Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Slice of Pai

Leaving Chiang Mai was sad for us because we loved the feel of the town but we heard from a traveler in Australia (and then several along our southeast asia tour) that Pai could not be missed. We decided to head further north and check out a Thai town set in the mountains. The bus ride would take close to four hours and after Lee read several online forums describing horrific stories of local hill tribe folk, who are not used to motorized vehicles, vomiting throughout the journey on the public bus we decided to spend a couple extra dollars for the VIP bus they have set up for tourists. Our bus ride would cost us 200 baht ($6.25) for the journey up north. All the forums ensured us that it was worth the money because travelers have no problem with the windy, bumpy roads....we were looking forward to the air conditioning and comfortable seats they were advertising.

The VIP van picked us up an hour late from our guesthouse, very typical Thailand hospitality, and then proceeded to drive around town to pick up the other eight passengers. The rest of the group consisted of a Norwegian couple and their three young children, a British couple, and a solo french traveler. After about thirty minutes into the journey on the very bumpy roads the youngest Norwegian, probably around age 3, started getting sick. When asked if he usually gets sick on car rides, the mother replied "no, its usually the older one." We knew we were in for a treat. After holding onto our seats, noses, and stomachs we finally arrived.

Lonely Planet guidebook describes Pai as a hippy town and we would certainly agree. From the streets filled with restaurants serving muesli/yogurt and falafel to the "Keep Pai Green" T-shirts everywhere you turned, we knew there had been westerners in town before we arrived. As we were walking to the guesthouse we were planning to stay in, which was located 5 minutes outside of town and was going to cost 500 Baht ($16) a night, a fellow traveler said she was staying at a place right in town that was "clean and basic" for only 300 Baht per night. We decided to save a couple bucks and check out Mr. Jans Guesthouse. Our room was definitely basic, fairly clean (with a small ant problem in the bathroom), but had a lovely front porch that overlooked a wild flower garden. We explored the town over the next two days and soaked up the small town feel. We went out to dinner the second night with the British couple from our van, Mark and Yaz, who gave us great tips for traveling through Vietnam.

Courtney was dying to go on a Elephant Trek and after speaking to several different companies in town we decided on Joy's Elephant camp, both for the price and the fact it was a family run business. Joy, the mother of the family, owns one elephant and only allows four hours of trekking per day to ensure the animal stays happy and healthy. We paid 900 Baht total and planned to trek for about an hour and a half.

After our banana pancake breakfast (yum), we met at the main office and took a 15 minute car ride out to the camp. The driver, who we learned was also our trek guide, let us out right next to the 3 ton, 31 year old, female elephant we were going to be sharing the morning with. Both of us were taken back by her size and slowly walked into the covered pavilion away from the elephant to watch from a distance. Our trek guide got right to business and started feeding the elephant huge banana tree branches. She looked pleased and ready for tourists to crawl all over her (or so we hoped). We were told to climb up to a platform about 10 feet high so we could mount the elephant. Courtney got on first and Lee sat behind. The guide kept insisting Courtney move closer to the elephant's head and sit directly on the neck, resting her hands on the animal's head for balance. This being completely unnatural, Courtney resisted for a bit but got the hang of swinging with the elephant's movement in no time. Poor Lee had the best ab workout in months having nothing to help balance him but a small rope tied around the elephant's stomach.

At first the guide took us into the hills. The scenery was beautiful with small homes tucked away in the hills. Every so often the elephant would stop to have a nice, long scratch against a large tree trunk or rock. It was hilarious but hard work to hang on. The best part for us was getting into the river. The thought of "playing" in the river with a 3 ton animal was of course frightening but once we got started it was loads of fun. You could tell the animal and trek guide had mutual respect for one another and the elephant did follow direction so that put our nerves at ease. Every time we would climb back onto the elephant she would toss us back into the water. It was a really great experience. After the ride we were able to hang out and feed the elephant some peanuts. The family was very chatty and told us all sorts of things about caring for the elephants.


  1. I love the elephant pictures - whoever took them did a great job!

  2. Our guide took the pictures as the elephant tossed us around in the water. Apparently in his spare time he's a professional photographer!