We can hardly claim to be experts on the life of Pai but it doesn’t mean we aren’t to tell you all about our time there! This small town in Thailand’s north-east is a strange microcosm of backpacking life in the country. A timeless town where the strumming of The Beatles drifts out onto the sleepy streets amidst the tempting wafts of curry paste steam. So what is it about life in Pai that keeps drawing us in?
The Journey to Pai
Our trip up to Pai didn’t start out too well. Our guesthouse in Chiang Mai had a pick up arranged. We sat and waited, a small group of weary backpackers with slight hangovers from the night before. A short delay, stretched into a longer wait and eventually we went to enquire as to the whereabouts of our pick up. It should have been there two hours previously but had never showed. Luckily, they were able to organise space on a second minibus and we were soon on our way…just three hours after we were meant to have left.
The road between Chiang Mai and Pai, despite being well laid and smooth, is incredibly winding. I rarely get any kind of motion sickness on our travels but boy, did I feel rough on this journey! I put a box set of Scrubs on the ipod and concentrated on it as hard as I could, gritting my teeth against the ever-present threat of losing my breakfast.
The Bridge in Pai
The place we decided to stay, Twin Hut, was located across the river from the main town (back when there were only two options over there). We mounted the bridge that spanned the Pai River to make our way over and I was horrified to see holes everywhere. The bridge was made of bamboo and dried leaves! It was seriously in need of repair and I was seriously unhappy that we were clambering across it. Not only did we weigh more than your average Thai local, but we were both wearing our backpacks and day bags giving us an extra 15kgs each, at least.
Slowly we edged our way across, the bridge creaking and cracking underfoot with every tentative step forward. Reaching the opposite bank we leapt onto the solid ground with relief. Trying to swim in that fast-flowing brown river, bedraggled and backbacked up would have been quite impossible!
A Bed in Pai
Twin Huts is a collection of basic, wooden A-frame huts. Ours had a double mattress, a plug and a mosquito net. That’s all we needed really. The toilet and shower block wasn’t too far from our hut and the place was a bargain. I wonder if that’s what the backpacking experience was like 30 years ago all over Thailand?
Dinner in Pai
Tom Kah Gai! That is honestly all I remember about it. We sat at heavy wooden tables and I had a huge bowl of mildly spiced, coconut soup packed full of lemongrass. I remember it for two reasons:
- It was seriously tasty and I was really getting into Thai soups (after a really nice Tom Yum a few days before and another local variant in Chiang Mai).
- I chomped down on a huge slice of galangal and it was so intense. It felt like I was sucking wood chips and it wasn’t pleasant. I had to set it aside rather than putting it back in to ensure I didn’t do it again…bleurgh.
Let’s Wok with Mr T – Cooking in Pai Part 1
The highlight of our time in Pai itself was a day’s cooking lessons with the enigmatic Mr T…no, not that one. I am not sure that Mr T runs his classes any more, which is a shame because it was so relaxed and fun. Plus, you actually got stuck right in which isn’t always the case in group cooking lessons.
We started by going through a selection of Thai ingredients. He talked us through the different spices, flavours and vegetables that are used in lots of Thai cooking. We were all given a recipe book (which I still use all the time) with specific recipes and generic methods so that we could continue to cook when we got back home. He gave us suggestions for alternatives to use when we got home too, which was nice. White wine vinegar as a substitute for tamarind for example. With this out of the way, it was time to get physical!
The first half of the day is all about preparing lunch, and that means curry. We all picked one and he helped us prepare the ingredients we would need for the paste. We chopped lemongrass, galangal, chillies and more. He gave us a stern warning about washing our hands after chopping the chilli.
“Wash your hands before you touch anywhere sensitive on your body. Your eyes, your ….*sly glance down”
This is something that Mr Fluskey promptly forgot, and he came back from the toilet with tears in his eyes.
We took to the floor with pestle and mortar and began to pound. I wonder if Mr Fluskey was taking some of his pain out on his paste? Then it was time to wok! He demonstrated once whilst passing around a small bottle of Sangsom (Thai whiskey).
“If the wok gets dry, add a little coconut milk.
Then if the wok gets dry again………..drink”
I knew I liked this guy!
Once all the curries were done, we sat around the table and got to try them all. They were delicious, if I do say so myself.
Swimming in Pai
We had some downtime and so we decided to spend the next three hours in the pool up the road. Fluid swimming pool only charge a little to get in, but it was an extravagance after having paid for the cooking course. We went in and gazed longingly at the rich flashpackers buying western comfort snacks and fancy pink drinks while we sipped our 10 baht chlorinated water. They were living their best life in Pai! At least we knew there was more yummy food to come.
Let’s Wok with Mr T – Cooking in Pai Part 2.
More cooking, and for dinner it’s stir fry time. Somehow I turned all of this….
…into pad thai. I have made this so many times since being back in the UK and it makes me so happy every time. We were allowed to invite anyone we wanted for dinner and so we met back up with our travel buddies Simon and Cait. It meant a chance to reconnect and they got a free dinner. Mr T’s generosity didn’t end there. For as long as we were in Pai, we could return at dinner time and practise cooking. After dinner we went with him to a local tattoo shop. He was getting some of his massive back tattoo filled in. I hate needles so we had to make our excuses and leave relatively soon….shudder!
We went on a trek but I think I will write about that in a separate post.
Our Last Night in Pai – Cooking in Pai Part 3
Returning exhausted from the trek, we made once again for Twin Hut. It was with surprise and great joy that we crossed the bridge. They had refurbished it in our absence so we strolled confidently across. Simon and Cait messaged us to say that they had taken part in Mr T’s cooking lesson that day and so we joined them to cook more awesome dishes and try theirs. It was a free dinner for us when we really needed to eat lots! What goes around comes around.
Final Thoughts on Life in Pai
Pai was a strange place. We spoke at length to a girl who had arrived as a backpacker and now ran promotions for a local bar. It seemed to have a strange pull over people with it’s laid back vibe and out-of-the-way location. It isn’t on the way to anywhere and it is very simple living. I can see how it’s easy to get sucked into backpacker life in Pai but I am glad that we moved on when we did.