So the next stop on our Thai adventure was Pai, Thailand’s “hippy capital” and a small town 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. Simone, Lewis and I boarded the cramped minibus and settled in for a bumpy ride – there are 489790303 turns between Chiang Mai and Pai, as well as a constant up and downhill battle. The journey is famous for making people travel sick, and Lewis got the hump when he kept falling into his Spanish neighbour, but me and Simone found it hilarious.
When we arrived in Pai, it was late afternoon, and so we hauled our backpacks around the village in search of somewhere to stay. We’d heard great things about Spicy Pai hostel but when we arrived, it was fully booked for the night and so we had no option but to schlep around trying to find somewhere that we could afford.
With our backpacks digging into our shoulders and the heat glaring down on us, we quickly became exhausted, and I found myself thinking that I knew how poor Mary and Joseph would have felt when there was ‘no room at the inn!’
Eventually, we stopped caring about budget and resolved to get the next available place, which happened to be a stunning bungalow in the Pairadice resort (yes, all the accommodation is as punny as this). After sharing a 14-bed dorm for the the past week, it actually felt nice to have some privacy, and so we were more than happy to lay our bags down and recuperate for a while.
After we’d recovered and freshened up, we walked into the village, and it truly is beautiful. Quirky little cocktail bars, lit up by fairy lights and softly playing reggae music sit unassumingly next to quaint eateries as dreadlocked hippies meander slowly along their way. Stray dogs run around, happily eating scraps tossed to them by travellers, and the whole place has a relaxed, contented vibe, truly earning its reputation as Thailand’s hippy capital.
It didn’t take long for us to find ‘Witching Well,’ a gorgeous little restaurant that keeps its theme throughout, from the wishing well in the centre of the room, to the witches hanging from the ceiling, to the ‘poisons and potions’ on the menu. Instantly, the child in me was awoken and I loved the magical, fantasy feel to the place. After we’d eaten, we wandered around for a while, before finding a cutesy little cocktail bar to unwind in. None of us fancied a big night so we settled down on the cushions, ordered cocktails (£1.50 Mai Tai’s – yes please!) and played some of the games that our Chinese friends had taught us back in Chiang Mai.
The next morning, Simone, being the little star that she is, woke up early and made the short journey to the hostel that we really wanted to stay in, Spicy Pai, to book us beds for the following 2 nights. After we’d checked in, we headed to town for some brunch in a little Italian cafe. I had a refreshing fruit shake and what was probably the nicest spaghetti carbonara of my life for a fifth of the price that I’d pay back home (at least!).
Next stop was a massage parlour for some well-deserved massages. Once again we lay down and enjoyed 60 minutes of our muscles being kneaded and stretched, and it really was heavenly.
The massages must have done their job at relaxing us anyway, because when they were finished, we all decided to get tattoos! Well, that’s a lie – I’d wanted one anyway, but Simone and Dixon decided to bite the bullet and get inked as well, which was nice because it felt like we were creating a permanent memory of our time together.
Getting tattooed in Thailand is an experience in itself, as most of the studios do the traditional bamboo tattoos, rather than using a machine. This looks like it hurts more, but it is actually far less painful than the western style of tattooing, and bamboo tattoos also heal much quicker (plus you get to keep the bamboo sticks as a souvenir!). I opted for a traditional Buddhist Sak Yant design.
These tattoos are usually done and blessed by monks in temples, because they are seen as signs of protection; however, as I am not a Buddhist and did not want to even pretend that it held some sacred meaning, I opted out of getting it done in that way. Cultural appropriation, some may say, but for me, it is a traditional Thai design to pay homage to the wonderful time that I spent in Thailand, just as my Islamic hamsa tattoo is a nod to the time I spent volunteering in Morocco.
Bamboo and Buddhism aside, what really makes getting a tattoo in Thailand is the experience. Midway through mine, the artists decided we should stop for a ‘smoke break’ (and he didn’t mean tobacco), as well as rushing out to buy me an iced coffee after 10 minutes. Lewis had an even better experience – his artist actually gave him some opium!
All inked up (remind me never to use that phrase again), we headed back to the hostel to begin our night. Spicy Pai is a very sociable hostel, with a large open space filled with hammocks where everybody congregates every night (and in the mornings for free tea and toast, woo), and so climbing up the bamboo ladder, we all felt a little intimidated. After all, there must have been 50 people up there!
However, it turned out we had nothing to worry about. An American guy named Cole was leading some crazy drinking game that involved horse racing, playing cards, rude team names and lots of shouting, and so we did what any sane person would do in the situation – we joined in! I don’t think we ever really understood what was going on but we cheered when we were supposed to and drank when we were told to so all was well. Everybody playing was so welcoming that it didn’t take long before any nerves that we’d had had truly disappeared (travellers are awesome people, seriously).
After much drinking took place (and I found out that Cole spent Christmas day in Somalia, whaaat), we all headed outside where some people had made a campfire. Everybody sat around singing and generally being drunken fools, and I got talking to a guy named Aapo from Finland who’d hit his early thirties and decided to pack in his mundane job in favour of travelling the world.
See, this is what I love about travelling – everybody has their own story to tell and everybody comes from such different backgrounds, and yet you all find yourselves sat around the same campfire, singing the same cheesy eurotrash songs and drinking the same Chang.
Okay, I’ll stop with the hippy bullshit now. Anyway, after even more drinking, we all headed to the local reggae bar at the end of the road (Thailand loves its reggae bars). Simone, Lewis, Aapo and I played the game that the Chinese girls had taught us back in Chiang Mai, and it wasn’t long before we were joined by a guy from Alaska named Ryan, and some French dude. They weren’t from our hostel but again, such is the beauty of travelling that you can go up to a group of complete strangers and ask to join them without being seen as some idiot/serial killer/weirdo.
The rest of the night carried on and it was seriously really good, THEN LEWIS PROPOSED TO SIMONE, WOOOOO. (I’m saying it like I was there. I wasn’t. They did that in private, obviously). BUT STILL, LEWIS PROPOSED TO SIMONE, AND SHE SAID YES, WOOOOO HAPPY.
The next day, Lewis left because there was some big boxing match that he’d planned to watch with his dude bros back in Chiang Mai so Simone and I enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at Spicy before making our way into the village of Pai. From there, Simone decided she wanted to go in search of waterfalls, so she and her scooter raced off into the distance and I decided to find a cute cafe and update my travel journal.
However, it wasn’t long until I ran into Ryan, the Alaskan from the night before, and so the two of us chilled for a bit and enjoyed a walk around the village, before coming across a very unimpressed Simone, who’d managed to almost kill herself by falling off her scooter. Ryan being a fireman, and trained medic, and general superhero that he is, took us back to his bungalow and patched her up, and to say thank you, we invited him to the ‘cross-dressing’ party that was to be taking place at our hostel and said that he could wear one of Simone’s dresses.
That night we had SO much fun. The staff at Spicy had lowered the prices of alcohol, set up beer pong tables, and made it mandatory for everybody to switch genders for the night, which saw boys prancing around in dresses and girls getting their swag on with board shorts and baseball caps. It was a great chance for us all to get to know our fellow travellers even more; something that you just don’t get when you’re staying in private accommodation, and as we’d come to expect, everybody was super nice and we had a lot of fun.