Day 4: “Treat yourself” day in Chiang Mai + food poisoning…
After my last two days of intense hiking and activity, I wanted nothing more than to have a “treat yourself” day. It was my last full day in Chiang Mai and I had nothing on the agenda but to indulge, shop, eat, and explore this cool city.
It isn’t a trip to Thailand without getting a traditional Thai massage, a type of massage that puts intense pressure on parts of your body, almost like foam rolling. I went to a center that offered Thai massages by women who were ex-prison inmates. Since it’s very hard to find a job after going to prison, this center teaches the women practical skills to better their life after they are released. I got a one hour massage for the equivalent of $8 USD. Amazing! It was pretty painful, not gonna lie, especially with tight legs after hiking, but a cool experience 🙂
Afterwards, I got some lunch at an outdoor cafe right in the heart of Chiang Mai’s “Old City”, and then the shopping began.
Right when I got Thailand and looked around at what people wore, I basically wanted to throw away my entire wardrobe and buy new clothes. I so love the bohemia, colorful style of Thai clothings, and so I stocked up on new pants, shirts, earrings, and more! Everything in Thailand is SO cheap, but pretty marked up to take advantage of tourists, and so I needed to practice my haggling skills, which usually makes me VERY nervous – definitively an out-of-comfort zone experience on this solo trip :P. My favorite was Wororot Market, a huge indoor market that sells food, clothings, and basically everything under the sun for less marked up prices.
After a long day in the heat, I went back to my hostel and was immediately greeted by some new dorm-mates, two sisters from Canada named Shara and Kirby. They were so friendly and energetic, and we immediately hit it off! We went downstairs to cool off over happy hour and swim in the pool.
Afterwards, the Switzerland guys from the trekking tour messaged me to meet up. It was also their last day in Chiang Mai and so we wanted to spend some last time together. I headed over to their hotel to hang out by the pool (again). The sun was setting + a nice cold beer + great company = happiness.
Afterwards, we went over to the Sunday Night Market, Chiang Mai’s most famous night market every Sunday. It felt like the whole city was out-and-about buying things, eating food, and watching the performers.
It was so nice being with the guys one final time. We went to a bar afterwards, but unfortunately I had to cut my time short since I came down with some food poisoning from some bad street chicken at the market…not fun. I was up all night running to and from the bathroom.
I was so frustrated. Frustrated at myself for now being more careful. Frustrated that I couldn’t have spent more time with these friends. Frustrated that I may have had to stay in Chiang Mai for another night since walking more than 10 feet was impossible.
But then, like a guardian angel, Anna messaged me in the middle of the night to check in, and I told her what happened. She reminded me to listen to my body and give myself some rest, despite wanting to go out and have fun. It really was what I needed to hear, especially as someone who is a major planner and does NOT like it when things are out of my control. Another big growing experience on this trip for me –> learning how to go with the flow and letting go.
Thank God, I rested into the next morning and woke up feeling decently better. I decided to muster up the strength to take the bus to Pai.
Day 5: Exploring Pai
3.5 hours later down the curvy, rural roads of northern Thailand, I made it to Pai. Pai is a much smaller, relaxing city than Chiang Mai. It has a super hippie-dippie laid-back feel, with the main central walking street filled with cute, colorful shops, and the rest of the village surrounded by beautiful temples, waterfalls, hikes, and amazing mountain scenery. I immediately fell in love. This was my backpacking dream city.
I stayed at the Pai Circus Hostel, a crazy fun, circus-themed hostel with tons of young backpackers. They put everyone up in wooden huts and it seemed like THE place to hang out and meet people – there was so much to do and the entire property felt like summer camp!
After dropping off my stuff, I decided to take a walk and get a feel for the village. My favorite was the Container Cafe filled with these pod-shaped chairs and awesome views of the surrounding mountains. I drank a fresh coconut and took in the views.
Then, I went back to the hostel for “family dinner”, where the entire hostel got together to enjoy a meal. I met some new friends, including some nice Canadian girls who basically wanted to see the same sights around Pai as I did, and so we got together booked a van to go together for the next day 🙂
The night ended on the early side for me since I desperately needed sleep after fighting the food poisoning for 24 hours.
Day 6: Tham Lot Cave + Mor Pang Waterfall + Pai Canyon
I woke up feeling 100% myself again. Woo!! Side note – I am officially going vegetarian for the rest of this trip. 😛
I was the first one up in the entire hostel, along with a nice guy from Amsterdam named Mitchel. We ended up chilling on the hammocks and enjoying the early morning together, chatting away about everything under the sun and telling our life stories. You know it’s a solid conversation when you don’t exchange names until after 2 hours of talking 🙂
Then, it was time to get together with my new Canadian friends for a full day of seeing the sights around Pai. Our first stop was the Big Buddha temple, which is exactly as it sounds. It’s a huge Buddha sitting on top of a mountain and so it was a decent hike to get up to it. Working a sweat first thing in the morning!
Rocking my towel as a skirt since I forgot to bring a cover-up to the temple 😉
Next was Kiu Lom viewpoint, a stop on the road that has pretty nice views of the surrounding mountains of Pai. It was a little underwhelming, especially since my hostel already had pretty spectacular views to enjoy.
Next stop was Tham Lod cave. This was a really neat experience. We got a tour guide who held a lamp and guided us through the dark cave. It’s hard to see in the pictures but the cave was MASSIVE. The “ceiling” was super high and I was so intrigued by all the cool formations and such large, open space inside the cave.
The best part of the tour was riding on a bamboo raft through the dark cave and eventually into the outside world again. The light slowly grew bigger as we rafted, and it felt like we were emerging into heaven. Pretty surreal.
After a long morning of hikes and exploring, we wanted nothing more than to cool off, and so we got into our bathing suits and stopped at Mor Pang waterfall. I loved this spot because it seemed like a locals gem. The falls were filled with children taking turns sliding down the rocks. We were too chicken to try it, but we sat around the falls to enjoy the mid-afternoon break.
The final stop of the day was Pai Canyon, my favorite spot in all of Pai. It was a short 10-minute hike to the top of the canyon, and there was a BEAUTIFUL view of the narrow canyon, trees, and mountains behind. We made it right at sunset and it took my breath away.
Group pic 🙂
After the sunset, we all went back to the hostel and the rest of the group went out for dinner. I ended up meeting up with Kirby and Shara, my other Canadian friends who I met the day before in Chiang Mai (yes, lots of Canadians on this trip!). I convinced the two to stay at my hostel given how fun it was, and they spontaneously took a bus to Pai and booked a few nights there too. It was SO nice to be together again!
For dinner, Mitchel (from earlier in the morning) invited me, Shara and Kirby to dinner with his friends from Holland. We were all getting a little sick of eating pad thai every day and so we went out to a yummy pizza joint in Pai. They even gave us free shots!
The evening ended with a fire show at the hostel and chilling over beers with my new friends. It was a cool evening and perfect for being outside under the stars.
Day 7: Relaxing finally + last night in Pai
Pai really is a type of town for just meeting people, vibin’, and relaxing…and after a packed day yesterday, it was finally time for that.
Mitchel and I found each other on the hammocks again in the early morning. We hung out, got breakfast, and chilled with his Dutch friends and Kirby + Shara by the infinity pool all morning.
I did some light shopping in town and got some lunch with Mitchel. Then us two along with another friend went back into town to Sunset Bar in the afternoon. To get there, I rode on the back of their motorbikes which was an AMAZINGLY fun experience. The guys rode all the way from Chiang Mai to Pai on their bikes and I’m super jealous of that!!
Sunset Bar is a popular spot in Pai in a remote part of town with views of the countryside, mats, hammocks, a pool – perfect for a lazy afternoon.
A big group came into the bar later and we merged with them :). I just LOVE the commradare among backpackers and how easy it is to strike up conversations.
We stayed til sunset. Perfection.
After a few hours at the bar, we went back to the hostel and it was time to PARTAY. It was a lot of our last nights in Pai and we all spent some last time together over beer pong, swimming in the pool, and good music.
Me + Kirby + Shara. I will definitely miss these girls! One big learning experience I had Pai was: as easy it is to meet people as a solo backpacker, it’s harder to meet people who I feel truly click with/feel myself with, and when I do, treasure it and pursue it. And when I don’t – don’t dwell about the “lost time”, just move on. Happy that these girls definitely fell in the first category ❤
Another very good friend from Holland I made in Pai, Lisette. She will be in California this summer so this wasn’t goodbye just yet!
It really was the perfect, fun last night in Pai.
Day 8: Travel day + goodbye Northern Thailand
Today was a full travel day to the South. In the morning, I said goodbye to the whole crew. Saying goodbye is definitely the hardest part of traveling.
I can’t believe the northern Thailand part of this journey is over! I really feel like I could use another day or two in Pai. I felt a great connection with the city and its people. But there is still a little over half this trip left, a lot more places to be seen, and a lot more people to meet.
Next up is southern Thailand. Super grateful for a spectacular first chapter of this trip ❤