Northern Thailand Day 5 – Pai

Woke, grabbed a bite, jumped on the bike and headed off for a day of riding around this beautiful area of Thailand. The ride was magnificent. The views – spectacular. We rode to a waterfall through winding roads with sugarcane fields on either side, that then gave way to rice terraces. We passed farms, streams, and rode alongside a river. Once at the waterfall, which was actually a series of small to medium-sized cascades, we jumped in one of the natural rock pools. There, we met a French guy and his couch surfing host, a friendly chap from the Philippines, both of whom had fallen in love with Thailand and were taking a month to travel around it – lucky buggers.

We rode to a restaurant built on huge stilts with grand views of the flowery fields below, and more distant views over much of Pai. Here we enjoyed a salad and an ice-cream. We were completely alone in the spacious restaurant, built entirely from wood with no windows. The lady serving us, Joy, was indeed that to behold, a smiling, inquisitive local who was happy to come and chat to us. Feeling refreshed, we rode to a deserted mountain top temple with crumbling old statues of dragons, then came across Twins Elephant Camp.

We were the only ones here, and they had a few strong well-looked after elephants waiting to go walkies. We hopped on the back of one of the huge mammals, having to climb up a wooden platform to do so. There was no seat, so we were sat directly on the upper back and neck of the placid grey creature, and off we went, the mahout walking alongside. The 2 hour trek through lush fields, up and down a hill and through a forest was the best elephant ride I’d ever done, even if the elephant’s thick, bristle-like hairs were chafing my inner calf and thighs. All the while, a little woman rode a motorbike ahead of us, stopping to take out a video camera and film sections of the walk. At the end of the trek, we came to a fast-moving river, and the elephant waded in with us still on it’s back. The elephant seemed to particularly enjoy this part of the walk, and kept dousing itself with water sucked up and squirted back through it’s trunk, absolutely soaking us. Then, the mahout clambered on the elephants head, and shouted some commands, making the elephant jerk left and right in an attempt to throw us off. It worked, we went flying, and I don’t know how the elephant didn’t fall on me, as it lay down on it’s side heavily after throwing us off. The current swept me away, and it was a struggle to get onto my feet, and the loose pebbles and stones that made up the riverbed made standing up very difficult. Vero whizzed past me giving out a scream – the current was too strong for her. Luckily, I grabbed her outstretched arm, and pulled her back to the slower-moving shallows. All the while, the mahout was laughing his head off, then I turned and realised the little woman on the motorbike had filmed the whole thing, and was laughing her head off too. Not to be defeated, we got back on the elephant, hauling ourselves up unceremoniously, only to be thrown off again. And again. And again. I hadn’t had this much fun for ages, and the elephant was enjoying it as much, if not more, than me and Vero. Eventually we gave up, and dragged ourselves up on the riverside, and waited for our gentle giant to come and join us. An incredible, unforgettable experience.

We returned to base, bought the video from the old woman, and jumped back on the bikes, stopping where the views were particularly magnificent. We headed off into one of the fields where some strange-looking, thatched bee-hive style huts were dotted – quite similar to the one’s I’d seen in West Timor, but more crudely designed, as these weren’t homes, they were perhaps used as storage. The views around here of the surrounding hills engulfing the lime-green rice fields made me want to just pitch a tent and stay for a few days with a keg of chang, a good book and some pad thai. Unable to get the first item out of my head, I got back on the bike, and Vero and I rode through difficult off-road terrain following infrequent signs to ‘Jungle Bar.’ We found it eventually, down a route better suited to an off-road jeep, and crossed a rickety wooden bridge, crudely put together and never maintained, that hung loosely over the roaring river below. What could be here, so far from the beaten track? We came to a wooden shack where ‘Jungle Bar’ was painted, along with all kinds of swirls and symbols all done in luminous paint. Ah, a magic mushroom / marihuana haven. The sight of several grubby hippies completely out of it in hammocks or on junky sofas confirmed the purpose of this bar. Bob Marley was playing on their stereo. Of course. Dying for a drink, I ordered a chang, served warm, and Vero a fruit juice, served by totally stoned dreadlocked Thais. A weird little place. As it was getting dark and the route we’d taken to get here wasn’t the street-lit type, we finished quickly and got back on the bike after navigating the rickety bridge in the the descending twilight.

We rode back to Pai, and parked up the bike before heading to Lunar Bar, where a quality band with a trumpet player were performing. We supped an overpriced and poorly made cocktail. I’d better stick with chang next time. We reflected on quite a day, quite a day indeed. Motorbikes, rice terraces, rivers, waterfalls, elephants, strange bars, great music and rubbish cocktails. It was time to hit the sack – we had to be up early the next day to go rafting.

Author: Neil

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