled with books previous travelers had left behind, I sat by a river, sipped a steaming Thai tea and dove in.

When Adam worked in the mornings, we explored in the afternoons. Our host gave us a map of the area, but reading the two of us well tipped us off on her favorite spot: a journey into the jungle, that, if you’re lucky, led to a beautiful waterfall. We grabbed our suits, some snacks, hopped on our scooter and zoomed off to find this hidden gem!

Heading slightly north of Pai we passed through small villages, catching whiffs of lunch cooking and coffee brewing as we sped by. Tuck shops dotted the sides of the roads and farmers wearing conical Asian rice hats tended to their fields under the warm spring sun. Following the instructions our host gave us, the paved road morphed into a dirt road - which eventually morphed into impossible rocks! We ditched our scooter, recalling that it was ‘just a thirty minute or so hike from there’.

Soon the rocky road led to a somewhat perceptible path under the welcomed shade of banana trees. The landscape changed, and we traded rice paddies for dense jungle. Massive vines spun around various tropical trees, twisted in impossible knots. Giant palms were a stark contrast of green against the stunning blue sky. Magnificent ficus trees stood proudly, their numerous branches stemming into the ground. Crossing a river, we ventured deeper and deeper into the jungle. Carefully watching our step, we followed what resembled a path - an opening just wide enough for a human to walk through - and no machete needed, hooray! We crossed the river a few dozen times, the colorful birds and butterflies that were drawn to it fluttering about. All we heard were birds singing and the gentle river flowing.

The trail we were trying to follow was dancing around the river, not strictly along it. Scrambling up the river bank after another crossing, we noticed nearly two hours had passed - surely we were close? Noticing the river was flowing stronger now, I was thinking we just may be! Finally we were hugging the river bank. The flow made it too strong to cross, but there was no place to walk along side it anymore! The jungle too thick to peer through, we really hoped the waterfall lay close ahead. The sound of rushing water grew louder and louder as we leapt over giant rocks, continuing upriver in the river!

After hiking for hours I really needed that natural shower - but getting under the waterfall was no easy feat! One more challenge lay ahead: descending slippery rocks into the somewhat strong current and walking a bit more upriver to the final pooling under the falls! Adam went first, testing the current. Once across with the aid of a strong vine, he helped me, and finally: WE MADE IT!

It was the most perfect hidden gem! After traveling through other crowded, touristy spots in Thailand (and elsewhere for that matter - it seems to be growing in difficulty not to these days!) we were grateful to be somewhere so beautiful with no signs, no trash, no groups and no tourist traps!

Afterwards, we dried off under a small bit of sun peeking through the canopy, suddenly ravenous! We snacked on fruit, pastries and a spicy Thai nut mix I bought at Pai’s night market. More than content with our findings, we made our way back out of the jungle.

The rest of our time in Pai was spent exploring the fantastic scenery by scooter and of course eating many great meals! Pai catered to backpackers, and the walking street became a vibrant market nightly. Carts sold sold a myriad of jewelry - silver, beaded, woven pieces, and various types of metal. Women who descended from the hills sat atop their blankets selling woven bags in rich hues with intricate patterns. I scooped up a couple of small ones with pops of colorful patterns - a much needed case for my point and shoot and my sunglasses. In case it isn’t obvious, I love bright colors and prints - so in Thailand the fashionista in me was in shopping heaven! I stocked up on cute rings, scarves and clothes.

We sampled various noodle dishes, meat sticks, samosas and dumplings. I sucked down mango, tamarind and ginger smoothies while Adam cooled off with pineapple shakes. We had fantastic western brunches with rich fruit juices, and I replenished myself with the avocado, cheese and butter I so missed eating while living in China. At night we feasted at tiny Na’s Kitchen, where we’d split perfectly grilled whole fish, pad see ew and coconut soups with giant prawns swimming inside. At Charlie and Leks we oohed and ahhed over deep fried pork with rich dipping sauces and various meat pastes paired with rice. Our bellies satisfied, we rode back to our bungalow under the stars - and a unique surprise: a total lunar eclipse!

While Pai is by no means crowded compared to Chiang Mai, we missed the remoteness of the west and were ready to leave after the three days we allocated for the WiFi practicalities! All in all, Pai was a fantastic mix of excellent food, cute boutiques, and if you’re lucky: secret waterfalls!

Packing up once more, we returned to the thrilling Route 1095, heading west towards the Burmese border. We were only a four hour journey of twisting through the mountains away from our next destination: Mae Hong Son!

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