01/ 12/ 15

Pai: A Backpacker’s Playground

Pai, Thailand

Coming back to San Francisco after 3 weeks of traipsing around Southeast Asia feels strange. Being away for a while makes it easy to notice the scent of your own home – a weird experience, when your place of residence smells so unfamiliar. San Francisco smells crisp and sterile. It sounds like women gabbing on the phone about last night’s drunken antics. It tastes like $8.50 Tom Kha Soup, which is 279.44 Thai Baht, which is 249.44 THB more than what I would have paid in Thailand.

It’s been less than a day since I’ve returned and I already find myself craving crowded streets and color. I miss the musical intonation of Asian languages, striking chords around me like clock tower chimes. I miss the overwhelming options of exotic fruit, each sweeter and tastier than any fruit I’ve eaten in the States. I even miss Cambodian tuk tuk drivers pestering me in broken English to catch rides to the temples.

Temple on the Hill in Pai (Wat Phra That Mae Yen)
Temple on the Hill in Pai (Wat Phra That Mae Yen)

But alas, all good things must come to an end when your vacation days are maxed out so here I am, sitting at my usual coffee shop, trying to ignore the bum who is screaming and wildly gesticulating outside, attempting to chronicle the magic I felt while traveling.

I’m starting off with an unexpected favorite destination: Pai, Thailand. Pai is a small bohemian enclave 50 km north of Chiang Mai, accessible by a bumpy, nausea inducing 3-hour bus ride, or a 762-turn motorbike expedition for the more audacious adventurer. Pai’s main street, Rungsiyanon Road or “Walking Street,” as most tourists call it, is brimming with authentic street food and irresistible souvenir shops. Walking Street transforms into a lively marketplace at night where I enjoyed listening to local musicians, contemplating the trippy art for sale, and continuing on my quest for the perfect pair of billowy pants.

Pai 5
Pai countryside

We stayed at Common Grounds, a hostel owned by two brothers from the U.S. – one of whom lived in the Sunset District of San Francisco just before moving to Pai. Common Grounds has a sweet communal space making it easy to meet the most chill, down-to-earth people (and dogs!) that roam this planet.

Jamie and I spent our first day in Pai wandering around the village, admiring its lush scenery and the landscape of the surrounding mountains. We got our hair braided at a tiny shop in town, where we unknowingly met our “Pai Sherpa,” Darren. Darren found us on the street later that day and invited us to check out a nearby temple. Luckily, we were able to squeeze onto his motorbike and even luckier, Darren was a bad-ass biker who had no problem balancing us all.

3 monkeys on a motorbike
3 monkeys on a motorbike

Thanks to Darren gracing us with his company, we were able to visit the beautiful temple on the hill, the sunset at Pai Canyon, Tha Pai Hot Springs, and a nearby waterfall. Zipping around on a motorbike through the Pai countryside was exhilarating and by far a highlight of my entire trip. We spent our only night in Pai talking about everything and nothing with people from all over the world.

sunset at Pai Canyon

sunset at Pai Canyon

That night we slept restfully – straight through the Muy Thai class we planned on taking, and woke only because newfound friends knocked on our door at 11 AM. Pai is truly special. It’s a place that somehow magnetizes the friendliest, most open-minded human beings, and where the best activities involve doing nothing at all. I was sad to leave, knowing our stay there was way too short. Until we meet again, Pai!

Photo of Katerina Jeng, author at Scratch The List

Hello! I'm Katerina, and I'm on a quest to complete my bucket list. Follow along for travel stories, happiness tips, and inspiration to make your life worthy of your dreams.



Brighten up your inbox with letters from yours truly.