Running away from Pai

“It’s too touristy”

“Too westernised”

“You don’t get to see the culture”

All statements I’ve rolled my eyes at.

Bloody hippies… You’re half way round the world experiencing new things every day (or at least you could be) — try not to be too miserable about it won’t you.

An excerpt from my brain. Doubt I’d say something like that out loud.

This morning before heading downstream along the Mekong to Laos, I met a couple who said all three of those opening statements.

“How have you enjoyed Thailand?” I politely asked. And after exchanging a furtive glance, they began telling us about their experience of a westernised Thailand.

You know what though? I didn’t roll my eyes once. Because I’m beginning to come round to the idea myself.

Don’t get me wrong – Thailand has been incredible. But it’s also been comfortable–easier than most European countries to travel. The reason? Thailand isn’t so different to home.

Did I become one of those bloody hippies then?

Nope. I haven’t changed an ounce–to my own dismay.

We were in Pai quite recently. North of Thailand–Mae Hong Son province. Forests, mountains, secret waterfalls separated by miles and miles of achingly beautiful nature–also very fun to scooter around…

But it’s full to bursting with your classic travellers. Garbed in full harrem (almost like armour), dreadlocks, tattoos galore, and never without a stash of weed to hand. All lovely people I’m sure, but they’re as much tourists as Moureen and Jim celebrating their 60th at the hotel next door.

Suffice to say, Pai is a chill out zone. No longer a farming town but a mini Brighton sitting slap bang in the middle of montane paradise.

It’s the place you go to for a week then stay for a lifetime.

And word has spread, even as far as my cloth ears. And it’s made the chill out, smoke pot lifestyle go mainstream. You’ve gotta wake up preeeeeeetty early to nab that hammock before the crowds descend.

OK. I over-exaggerate, and it’s bound to mess with someone’s chill. I’m sorry.

I actually loved Pai. But for its proximity to the countryside.

Coming from the Gulf of Thailand–another site of natural beauty commercialised and marred by the western party scene–I’m beginning to see a trend.

It’s surely great for the economy. Beers don’t come cheap in Thailand (relative to everything else), and after a couple it’s hard to care.

So at what point does the far away land become just another Brits on holiday destination?

The slow boat was amazing, but loud and blundering despite the awe inspiring views. There was no opportunity to see the many thousands of species living in and around the Mekong.

It makes me wonder how loud is travellers have to be–how much we have to change the places we visit–before the culture we go to experience hides away and evades our notice completely.

That’s why the couple we met at the border wanted to visit Laos. But on a boat of 150 tourists, will we really be quiet and respectful enough to see the real Laos. Or just the bits they want us to see before the evening when we’re back on the lash.

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4 thoughts on “Running away from Pai

  1. Nice post Tom. We did this exact route through Pai and Laos and the slow boat a few months ago. Much more touristy than where we are now in Cambodia for sure.

    I remember seeing so many hippies and thinking to myself ‘are these people actually like that?’ Or is it a traveling facade? For me, I don’t think traveling really changes you. If you were a dick when you left, it’s very clear to see those people are still dicks when in places like Pai.

    Liked by 1 person

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