Pai by Scooter

A one day scooter ride around Pai, Thailand

Pai is a small town in northern Thailand that is known for its hippie/alternative-vibe and nightlife. It is situated in a valley surrounded by scenic mountains and nearby attractions include waterfalls, hiking, hot springs, and caving. We took a weekend trip up to Pai from Chiang Mai and by renting a scooter were able to enjoy much of Pai’s natural beauty.

Walking the streets of Pai

The route to Pai is known as the “road with 762 turns.” As we didn’t feel we were experienced enough scooter riders by this point, we decided to take a bus from Chiang Mai to Pai. The buses are inexpensive and relatively comfortable and are a great option for making the 3-hour drive. As you can imagine, a road with 762 turns is a worst-nightmare situation for anyone who gets carsick. Luckily, our van driver took it slowly and nobody in our group had any problems (although one of the other passengers in the van had to get out to puke about halfway through). Pro tip - when you get your tickets you can choose your seat on bus. Always choose to sit in front (or as close to the front as you can) to help avoid getting carsick!

Once in Pai we rented scooters so that we could spend time outside of the town. We paid 200 baht ($7) a day for our scooter rentals which seemed to be the standard price in town. After doing a bit of online research we planned out a route and hit the road!

Filling up our tanks at the start of our ride

Our first stop was Pai Canyon. From the parking lot, it’s a five minute easy walk to the first overlook point. The canyon offered outstanding views of eroded sandstone with scattered green vegetation. We walked around on top of the canyon for a bit and took a few photos, however at 10:00 am and it was already a blistering 95 degrees so we didn’t hike around as much as we had hoped to. During my next visit to Pai, I would like to come back for sunrise or sunset when the temperatures are cooler to see more of this beautiful landscape.

View from the first Pai Canyon lookout spot

Just a glimpse of the narrow paths that wind their way through Pai Canyon

Upon leaving Pai Canyon, we passed a roadside attraction called Love Strawberry. Love Strawberry is a strawberry-themed cafe that boasts great views of one of the scenic valleys surrounding Pai. It’s definitely a little cheesy and over the top in it’s decor, but was a nice stop to have a refreshing strawberry smoothie before continuing on with our day.

Roadside attraction - Love Strawberry, Pai

Our next destination was the Boon Ko Ku So Bridge, AKA the “bamboo bridge”. This bridge is just down the road from Pam Bok Waterfall (see below) and leads from the parking area, over rice fields, to a temple set at the base of the foothills. The bridge itself is about half a mile long and was truly made of bamboo (it often felt like it wasn’t going to be able to withstand my weight). Each step caused the bridge to creak and groan as if complaining that someone was walking on it. However, I had no fear of it collapsing as bamboo is actually stronger than many woods and is used in some countries for scaffolding.

Half-mile long bamboo bridge over rice fields

After our bamboo bridge venture we continued up the road to the Pom Bok Waterfall. There’s parking in front of the trail, and it’s an easy hike to the waterfall. While we were there the water was deep enough to jump into from the rocks. I definitely recommend making this stop as the waterfall was very scenic and the clear water made for a refreshing swim.

Pom Bok Waterfall

After a quick dip in the waterfall we headed up the hill to the Yun Lai Viewpoint. The road leading to the viewpoint is a beautiful, windy road and we saw very few cars or scooters along the length of the road. Roads like these are why I highly recommend renting a scooter in Pai. There is a 20 baht entrance fee to get to the viewpoint, but it was certainly worth it. The location offers picturesque views of the Pai Valley.

Yun Lai Viewpoint

After we left the viewpoint, we finished the day by stopping at the Mor Pang Waterfall, which is a short drive from the Viewpoint. This waterfall was quite crowded when we arrived, but it has many levels which created secluded swimming holes. From the parking area, we hiked down the waterfall to a swimming hole we had all to ourselves. The water was extremely refreshing and we enjoyed a nice, relaxing swim before taking off to our sunset viewing destination.

Mor Pang Waterfall

Several times throughout the day I looked up and saw the “Big Buddha” on the hill to the southeast of the town of Pai and we chose this location as our sunset-viewing spot to end our day. From the parking lot, there is a steep flight of stairs leading up to the Buddha statue. From the top you have a nice view of the Pai valley (from the Big Buddha you are facing towards the Yun Lai Viewpoint so you are seeing the valley from a different perspective). It was overcast by the time we reached the top and so we didn’t have a good sunset, but instead we had one of the best thunder and lightning shows I have witnessed. We were able to watch as the clouds rolled over the mountains and onto the town of Pai. It was quite an incredible sight to see the exact line that showed us where it was raining in the valley and where it was not. We stayed longer than we probably should have, as it started raining as we walked down from the statue and didn’t let up us as we drove back to our hostel.

Big Buddah at sunset

Things we missed

Next time we visit Pai I definitely want to make a trip to Lod Cave as we’ve read you can hire a guide who will take you on a raft trip through the cave. Also, if we visit during a cooler time of year I want to check out the Sai Ngam Hot Springs, which is a natural hot spring located about 30 minutes outside of town.

Samoeng Loop – Chiang Mai

Our first month in Chiang Mai has been full of new experiences. The city is rich with culture, the people are incredibly friendly and there’s so much to do on a daily basis. There was one thing missing though, the outdoors. When researching Chiang Mai while still in the U.S. we read a lot about the city being surrounded by mountains which really appealed to us. And now that we have settled into life in the city, the view from our 16th floor apartment is of green mountains in every direction. After spending much of our first few weeks exploring the city of Chiang Mai we were itching to get out.

One Saturday morning Summer, Haley (Summer’s sister) and I were eating breakfast at Cafe de Thaan Aoan in the Old City. We were talking about what we wanted to do that weekend. Summer said she read a blog about a scenic driving loop that took about a half day to complete and had several interesting stops along the way. Upon finishing breakfast we had found a car rental place walking distance of us and were discussing what stops we wanted to make along the loop. One thing I love about Chiang Mai is your ability to be absolutely spontaneous.

I had never driven on the left side of the road before, and it certainly took a little time to get used to. I quickly got the hang of it and only caught myself drifting to the right side of the road a few times. It took us about 30 minutes to get out of the city and to the start of the mountain roads. As soon as we got up in elevation the scenery changed from an urban landscape to bright green hillsides. The transition was quick, and the landscape was gorgeous. The drive itself was extremely beautiful and even as the driver I was able to admire the various shades and layers of plants that were coloring the hillsides.

Our first stop was at a waterfall we had read a lot about, Mae Sa Waterfall. We heard there were many tiers of flowing water surrounded by lush forest, and it did not disappoint. The entrance fee to get in was 100 Baht, so not bad for a gorgeous private pool. The first few tiers were a little crowded with families with little ones relaxing or playing in the water. Luckily, there was a trail leading up to several more tiers of waterfalls and swimming areas. We hiked up until we found a spot to ourselves and swam under the waterfall and relaxed in the cool water.  The water here is not crystal clear but instead was a reddish brown, matching the color of the clay ground. However, the color didn’t matter as soon as you stepped in as the water was perfectly refreshing.

Mae Sa Waterfall

After we spent some time cooling off in the pool, we decided to climb up further and see what the remaining pools looked like. We hiked our way to the top of the river through a gorgeous trail of rocks, trees, vines, plants and fun little bugs on the ground. The area is maintained enough to make the hike easy, but still rugged enough to give you the feeling of exploring the outdoors. We hiked up another four layers of waterfall to the last pool which was empty and turned out to be another fantastic place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty around us.

Hike along the Mae Sa Waterfall trail

We got back into the car and continued along the loop, with our next stop being the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden. As we approached the garden entrance we saw that it was so much more than what we expected. I was picturing a greenhouse and some outdoor flower beds but I was pleasantly surprised with how wrong I was. The Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is an incredibly large facility maintained by the Thailand government. The area was immaculate and the flowers, trees and buildings were spectacular. We drove slowly around in order to see as much as we could but we could have easily turned this into a full day trip. There are beautifully maintained walking paths through greenhouses and outside gardens and in our limited time we were only able to see a small portion of what it had to offer.

Our favorite experience in the garden was a beautiful canopy walk through the trees, allowing visitors to look into the untouched jungle and out into the mountainous terrain. During the canopy walk there were a few small signs that told stories from local legends or identified local wildlife species.

Canopy walk in the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden

We also visited several of the greenhouses at the top of the property. There were over ten greenhouses of variable sizes, each which held a different plant community. One house had desert plants that reminded us of southern California, another was a tropical jungle which had  water spraying in the air to create intense humidity. Each greenhouse was well maintained and beautiful.

Arid landscape greenhouse in the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden

Tillandsia (airplant) greenhouse in the Queen Sirikit Bontanical Garden

 

After leaving the garden we stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the river. The restaurant had bamboo platforms suspended over the river which created a lovely setting for lunch. We ate sitting on cushions with a low table in between us and enjoyed an authentic Thai meal.

Lunch on the river

After lunch we drove another couple of hours climbing in elevation and passing terraced hillsides where small villages were growing food. We stopped at Max’s Coffee House which is set on top of a hill providing extraordinary views of the valley and surrounding mountains. After a quick smoothie break and photo-op we continued down the hill in order to get back to Chiang Mai before it got dark.

Max's Coffee House

Driving the Samoeng Loop was a very fun way to get out of the city and enjoy the mountains of northern Thailand. I would imagine the drive on a scooter would be a lot of fun, but watch out for rain. For about 45 minutes the skies unleashed a barrage of heavy rain while we were on the back side of the mountain, creating small mudslides on the hills around us and soaking the scooter drivers to their core. But from the safety of a car it was very fun to experience.

Thai Cooking Class

Since moving to Thailand there have been several aspects that I most appreciate about living here. One of the highest on the list is the food. When I walk through a market I pass stall after stall of people selling souvenirs and knick-knacks, but I know from quite a distance away when the food section is approaching. The aroma is magnificent and leads you to the mouth watering array of food. The spices, which we either do not have in the U.S. or just use way too little of, send your nostrils flaring and hankering for more. You start to crave the food from the multitude of stalls lining the streets. Your brain may have a fear of getting terribly ill, but the aromatic smells of the various food carts draw you in.

The only problem is I'm kind of a homebody. I don't always want to go walk around looking for street food or go to a sit-down restaurant. And I like to cook. There are wonderful produce markets in Thailand which solely sell ingredients for you to cook at home. However, I quickly found that the fruit and veggies here are not like the ones in the U.S. One of them is called dragon fruit! Sick name, but how do I use it? The markets are filled with these mystery fruits and vegetables that I can’t identify and wouldn’t know where to start in preparing it for consumption. For example, we learned that Thai eggplant is green, not purple, and looks more like a baby watermelon. The good news is Thailand has market tours and cooking classes to learn about the local produce and how to use it.

We signed up with The Best Thai Cooking School, mainly because it worked well with our work schedule. Most of the companies in Chiang Mai have amazing reviews and the class often includes a market tour and a cooking class. Our market tour was quick, our guide showed us the vegetables, spices, and sauces we would be using for the meals that they had planned. Then we were off to an organic farm located approximately 30 minutes north of Chiang Mai, where the cooking class would be held. The grounds were gorgeous and beautifully kept. The class took place in a giant gazebo, allowing us to see the pond in the back, the mountains in the distance, and the beautiful green landscapes which fill Northern Thailand.

 

Our instructor was a very fun man named Sam. He told us that he was born in Chiang Mai and just recently got into being a cook. Apparently he had raced downhill full suspension bikes before, so he is a man of many talents. He took his time explaining the steps and reviewed as many times as necessary. It was relatively simple to make each of the dishes if you knew what you were doing. After an explanation and a demonstration from Sam he would set us up in front of our own skillet and let us get to work. Summer, Haley, and I made different dishes from each available category, so we could have the most recipes between the three of us.

Between the three of us we made the following dishes:

  • Pad Thai
  • Red Curry
  • Green Curry
  • Phanaeng Curry
  • Stir fried Vegetables
  • Cashew Chicken
  • Holy Basil
  • Mango sticky rice
  • Papaya Salad

Every dish turned out to be delicious and relatively easy to make. The curry paste was the most challenging, but absolutely worth it. It required a lot of spices to be mashed together, but as soon as the spice mixture was made it was just a matter of adding coconut milk and veggies.

The cooking class was $28 for 5 hours and a lot of fun. It was a great experience and Sam even showed us how to burn our house down (see photo below).  For anyone interested in the food here in Thailand I highly recommend taking a Thai cooking class. I’m not sure about the other cooking classes, but Best Thai Cooking School gave us a great cookbook to bring home too. It’s like they knew we would forget everything after 2 days.

 

Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai

The weather app on my phone read 96 degrees for Chiang Mai and in Thailand that inevitably comes with humidity. We couldn’t image walking around the city in the heat of the day, so that meant we needed to find a water activity of some sort. We had seen photos of people jumping off high platforms into green water surrounded by gorgeous landscapes at the Hang Dong Canyon, AKA the “Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai” and had to see if for ourselves.

We decided to take a Grab (Thailand’s equivalent of Uber). The price for a Grab was about the same price as renting scooters. In a car we could be in air-conditioning and have someone else drive so it seemed like a win. After about a 30-minute drive we showed up to the canyon. Although it may not compare to the true Grand Canyon in size or grandeur, it was still quite beautiful. The rust-colored walls contrasted with the blue-green water resulting in a picturesque landscape and I couldn’t wait to go play.

 

 

 

 

 

The area has numerous dirt walking paths above the water. These provided great views to see the canyon and the opportunity to take overview photos. We came across a group of people jumping into the water who were carefully watched by the lifeguard nearby. They took their time and finally coaxed themselves into jumping. Each person in the group jumped, resulting in a quick scream and a splash of water. After they had finished it was my turn and after looking down at the water I could see why it took them so long to jump. Without any time to think it over the lifeguard began giving me the countdown. I see why counting down works on children, it really adds pressure to whatever is happening. If he hit one and I hadn’t jumped that lifeguard would have thought me a coward, and I needed to show this random dude that I wasn’t scared. So, I jumped, froze in the air, and hit the water. Some people scream when they jump, I tend to watch the water rush towards me resulting in full paralysis until the water covers my body. Even with my body unable to move, I love every moment of the free fall.

After jumping in I was surprised to find that the water was not what I expected. It was not the relaxing escape from the heat that I was used to from the Pacific Ocean or the many freshwater lakes in California. It was more like bathtub water which was no longer hot enough to soothe the muscles or cool enough to be truly refreshing. The water was the ideal temperature for a nap. However, the amazing views made everything better and that's coming from someone who had to leave his glasses behind in the locker.

The park itself has been updated recently and was split up into two parts, one of which is a more natural park to swim around, relax by the tables at the restaurant, and jump off a few high cliffs (damn do I wish I could do something more exciting than just freeze with fear). The other half of the Canyon had been turned into a water park with inflatables, music, water cannons and other fun looking toys. We did not know they were separate so by the time we realized we had to pay more money to enter the water park, we were done with the bathtub water for the day. However, I think the more relaxed atmosphere of the natural side of the canyon is more our speed.

The canyon itself could not have been more scenic. The high walls with the bright green plants sticking out from the reddish-brown earth surround the wonderfully green tinted water. It was truly a sight to see and I’m already looking forward to returning to the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai.

 

Our 7,854 mile journey to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flying out of your home country to a destination on the other side of the world can certainly make you a bit nervous. Not necessarily because you’re leaving the familiarity of your home country, but because of how terribly long those flights can be. There's the potential for horrible food, cramped legs, and a butt that keeps falling asleep. If you're like me you've heard horror stories of flying long distances and those stories can stick in your head. I have not flown long distances very often, in fact my longest flight was across the U.S. and it was only 6 hours. Summer has flown to Europe which was closer to 12 hours. Now the two of us would be embarking on a journey across the world to Asia and our travel time would be a total of 20 hours. So the flight anxiety from those stories and my memory of discomfort from smaller flights across the U.S. just tripled. And to make the feeling worse, a friend of ours told us that the seats on Asian airlines tend to be smaller than on American-based airlines. The fear of my butt falling asleep on me was looking like a certainty. Good thing there’s free movies on board.

We flew out of SFO at midnight after we had a great dinner with my parents and Summer’s family. Summer's dad, Tom, was nice enough to drive us to the airport so we didn't have to take Bart with three pieces of luggage each.

We went through security, waited a bit for our midnight flight time and then walked through the terminal gates and onto the plane with no hassle. We were sitting in row 60 so we were able to walk past and admire all the luxury seats. Some of the first-class seats had not only a table next to their seat, but also a chair which almost fully reclined and a footrest which popped up from under the seat. Maybe one day I'll be rich enough to afford one of those tickets. Eh, probably not. We finally made it back to our seats to find that Summer's chair was broken and would not recline as it was supposed to. Doesn't sound too bad but the resting position for those seats was close to breaking the 90° threshold. There was no way either of our backs could manage the 14-hour flight with that. Luckily for us the flight attendant found a spot for us and we were saved. We had two functioning chairs and now sat by the cutest little lady who folded origami the entire flight. She was adorable.

Since our flight left at midnight we were tired and fell asleep as soon as the wheels were up and our seats were reclined. Our plan was to sleep for as long as we could. Unfortunately for us, the flight attendants had other plans. "Chicken or pork?" was the repeated phrase that woke us both up. Our deep slumber kept us oblivious from the commotion around us, so being woken up to a questioning stewardess was a little startling. I just remember my eyes barely being able to open and my mind trying to process the simple repeated phrase coming out of her mouth. After the fifth time she repeated “chicken or pork?” I could finally understand what was happening. I quickly ordered rice with chicken which came in a mysterious sauce. My sleepy self was not interested in food but I scarfed it down to prevent myself from being hungry later.

We fell asleep for a few more hours and then were awoken another time for drinks. This time we couldn't fall back asleep, so we watched movies until the end of the flight. We got food one more time before the end of the flight, which made me very happy. Fourteen hours had gone by relatively fast and my butt had only fallen asleep once. The flight was surprisingly pleasant. There was enough leg room for my legs to stretch out and the seats reclined enough that I was comfortable while asleep. Plus I could really get comfortable when watching movies, of which we watched a lot of.

We got off the plane and were transported by bus in the middle of the night in a city I can't pronounce in China to the terminal to wait for our flight to Chiang Mai. We were packed like sardines into the bus with our carry-on luggage surrounded by dreary eyed people. The terminal wasn't bad, we had some Chinese food and smoothies to pass the time. Although do be careful when using your credit card here. I’m almost certain one of the waitresses stole my credit card number and sold it to some random dude in Ohio who then spent hundreds of dollars on video games.

After the quick flight to Chiang Mai, we went through customs and baggage claims with no issues. The customs officer looked at me with confusion because I was missing about a foot and a half of hair compared to my passport photo, but he just smiled and waved me through. Honestly, I was decently worried at the start of the journey, but we made it through with no horror stories and with all our luggage accounted for. Twenty total travel hours and I felt  surprisingly relaxed afterwards. We had made it to Chiang Mai with no return flight in sight.