After 7 months of being on the go, we were starting to feel a little fatigued, so decided it was a good time for another stint of volunteering. We had heard that the northern Thai village of Pai was a must-see, and very good for relaxing, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and volunteer in Pai.
Bingo – we found an amazing hostel called Buzza’s Backpackers who were looking for volunteers immediately, so as Sian headed for the airport, we hopped in a minibus to take us up the mountain to Pai.
762 twists in the road later (literally, they are proud of this fact), we arrived to Buzza’s at around 6pm as the whole world was trying to check in, so after a bit of confusion we finally met Jules, the Welsh owner who we’d been corresponding with. She showed us to our room, which we’d share with the brilliant Maren, a German girl who’d been to Buzza’s as a backpacker three months ago but loved it so much she returned to volunteer for a few weeks.
We were told work started in the morning but as everyone was going out we happily obliged and let the locals show us around.
Pai is tiny and known for its hippie-esque vibe. So many people we met had come for a few days and ended up staying a few months. We met so many expats living and working there, it is clearly very hard to leave. The roads are filled with cafes, live music, vintage clothes shops and bike rental stalls. At night, the main road shuts off to become the walking street, filled with street food vendors and the best corn of the cob we’ve tried in a while. As every guidebook will tell you, Pai is very lean on actual sights, it’s more of a state of mind.
We had our first taste of that on that first evening – our new friends took us to a small wooden hut, with thatched roof, down a back alley where an incredible Thai rock band were playing, perhaps around 20 other people bobbing along and socialising around a fire. It was quite special.
We didn’t stay out too late though, as our first day of work beckoned the next morning. The deal was, we work for 4 hours in the morning as housekeepers, and we get accommodation and lunch, plus discount on food and drink. The work turned out to be very easy, and even though Katie hates cleaning, she buckled down and got the jobs done. We even got told how well we worked, maybe I should get Katie to clean at home a bit more often!
And so our week followed, cleaning in the morning plus helping wherever possible (there was a staff member leaving that week so we had to help out wherever, also in the kitchen which pleased Katie to no end), and relaxing in the evening. Katie even got to take control of breakfast and learned to make some amazing fruit shakes. The pictures give a good idea of Buzzas – hammocks and mats adorn every free space, music is played at all times, making it the perfect spot to just lie and read or rest.
A few afternoons were spent exploring – we rented a scooter to take us to Pai Canyon, a bizarre landscape of very narrow walkways next to huge drops, which was a beautiful spot to watch sunset. We found a waterfall, which we very quickly realised was quite disappointing in dry season. We also went to another odd ‘tourist site’, called the Land Split. Basically, it was a farm until a 2008 earthquake formed this huge gap in the land. The farmer then realised he could no longer use the land for farming, so he turned it into this attraction. The site itself is not hugely impressive, but the best bit is that they give you (for a donation) fresh fruit and juice form their land. We tried rosella juice (we’d earlier seen Jules drinking rosella wine), and a really fresh passion fruit. Tasty!
One of our other many drives took us to the White Buddha, a towering statue sitting high on the hills overlooking Pai, and to Valhalla, recommended by Maren, it is the closest I’ve come to Nirvana. Set by a river away from the town, it is a campsite/bar/haven for pot smokers and chillers, where the hours just fly away.
One of our more exciting afternoons was spent at a party at this huge pool that had an inflatable obstacle course on it and a huge water slide, I felt about 10 again. Although the drinks were certainly tourist prices, it was amazing fun!
Aside from our few jaunts, we spent most of our time hanging out at Buzza’s. The people who work there – Dee, the American bar manager, Nim, the Thai manager with the driest sense of humour I’ve ever encountered, and Sing, the camp chef – really make the place feel like home and everyone feels like family, not to mention the countless guests who can never leave and Jules’ adorable cats, Toffee and Black Bum, two of the most affectionate kitties. We even helped Jules set up a projector she had lying around but couldn’t use, so we also had a very enjoyable movie night hanging in hammocks. It’s also a new experience to really hang out with Thai people, who here in Pai really are intertwined with the expat community.
If we hadn’t have had our flights booked to Myanmar, I’m sure we would have stayed longer. Pai really is a state of mind, there’s a freedom there that feels really unique. I really hope to say we will be back! We miss you Buzza’s!
Bye for now x