Pai has been a magical place for me. Everyone says you have to go to Pai, and even though what was once a small dirt road mountainside town 20 years ago has now turned into a nicely paved tourist destination, there is something in the air that still gives this place a laid back feel to it. And no I’m not talking about the weed. I can describe Pai’s tourists mostly as hippies composed of trekkers and musicians. Then you get the smattering of people like Nathan and I. Just wandering souls. Pai’s year round inhabitants are quite the diverse crowd. Many multicultural couples, and transplants from all over the world come to Pai and end up never leaving. Or leaving only to find themselves back in Pai again.
While the 2.5 hour minibus ride from Chiang Mai was precarious, if it hadn’t been all the Italy road experience I’ve seen, it might have bee a long white-knuckle ride for me. I fell in love with Pai when I saw the surrounding hillside/mountains, but became quickly disenchanted by the bombardment of tourist shops, activities set up along the main street. When my gracious host, Jake picked me up from the train station and brought me to Ing Doi House/Yawning Fields, my heart was sold again.
Less than a 10 minute walk away from all of the hustle and bustle, tucked quietly next to some rice fields, was a dirt road entrance to beautiful thai bungalows. During our motorbike ride back I learned Jake originally hails from California, and after a couple years of traveling between the two countries, he finally settled into Pai. Jake and his wife Mink, take care of guests at their accommodation site. One side (Ing Doi House), has beautifully crafted thai bungalows with all the modern comforts of home.
The other side (Yawning Fields) is more of the backpacker resort, and personally my favorite side. For 150 baht a night (less than $5 USD), I get my very own bungalow, patio lounge and all. If you want your own bathroom it’s only 300 baht a night, but personally I like the shared bathroom. It’s called a jungle bathroom, but really what it is is a secret garden bathroom. I looked forward to singing in my morning showers surrounded by vegetation with hot water flowing over.
On top of the accmodation, there is a yoga/meditation area and restaurant. Mink runs the space and I absolutely love this woman. She reminds me so much of my mother, although a bit more sarcastic but hilarious in her old-school meets modern ways.
The last gem of this place is Pansa, Jake and Mink’s five-year-old son. He reminds me of a male version of Giula. Quite the personality in this kid and I love him. I’ve spent plenty of my afternoons building forts, blowing bubbles, playing hide and seek, and riddle games with him. His honesty is hilarious, refreshing, and entertaining. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the Cafe Mink runs is amazing. Serving tasty thai and western dishes…I never have to leave this beautiful oasis. Which is exactly what happened…to an extent.
As soon as I knew this was a place I could stay long term, I wanted nothing more than to just settle down. The past couple of weeks of experiences have been great and unforgettable but unsettling, and I longed to be able to feel at home in a community. While I’ve been traveling for over 8 months now, I much prefer the slow kind of traveling that allows you to get to know a community, become a familiar face to the locals, and learn their stories.
While I hunkered down, eating everything on Mink’s menu, Nathan went off and explored the nearby area with a motorbike. His story is worth reading as it involves a pretty hilarious tale. Mink and Jake make quite the team. Mink makes quality thai and western dishes, and Jake is the awesome baker. Jake makes some of the best bread I’ve had in a while. My first meal at Ing Doi involved a roasted aubergine, mozzarella, and avocado sandwich. I could’ve eaten 10 of them. I asked Mink for her recipes or even what was in the food I was eating after almost every meal. Each time I was answered with “I don’t know…some of this…some of that…” or a half sarcastic growl of “Nothing! It’s a secret!”. So when Ming told me to stay longer for the farmer’s market and that I could watch her cook, my decision to stay was instantaneous. There wasn’t the slightest bit of hesitation.
Nathan went off to take care of business in Bangkok, and I spent my time exploring, making new friends, playing guitar, becoming a street food guru and stargazing from my patio. It was a small taste of what life could be like in Pai.
New pacific northwest friends from Canada!
After the highlight of my week, the Ing Doi Farmer’s Market, Jake suggested that if I ever make it back to Pai, I could open a Vietnamese food stand at the market.
Now THIS…idea…I shall have to ponder about some more…I don’t know when I will be back in Pai, but I do know for sure that I will be someday…despite the tourists, Jake and Ming have helped me visualize this place as a place I could call home (at least for some time) someday.