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Posts Tagged ‘temples’

Pai in the Sky

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Have you ever landed somewhere and just immediately felt at home?  That’s how Pai made me feel.  Like what I’d been looking for for several weeks.  Yes, the beaches and islands of Thailand are amazing, but there is something about Pai that is unique.  It is small and laidback, the Thai are super laid back anyway, but the atmosphere here lends itself to go at one’s own pace, no need to worry about anything, no need to make plans.  My accommodation was a bungalow, next to a river, with beautiful green mountains on the horizon.  The guest house offers a funky bar playing ambient music where the masses can gather.  There is a common kitchen and dining area as well, which offers for social interaction, as well as allowing artists to show their work.  It makes for very homey surroundings.

I hadn’t known much about Pai, but I met two Australian girls on my flight from Phuket to Chiang Mai who had been before and mentioned that that was their final destination.  It sounded like an interesting alternative to Chiang Mai, the city of more than 300 temples, Thailand’s third largest, and while the old city area is contained and doesn’t feel so much like a big city, on the whole, it is busy and spread out, and unlike Pai, you cannot see the mountains in the distance.  My initial plan was to take a massage course in CM, so I investigated that option in Pai and found that there was an accredited school which had been there since the 80’s.  So, after 2 days in CM, my mind was made up.  If I’d stayed in CM, I would have become bored and spent way too much money, so after 3 days, I headed to Pai.

The day before heading to Pai, I did a visa run to extend my stay for another 15 days.  Depending on where you are in Thailand, and what you want to do, these runs can be made to anywhere in the region.  You just need to cross the border and come back in.  My run was to Myanmar.  Interesting, one cannot obtain a tourist visa at Myanmar’s border, but you can cross over for 24 hours just to take care of your Thai visa.  For me, the whole process took about 15 minutes.  See, I was on a tour that makes the visa run one of the stops, so, I was literally stamped in and out and back into Thailand in no time.

The tour was different and funny.  The first stop was a hot spring which was literally a pool about 6 feet in diameter that was in the middle of a parking lot, blocked off by a railing, with a fountain spouting from the center.  The last stop was at a tribal village, in which the tribes people don’t even live anymore.  They dress up in costume and sell goods to tourists.  The one stop I did enjoy was the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  The construction of this temple began only 15 years ago, so it is very modern in architecture and art.  It is medieval in that there are skulls and skeletons, and hands reaching to the sky with nails painted red and black in the midst of a sea of white.  The mural in the temple is by one of Thailand’s premier artists.  It was extremely different as it depicts super heroes, world leaders, modern technology, and even the disaster of planes flying into the Twin Towers.  The whole thing is a bit eerie and weird, and unconventional in comparison to the other Buddhist temples I’d seen.  For pictures of Chiang Mai/Rai, click here.

The drive to Pai is on a beautiful mountain road with over 750 switchbacks.  The road is flanked by jungle and mountains, and if you are one who gets motion sickness, this is certainly a trip on which you would want to take an anti-nausea med.  It takes almost 3 hours to go the 130 miles from Chiang Mai to Pai, and upon arrival, everyone is relieved to have made it without getting sick.  The main town is very small, one can easily walk it in an hours’ time.  The streets are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, as well as art galleries, book stores, and souvenir shops, yet none of it in a cheesy-touristy way.  Maybe because there is a clear combination of expat and Thai culture, maybe because Pai is a major destination for Thai tourists, or maybe because no one is hawking their wares, they just allow things to happen as they will.  There is a huge night market featuring tons of delicious food options, artists, performers, and vendors.  It is part of what makes Pai what it is, allowing visitors and locals alike to share in the nightly fun, social activity.

A big piece of the culture here is to light floating lanterns. It is often done in celebration or to mark an auspicious occasion.   They act like a hot air balloon, you light the wick and the heat from the fire causes the lantern to rise high into the sky.  It is a beautiful thing to see, especially when there are several of them floating at one time.   It was something I really wanted to do while there, and on my last night I lit one with my friends from Sweden.  We had a nice two day reunion, and this was a sendoff for all of us.

In addition to all that Pai offered, I enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to do whatever I wanted to.  There were no plans or deadlines or expectations of other people.  I got back into my yoga practice after five weeks (my cracked rib was finally healed) and practiced every day, I read and wrote every day, I practiced my new massage theory on willing bodies, I slept as late as I wanted, ate when and what I wanted (and with that I have to add, great healthy food, juice and tea bars in Pai), and for the first time in a long time felt like all my time was my own.  For those of you who are parents, or employed for that matter, I don’t know how you do it.  🙂  For pictures of Pai, click here.

So, Pai is one of those places I could see going back to.  I could even see staying there for a season.  See, I know I could make money.  It is the sort of places that lends itself to a yoga practice, but that is lacking there.  And every time I was offering a massage, there was interest from others.  And in doing those things, I would be doing what I love, and not have to do too much of it, because it is Thailand after all, and the cost of living would be easy to meet.

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Posted in Food, Massage, nature, travel, Yoga | 5 Comments »