By Annie Shustrin
I didn’t know much about Pai when I first arrived. The curvy highway, hidden temples, and forested mountains were a stark contrast from the tropical landscape of Thailand’s beaches, where we had just traveled. North of Thailand was going to be different than its sun soaked south.
We decided to spend a week in Pai in hopes of finding some quiet and getting a glimpse into a less touristy Thailand—one where travelers and gap-year backpackers hadn’t yet taken over. Here, farmers still bring their crops to market on Wednesdays to sell food to local families. Local monasteries, though right in the middle of a popular town, still raise young monks to be respectful men. And despite its rise in popularity over the last few years, Pai is still a close-knit community and absolutely feels this way. I immediately felt right at home.
After dropping our bags at our riverside hotel, we traversed the small and inviting downtown. Shops and cafes line the few main roads while low key hotels and Thai spas line the river. Roads led us down tiny alleyways and over Pai River’s bridges. We passed restaurants perfuming the air, shops boasting locally made clothing and jewelry and spas offering Thai massages and treatments.
When the sun began to set over the surrounding mountains, we ended our walking tour at a small restaurant. The humble wooden picnic tables were set with printed table cloths and nothing else. A resident dog made himself comfortable on the front stoop while the owner’s family prepared local dishes in the back. Though I can’t recall what we ate or what we drank, I do remember the sounds of motorbikes puttering down the street and the hum of the radio coming from the kitchen. The scents and sounds were unique and alluring, but there was something familiar and comforting in Pai. Something that suited me so perfectly that made me feel as if I’d been here a hundred times before.
Over the week we had in Pai, we did indulge in sightseeing activities such as riding Thai elephants bareback and visiting other nearby villages. But mostly, the highlights were in the simple pleasures. The flavor of a particular dish or the temperature of the air as the sun went down over the river.
I’m sure I’ll find other places in my travels that will bring me this feeling of comfort, but what I found in Pai will always be an oasis.
Annie Shustrin is a travel addict. When she’s not on the road, she’s either thinking about past trips, planning future ones, or fantasizing about where she’d like to be right now. She has visited over 30 countries on both long and short term travels, and is now based in New York City. She writes for her blog TravelShus.com, as well contributing articles to other online travel publications. Though Indonesia and New Zealand are amongst her favorite destinations, her favorite travel memory was in China, where she got to hold a baby panda on her very own lap