Archive for the ‘Pai Mae Hong Son with a Bike Friday tikit’ Category

There's a waterfall at the end of a 7 kms hike through this valley. We managed 500 meters before the 'belakang pusing' (about turn in Malay)

No prizes for guessing that it was wet and muddy in August ! Doesn’t really matter if you’re the indoor type, but with mountains and dirt trails all around, mountain biking or even mere morning walks through scenic countryside will surely turn into a mud fest. And not too long ago back in August and September of 2005, the  Pai valley,  parts of it being an alluvial plain were hit by devastating floods which brought down tons of mud, rock and debris from the surrounding mountains. Imagine a small stream no wider than a road turning into a force of nature, wiping out river banks, houses and cars in one fell swoop. Two actually. Long time Pai resident, Chris P. an American has a very detailed blog here,

We visited Pai again 6 months later in early 2006 and the effects of those floods were still evident. The locals had a secluded dumping ground, in a forested area where heaps of broken and rotting wood, construction debris and the odd rusting car were kept hidden away from visitors’ eyes. Guest houses by the river that were swept away in the night, showed exposed plumbing and even toilet bowls. Amazingly no one drowned or were reported missing. No one with a Thai ID or foreign passport at least. At the fancy River Corner Resort where we stayed in 2003,  4 bungalows by the river were gone. In it’s place was a new and wide riverbank with concrete slabs, presumably a car park.

Remains of a bridge over troubled water

The tourist dollar that this mountain town attracts meant that rebuilding bridges across the Pai river and even new guesthouses, is a yearly or more affair. Competition is fierce amongst the trinket shops, massage places, restaurants and hotels. Ironically we did not see any of this hustle and bustle this time round.  It looked like the Pai of 2002 when 10 of us went mountain biking there. The low season has it’s rewards. Room rates discounted at 50% or more, absolutely no crowds, unlike the thousands thronging the streets at year’s end, and business owners who actually had the time to talk to you, instead of just nodding grumpily, overworked but with tills and pockets overflowing with $$$.

Our relatives who were in Pai for the first time could not see what the fuss was all about. I don’t blame them, coming from a place like Melbourne, this was the absolute Thai boondocks, 4 streets, 2 traffic lights, sleeping dogs in the streets, wooden houses and some resorts in the countryside.  In 2 hours of slow driving around we had seen the whole place / town / valley  that was drivable.  I’ve been to Pai 8 times, and with the right mountain bike and weather, a month or so would be just right to ride my tyres bald. Occasional wifi would be nice (it’s the norm now)  but, I’d be too busy exploring the valley and spider web of dirt trails that dot the hills here. Amazing Thb 600 / US$20 low season rates

In the Shan Burmese lingo, Pai actually means, migrate or simply, GO. In the last 10 years, the changes have been so radical that some bewildered locals have packed up and left. They literally went after caving in to big city investors whose offers for their land and homes were too tempting to refuse. No doubt some left unwillingly, instant millionaires or not. The resorts here are owned by big city folk to cater to big city folk. We saw Pai’s newest resort to top them all.  The Montis is an African themed safari like place by the highway. 6 star luxury @ Thb 10,000 / US$300 a night. 2 fake straw giraffes in the lobby to greet you. Empty car park.

Mamacharis for rent in Pai

At just 500 m above sea level the Pai valley is not Aspen, Colorado but the year’s end cool season when nights can get down to 5 deg C is a big draw for Thais, clothed in winter wear, even when the noon day sun heats everything up to 32 deg C.  Cats and dogs are decked out in knitted vests. Then came the movie makers. To date 4 romantic comedies or rom-coms have been filmed in Pai, so now everyone who’s hip and in the know, can say they’ve seen the movies and been to Pai, Mae Hong Son Province. Whilst cycling the tikit in search of a jok (rice porridge breakfast)  I came across 2 Thais on their Vespas.

They too knew of the high season mayhem and decided to ride their scooters 250 kms from home in Lampang, rain or shine, (mostly rain) in search of saner room prices of Thb 300 in August. They agreed that the slower pace of life in this town was an attraction, but apart from that there was nothing else much to do. That was the whole point of the ‘old Pai’  Hand made hammocks sell well here. That and bikinis knitted by the same two grandmothers in front of their homes, since the last millenium. There’s also a sizable Muslim community in town and their grand mosque sits behind 2 rows of shop houses that they  lease out to the trinket / tourist shops. The 2 Muslim bakeries in ‘town’ also cater to a handful of non Thai residents yearning for something other than rice or noodles.

Where can I get a sign like that ?

What of the backpackers and Lonely Planet crowd who first discovered Pai?  Seasoned hands have left save for a few diehards who have matrimonial or property ties to Pai.  Ex PM Khun Thaksin’s war on drugs must have played a part too as the availability of certain special weeds dried up, or were channeled elsewhere in the Kingdom. The Burmese border is close by and my friend Paul and I have first hand encounters with the Border Police.

See what a slice of Pai and good ol’ mountain biking can get you into ?

I guess another cappuccino wont hurt !

Yours truly watching the rice grow in Jan 2003