762 curves, bends at high speeds, sometimes hearing the squeals of the wheels as the minibus threatens to go up on two wheels. A bit of advice is to abstain from drinking the night before, I’m not one to get car, sea or flight sick but this ride hung over almost changed that. Not sure how though, like most of the bus rides throughout Asia I arrived in Pai. A small quaint town, a hippy haven surrounded by the mountains of northern Thailand.
Eager to get off the bus and avoid anything with wheels for a bit, I asked for some directions to walk up to where I had planned to stay. Either I was too stunned to follow simple directions (probably the case) or if I was just misguided, I ended up in the opposite direction to where I expected. Everything happens for a reason. Turns out the hostel was booked solid and I stumbled upon the Pai Circus School getting the last available bed. About forty bungalows and a few dorms, just about everything made from bamboo, the bunk beds, floor giving a feeling of sleeping outside. Protected only from rain, the cold at night crept in, this was my kind of place.
A dozen or so people practicing poi or staff in the common area overlooking a view of the town and surrounding landscape caught my attention immediately. A view few if any other places had to offer. This was something I’ve always wanted the chance to learn with some basic instruction and what better place to do it. They taught a total of twelve different ‘circus acts’ from poi, devil sticks, hula hoop and more. For me it was all about the poi, staff and practicing my juggling and introducing juggling clubs to myself. For only six hundred Baht, about twenty dollars, you could have full access to their equipment, lessons every day and the chance to use fire once confident enough that you won’t burn yourself. It’s actually a lot safer than you would think with a few simple guidelines.
Pai is one of those perfect towns to jump on a scooter for the first time if you’ve never had the guts to do so before. The town itself is not too busy, but most of the driving is done in the countryside, weaving through the mountains. Waterfalls are dotted around the area all accessible by either scooter and/or a short trek. Only a short ride out of town was the Pai Canyon, which is what struck my interest. A spectacular sunset view, and completely different from what I had expected. I guess though when I think of a canyon my mind goes directly to the Grand Canyon. Ultimately dangerous which always makes things more worth it, you can walk along the raised rock walls that have been carved out over time. Free of safety railings you must watch where you tread. A simple misstep could send you for a thirty meter fall, but the further explored the greater the rewards.
Being a stop on the Mae Hong Son loop, many rent a bike from Chiang Mai. Pai being the first stop then continuing on to Mae Hong Son and so on. On quite a tight budget myself, I couldn’t afford to do this unfortunately. A common stop on the way sixty kilometers from Pai is the Tham Lod Cave, the biggest cave in Thailand. The drive alone is well worth it, cruising through rural Thailand at your own pace with some beautiful viewpoints along the way. Once at the cave, a local lady guided us through with a little lantern emanating the dimmest light. Pointing out different rock formations, some even resembling different animals, it was about a one hour hike with a bamboo raft back to the entrance.
Most of my time in Pai was spent relaxing, practicing poi, staff and juggling over the view around the Circus School until my ninth and final night. It was time, let’s light these things on fire! A quick dip in the liquid paraffin, hold it to the flame and then slip into a trance. The flames swirling around, just you and the fire. It feels as if you’re moving so quickly, the rest of the world temporarily frozen. Just moving with the music until the flames slowly fade and extinguish. Slipping out of the state of trance, focus comes back to the rest of the world. I have always loved playing with fire and now have a legitimate reason to continue to do so into my adult life. Nine days was more than I had planned here, but still not enough. I see why people remain forever, but unfortunately for me it was another 762 curves back down to Chiang Mai.