The Road to Pai
It is a long and winding road, so pop your motion sickness pill as no one wants to share a car with you with your head stuck out of the window. But if you must, at least the views are spectacular. With 760+ bends in the road, however, you will be forgiven for going slightly green.
You can do Chiang Mai to Pai in well under three hours with improved roads…but what’s the rush? The road trip itself is so glorious. As you leave the ever-expanding Chiang Mai, and slowly climb the mountains, one wending turn after another, the air cools, the green intensifies and the scenery seduces.
After a giddying first stretch, a stop off at Coffee Hill on kilometre 32 is an absolute must. This wooden coffee shop with separate restaurant, if not surrounded by a tropical jungle, could be featured in an Alpine brochure. Freshly brewed coffee, produced locally, is served up with homemade cakes and other sweet goodies. Once refreshed, continue on the road until you see the turnoff for Pong Deud Hot Springs. This ain’t no Yellowstone, but a short and lovely 300 metre walk through the moss-soaked woods will take you to a couple of spitting geysers and you can even head back to the hot springs pond for a soothing soak afterwards _ rather oddly, about half a dozen wizened and very topless local old ladies were bathing when I turned up. You will have to buy national park tickets to enter, but to make it worthwhile, as you resume your drive to Pai, use your ticket again to visit Huai Nam Dang National Park for some of the most breathtaking views you will ever see… so I have been told. Hopefully it won’t be shrouded in cloud offering ten metre visibility like it was on my visit!
As you near Pai you will see a number of very odd resorts and coffee shops beckoning you with more and more ostentatious mascots and themes ranging from giant strawberries to Hello Kittyesque statues. Stop for a photo op, or simply to gawk or mock.
The road to Pai may just be paved with tarmac, but it’s flanked by the beautiful, the intriguing and the mind-bendingly random. Happy trails…