The Trip to Pai

I wish I could take you with me on a drive through the mountains to Pai. I want you to see the way the road suddenly changes from flat city streets to winding mountain highway through the jungle. You can see rows of mountains up ahead, blue in the mist. Houses line the side of the road, each of them different, but most in the traditional Thai style on giant teak pillars with the floor suspended several feet above the ground. Many look abandoned, and the jungle has done its work and grown up to cover their withering frames.

Abandoned wats, their distinctive A frame clusters of buildings still discernible through the over growth, lay mere yards away from where new temples are going up. Perhaps the spirits, demanding as they tend to be, got tired of the old place and wanted a change of scene. More likely some person is building it to do a good deed, and bring their family honor. You wonder what happened to the people who built the abandoned place down the road.

The road gets steeper, the switch backs more frequent, and if you are lucky enough to be in a vehicle with handles you are glad of it because keeping your balance is engaging most of your muscles now. Walls of bright red earth show where the mountain was cut away to make room for a road, and the jungle has not yet reclaimed it. There are moments when the jungle falls away on the side and you see the sun gleaming on the tops of an entire range of mountains and you gasp because of how beautiful it is



You start to recognize a certain type of structure that occurs, over and over again. There is a raised square platform with a roof suspended high above it on 4 square pillars. A respectful distance away is a sitting area, concrete or stone benches arranged in rows, or squares. This is where they burn the dead, and sit with them as their bodies are reduced to ash and smoke. You realize there is one on the outskirts of every village you pass through.

Little wooden buildings cluster where there is enough flat space beside the road, nothing more than photogenic shacks really, with long tables displaying local produce, honey, pineapple, mango, and featherless poultry that hang by their feet, ready to cook.



Spirit houses, covered in ornaments, are everywhere, always supplied with fresh offerings. If you ask they'll tell you it's not a Buddhist practice, more an ancient tradition to honor the ancestors. At least, that's one version.



Hill tribe people, men and women, ride in the open backs of pick up trucks, some with towels wrapped around their heads to protect from the wind and dust. They prop themselves against packages and bundles, perch precariously on the sides and tailgate, and you just hope they don't bounce off ever and under the wheels of your bus.

You might see someone driving a little motorbike with a big side car and a roof covering all slowly along the shoulder. They might have old CDs fastened to the back of the vehicle as reflectors, a particularly clever Thai innovation.

At the halfway point where we stop to use the bathroom you'll notice that the dozen or so long tables with benches all have solid granite tops. The bathroom stalls are manned by a barefoot old hill tribe woman who wields a mop and bucket of soapy water with extreme diligence. They may be soaking wet, as all Thai bathrooms are, but they smell way better. You are happy to pay her the 3 baht fee to use them.

The road climbs even higher and you thought it was beautiful before, now it's breathtaking. There are fewer people now, no buildings. You're so high that pine trees grow and mountain ranges stretch away on either side of the road as you twist back and forth, higher and higher. Clouds dance on treetops and the sun seems gentler here, painting everything lovingly in brilliant colors.



You wait eagerly for each gap in the trees to reveal yet another breathtaking vista.

And then you see it, on the right, so far below, between the mountains, green fields and a faint glimmer of water in the valley.

Now you are descending. Soon you see rice fields right beside the road again. Signs for coffee shops and guest houses appear. You'll cross the bridge over the river eventually, and the scene changes to fields and houses. The mountains are still near. They lean in to watch over your descent.

Little resorts start popping up, and more big signs in English, to help you find that place you booked online from the tourist website.



And then you are driving right through town, through the market street, with stalls crowded on either side. The walking market opens at night and things are just warming up in the gathering dusk. The bus station is just a little gravel lot with a bathroom at the back and a ticket stall along the side with a  few outside benches to wait on. You climb down and stretch out stiff legs while gathering your things and then just walk out into the street and through the market in the center of this little town.


Time for some exploring.


Maybe some relaxing too.

Comments

  1. You dont have to wish you took me on a drive, because you did. You took me and everyone who read this so far away from wherever they were. Further than the thousands of the geographical miles they reside in. Most of the time, Im the person that reads Yelp reviews, but doesnt post. I read your blog and dont contribute. Thank you for taking us places. You are an amazing writer.

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