When speaking to people about Pai or reading blogs about it the one thing recommended is to rent a scooter to explore the surrounding countryside. We considered renting a scooter in Chiang Mai but neither of us was overly confident with this as we had never ridden and the traffic to get out of the city was quite heavy. But in Pai where it is quite quiet, we thought we would give it ago. On Tony, and other people’s recommendations we rented a scooter for 48 hours from AYA travel service near the bus station. For 140 baht per day and 80 baht for insurance per day (40 for damages, 40 if it was lost) we got a red Suzuki Hayate 125cc scooter. The plan was for us to share the driving…but this did not happen. When we rented the scooter Dave took it to the streets for a couple of turns confidently before he was ok for me to hop on the back. I wanted to wait until we found a really quiet street for me to practice. When we did actually find a quiet street I was very nervous and very unsteady taking it out so I did not drive in the end. I am sure with practice I would be fine but I am not sure how Dave would feel being on the back!
The first day we went out on our own to get used to the bike and decided on a few local spots that we could make into a loop coming away from town then back into town. We drove from Tony’s guesthouse away from town where we stopped at Coffee in Love to take some photos there, with a really beautiful house and view and with the ‘I am Pai’ sign.
We then hopped back on and made our way along the country lane, bumps and all a few kilometres to Pombok Waterfall. This was a lovely ride with some great views across the mountainous green terrain where you eventually come down quite a steep hill to the bottom of Pombok falls. We walked up alongside the waterfall and across the rocks. This is likely to be a disappointing trip if you stop just there as you still cannot see the main waterfall from the side of the rocks. We ventured down to the water itself and waded in our shoes in water and over the rocks until we could see the waterfall. It was very refreshing walking in the water and gave us a lovely view of the waterfall of the sun through the trees and across the water.
After this, we got back on the bike and headed back the way we came a couple of kilometres until we reached the land split. This is where farmland used to be but there is now a very large split across the land which now prevents them from using it as farm land. The farmer saw an opportunity in this though and now lets people walk around his land- through his fruit garden and up on a loop to see the land split which is about a 10-minute walk. Afterwards, we were brought a selection of fruits they grow in the garden as well as rosella juice and rosella wine. It was nice to sit there and try different fruits as well as the rosella products. The juice was tasty and sweet whilst the wine was very potent. There is a small donation box on the side of the fruit stand where we gave some money for the fruit and drinks. Unfortunately we did not stay there as long as we could of done as three minibuses of Chinese tourists pulled up whilst we were eating disturbing the peace and quiet.
After this, we drove back to the main road and turned right going to Pai Canyon. This is somewhere that is often visited at sunset or sunrise for the amazing views and as it is cooler. However, we decided that we would visit it at midday with the sun beating down as we climbed the stairs up to the top of the canyon! The views from here are amazing and would undoubtedly be great at sunset, however, you are required to walk/ climb some very narrow and dodgy paths through the canyon at the top which is very dusty and therefore quite slippery. I am not sure that we would have wanted to be making our way out of there when the sun had gone down!
From here we headed down the main road and took a left towards the elephant camps. We drove along the road which was great and we saw local housing, elephants (although unfortunately at a number of camps for riding) and went through the tree path. As we were there we took the road off of here up to the White Buddha. This was very underwhelming. We pulled into a bare car park where they are just constructing more steps up to the Buddha. There are a lot of stairs up (also tackled in high heat) and when we got the top the Buddha seemed to be a modern construction and was not very ornate. Definitely not worth making a special trip for this and it is better seen from a far across the valley. After this we made our way back to town and back up to Tony’s where we relaxed on our balcony for the afternoon. In the evening we headed to the night market for food meeting back up with Alice and Dan who had just arrived in Pai, Jamie and Garry and Sue before heading to PM spirit bar for open mic night.
The next day the Pork Pai squad assembled (Alice, Dan, Dave, Jamie and Me) on our scooters to make the journey to Tham Lod cave. We took the very mountainous, windy but beautiful road there which took about 2 hours on scooters testing our scooters engine with two of us trying to get up the hills and the guys driving abilities as the curves where often very tight and steep. The road took us up and over the mountain. We stopped part way up the mountain at a small shop to grab a quick snack, appreciate the views and tickle the tiny piglet. Most of the journey was on very well maintained roads until we came to the road off to the caves on the right which became very bumpy, filled with a few potholes and takes you through a forest for about 20 minutes before you finally reach the cave.
At Tham Lod cave it is obligatory to get a guide for 150B and you also pay 400B for the bamboo raft on the river through the cave but this cost can be split between three people. We walked with the guides through the park for a few minutes before waiting at the entrance of the cave whilst they completed blessings, prayers and lit their lanterns. They cave itself was beautiful. It is huge and the guides show you different areas of the caves as well as trying to point out different animal shapes in the rocks such as a crocodile, monkey, elephant and a dinosaurs footprint. Some of these are clearly visible whilst others just look like rocks. Our guide was uncertain of the English pronunciation of ‘dinosaur’ so when we told her this she kept repeating ‘din-o-saur’ for about 5 minutes before writing it in her notebook. The main cavern is very large and there is a small river running through it (we went in dry season) on which you take a ride on a bamboo raft to see another section of the cave. This was a great experience where we were sat majorly in the dark, feeding the large catfish with fish food and observing the bats overhead.
We spent probably about an hour inside the cave on the tour before we head back to the car park and had a cheap delicious Thai food in one of the restaurants there. After this we made our way back up the mountain and stopped at the view point briefly before heading down and back towards town. About half an hour away from town we took a left to the Sai Ngam Hot Springs. These are known as the secret hot springs although they are not, but because not as many tourists visit these and they are much cheaper than the Pai Hot Spings (300B). They are located inside a national park so you pay 20B per person and 20B per scooter to enter the park. The hot springs are located a few kilometres inside the park and the road to it was even steeper hills than the mountain roads we had been on before. To access the hot springs themselves we paid a further 20B each. They were not too busy when we arrived about 3.30pm and it was a lovely way to round off the day after being on the back of a bike all day. There is a couple of toilets and changing rooms for you to change into your swimming costume. It is worth keeping shoes on as the three pools there are quiet stony on the bottom. The water was a lovely warm temperature with it getting a bit cooler as it went down. There are also a couple of shops selling snacks, drinks and a guy selling petrol out of old alcohol bottles (which we were in desperate needs for after the mountain roads and the road in the national park itself!) After an hour or so we got out and made our way back to Pai before heading to watch the rugby later that evening. Dave was a natural at driving the bike and did amazingly at driving us to the caves and back!