Leaving adventure behind, I headed further north into Thailand to visit the beautiful Pai region. The drive was stunning as we wound our way up the forested mountains and then down again into Pai. A small town, based a long the river but surrounded by green mountains, it is the place of easy-living and being at one with nature.
I met up again with Eefje and this time Ash who had been rafting with us. They had hired motorbikes and driven from Chiang Mai to Pai. Determined to learn how to ride one, I hired an automatic for the day and joined them in a day exploring the region.
I managed to get the balance and control the speed, but I did have a problem with left turns! Turning a bike is stiffer than it looks and for some unknown reason my left arm would not turn the bike enough. In Thailand they drive on the same side as the UK, so as I turned I would end up on the right hand side of the road. I only had it twice, where a car then a motorbike going the other way had to stop for me so I could get onto my side of the road!!!
Once out of the town I was fine and really able to enjoy the ride. The roads were bendy enough to be fun but not scary and I got used to the feel of driving a motorbike. We first went to Pam Bok Waterfall. Two American lads had also joined us and the boys goaded each other to climb up the side of the waterfall. One made it up but then the two other lads realised he could not get down without help. Boys!
The next waterfall was Mok Paeng. Here the water had smoothed the rock so there was a natural slide into the water below. Again boys proved to be boys and whizzed down the slope. Not wanting to be dunked under water I opted to just swim in the pool at the top- which was freezing!
To warm ourselves up we headed off to Tha Pai Hotsprings. In the forest you wander along a path beside a stream. You then notice that the stream is steaming. We got to a pool area and went to dip our toes in. It was boiling. Towards the sides though the water cooled down a bit and we were able to climb in and deal with the heat. The water was soft and it felt like it moisturised your legs. Just like a lovely hot bath. Bliss.
There were 3 tiers here, the top the coolest, then getting progressively hotter and we slowly moved down each tier. The bottom was ridiculously hot and I could only cope with putting the bottom half of my legs in. We wandered up to the the source of the water, with a sign usefully told us was 80°C. Not good for swimming in! It even told us not to break an egg!!!
As the sun was setting we left the springs behind to head to Pai Canyon to watch the sun set. Not in the league of the Grand Canyon, this was more sheer mountain paths sliced to narrow points before falling down to the forest below. We intrepidly wandered along these paths before coming to a wider area where we could watch the sunset- which went behind the clouds and then a far off mountain before we could see anything. With hunger calling we decided to leave and just as we set off on the bikes, the sky burst into a brilliant colour. Typical!
I did have the option of doing a trek in both Pai and Chiang Mai, where you could head out to meet local tribes. However, the specialty of the tribes was that they had not met foreigners before or been influenced by outside culture so it felt a bit hypocritical to me to then go on a tour to see them. I would have liked to from a theological viewpoint but could not reconcile the two so abstained.
I loved having the freedom of the motorbike and did manage to learn how to turn left before we got back into Pai. It was worth doing and I only wish I had done it earlier so that I could have seen more of the countries I was in.
Pai was a delightful place to relax and I could have stayed there longer (especially with my bike!). However, Thailand overall did not grab me, not in the same way as Laos or Vietnam. I enjoyed myself but the infrastructure was too western and almost too easy to really feel like I was travelling. I did not venture into southern Thailand, as I was told that it was touristy and expensive. I will return on holiday to see it but for now I was glad to be leaving and heading off to Singapore.