Ha Long Bay is nice… but Cat Ba Island is awesome

If I had to sum up our time on Cat Ba Island in one word, I’d have to go with ‘magic’.

simply magic...

simply magic…

Every visitor to Vietnam dreams of seeing those famous karst limestone islets rising up from a perfect blue green ocean. The impressive scenery and unrivalled natural beauty mean Ha Long Bay is a must on every travellers wish list.

Unfortunately, this does mean that a trip to this part of the world can quickly become a very crowded and ‘touristy’ affair. Boats jostling for the best sites, tour groups covering the same routes and stopping at the same sites each day. Despite the draw backs, we decided, like so many before us, that our trip just wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t get there.

Visitors to the area are generally sold a 2 day 1 night cruise package from Hanoi either by travel agents back home or on the ground in Hanoi. Initial research indicated this was the way to go since Ha Long town itself wasn’t a terribly interesting location. We started looking up our options but the more we researched, the less excited we got. Bad reviews talked of the obvious pollution, the relentlessly crowded waters and tourists scrambling for the perfect selfie as they kayak and visit caves with a hundred of their newest mates. Nothing about it sounded good, but luckily, just as we were about to pull the pin on the whole idea we stumbled across a little-known place called Cat Ba Island and suddenly, we had a plan.

secluded beaches anyone?

secluded beaches anyone?

When you think of Ha Long bay, you visualise that one picture of the ‘bay’ surrounded by cliffs, but what many people don’t realise is that Ha Long Bay is massive! It stretches across some 1553 sq kms and has up to 2000 islets. Right next to Ha Long bay sits an unassuming neighbour, Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha offers equally, if not more beautiful scenery and is home to another 300 islets many with the added bonus of alluring and secluded white sand beaches. But best of all? Due to the distance from Ha Long, not many tourist boats venture into Lan Ha meaning you can cast your eyes across these incredible waters and see nothing but the views- bliss!

La Ha Bay, stunning and serene

La Ha Bay, stunning and serene

Getting to Cat Ba was easy. We travelled from Hanoi on a bus-boat-bus combo. Many reviews and blogs we read warned against road travel to the island and recommended the train, but honestly once you’ve been in Asia for a while you realise the roads aren’t that scary, and whilst it is still mildly unnerving when cars overtake around a corner with naught but a honking horn to warn oncoming traffic, the system works and I haven’t felt unsafe at any point on a bus trip in Vietnam.

We went with the Good Morning Cat Ba agency. Total cost was $US 18pp and included all transfers and pick up from your hotel in Hanoi’s old quarter, once the bus has picked everyone up in Hanoi the entire trip only takes about 3 hours. It is possible to do the trip on your own without the help of an agency which may end up slightly cheaper, but at this point in our trip we kind of just wanted to pay the bit extra for someone else to sort it out.

Cat Ba town

Cat Ba town

We left at around 9am and arrived in Cat Ba at about 12pm and once we’d checked into our home for the next few days went for a walk to get our bearings. We wandered about checking out the small town and found two of the three beaches on the island, Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2, an easy 9 and 12 min walk respectively from town. Cat Co 2 has a resort located right on the beach with some pretty awesome looking bungalows, we wondered out loud on the cost and whether we could try staying a few nights but alas, our backpacking budget didn’t stretch that far #backpackingfeels. But the beach is public and the views are pretty. Cat Co 1 on the other hand is where it’s at. The beach is nestled in a dramatic cove with views of a few small limestone islands. But better yet, the beach is lined with umbrellas and chilled tunes serenade you as a sneaky bar serves up cold beers and cocktails with happy hour from 3-5pm every arvo.

Cat Co 1 and a sneaky bar

Cat Co 1 and a sneaky bar

Still, our main purpose in coming to Cat Ba was to see the bay! We knew that we wanted to do a boat tour and since it was December and the forecast for the next day was sunny we decide to try and organise one straight up. We found the Tourist information centre and figuring this was a good place to start went in for a look. Turns out this was the best move, we were able to book onto a group boat tour the next day for just $US 17 pp, it ticked off pretty much everything we wanted to see and included lunch (we get pretty excited when the meals are included these days – #budgetlife)!

Our boat tour started at 8am when we were picked up by bus and taken to Cat Ba ferry to board our boat for the day. We set off and were immediately blown away by the sheer number, size and immeasurable beauty of the karst limestone islands and formations in front of us. Not 10 minutes into the journey we were going past a quaint and picturesque fishing village of some 300 families, set against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains.

fishing village

fishing village

We cruised through the bay for around 30 mins until we reached Monkey Island. As the name suggests, there are monkey’s there. I’m not terribly fond of monkeys after a somewhat unfortunate and terrifying incident at a temple in Malaysia, but Davis was pretty excited to see them up close for the first time- that is until they started chasing & hissing at some kids – note to all – Monkey’s are not your friend!

Monkey's look cute but they do not want to be your friend!

Monkey’s look cute but they do not want to be your friend!

It’s unclear if the island is called monkey island because it is home to monkeys or if some enterprising person just took a few monkeys over there, built a resort and called it Monkey Island. Either way it’s a nice island, with a lovely beach and beautiful views across the bay. There is a semi challenging walk you can take up to the top of the mountain which offers a beautiful vista across the beach and the bay.

View from the top of Monkey Island

View from the top of Monkey Island

After getting back on the boat we got to cruise through Lan Ha bay for around 1.5 hours. Lan Ha bay is hands down one of the most awe inspiring, breathtaking places I’ve ever seen. This place really does show nature at her best. With stunning view after stunning view, every corner offered a new treat for the eyes and best of all we had the whole place to ourselves sharing the water with only the occasional fisherman.

those views tho!

those views tho!

We then arrived into Ha Long bay and had an hour and a half for some kayaking. This was awesome. We paddled around secluded inlets, through a cave and found ourselves the only ones around – probably a good thing as we had to have a discussion about who was the captain of the kayak (me) and who should follow the captain (Shane), we may have disagreed on the finer points here ;p

Captain is obvs the person in the front right?!

Captain is obvs the person in the front right?!

Regardless of how you visit Ha Long, some form of kayaking will likely be included and we can’t stress enough that you should do it! The islands are impressive from the boat but up close and personal is another story and really puts them into perspective, making you appreciate them that much more. Kayaking done it was time for lunch (yay!) and then onto a spot in Lan Ha Bay for swimming and snorkelling. It was December and while the blue green waters looked inviting, it was cold and only a few brave souls dared to give it a go before quickly getting out shivering. Seeing this, we decided not to swim and just chilled on the boat, taking in the views with a beer. All too soon it was time to head back to Cat Ba, we sailed back through gorgeous Lan Ha Bay passing more secluded beaches, remote resorts and took a slower ride through the fishing village for a closer look at this unique way of life.

one more of the fishing village

one more of the fishing village

All in all there are a number of boat tours you can do and they are very easily organised and booked when you arrive. There were a number we found just by walking around town that we hadn’t found at all during hours of trawling the internet, so if you’re going, just book it when you get there. Many we looked at online were two and even three and four times the price we paid but the one we booked was great, with loads of time just cruising around staring at the landscapes in wonder broken up with activities – all in all perfect!

Day three on Cat Ba and we were amazed that the sun was still shining! We took this as a sign that we were meant to explore the rest of the island and rented a moto to check it out. Cat Ba town itself is not terribly exciting though it does have a few hidden gems if you look for them. We took in some incredibly views across the bay from the top of Cannon Fort and learnt a little about the history of war in Vietnam along the way. We visited the Hospital Cave which was used by Vietnamese soldiers during the war as, you guessed it, a hospital. I wouldn’t call this a must see as a cave, but it’s definitely interesting if you’re a bit of a history or war buff and I was glad we stopped for a look. You’ll be charged an entrance fee of 50 000 dong and a guide will walk you through the rooms within the cave explaining what the various areas were used for during war time.

This incredible view awaits you at the top of Cannon Fort

This incredible view awaits you at the top of Cannon Fort

Cat Ba Island is small so it takes no time at all to get from one side to the other. We’d heard there was a nice view from the north of the island so we decided to go check it out. The ride was only about 20km total but took us a while as we kept stopping to take pictures of the incredible views around us. From mangroves, locals digging for mud crabs, limestone mountains, valleys and villages there was so just so much to see!

so many mountains

mot views from the island

But the best view was waiting for us at the end. We came to the end of the road, quite literally, as you ride onto a pier and are rewarded with this view across the bay – just magic.

and then there was this, the end of the pier

and then there was this, the end of the pier

Of course, now we knew about happy hour down at Cat Co 1 we had to made sure we were back in time to see out the day sipping Bia Hanoi under an umbrella whilst sending our mates snapchats of our current predicament – sometimes you just have to right!? #sorrynotsorry. The perfect end to a perfect visit.

a perfect view to round out a perfect stay

a perfect view to round out a perfect stay

If you have time and want a less touristy experience, go Cat Ba over Ha Long. It’s cheaper, you’ll have the flexibility to design your own itinerary and best of all you’ll get to see Lan Ha Bay, which in my opinion is more impressive, more beautiful and best of all quieter than Ha Long anyway.

luang prabang magic

Luang Prabang makes a great first impression. It has all the ingredients to satisfy visitors– a bustling but not crazy street scene, a lively night market, a variety of restaurants, those magical Mekong sunsets and a romantic fusion of east meets west architecture. The old town is UNESCO heritage listed boasting beautiful street scapes combining a strong French colonial influence mixed with traditional Lanna temples whose secrets are guarded by ornately carved dragons. Add in the mystical sound of banging drums calling the monks to prayer and you have one of Asia most charming towns.

Luang Prabang has a large and lively night market every evening

Luang Prabang has a large and lively night market every evening

After two days on the slow boat from Chiang Rai we finally arrived in Luang Prabang. The slow boat dropped us about 15km out of town and from there you have basically no choice but to take a tuk tuk into town. The only thing I remember about that ride into town was that school was out for the day and it seemed every child in Laos were riding their bicycles, sometimes 3 on one bike, home. These kids must do this every day but we were astonished, this was no quite country lane, this was a very busy, very crazy main road and these kids were sharing the road with trucks, motorbikes and cars – we experienced one of those ‘oh my god, kids would never be allowed to do this in back home’ moments, but that’s Asia for you and no one bats an eye. We arrived in town, thankfully without witnessing any accidents, said our goodbyes to our travel companions and set off to find home for the next few days. Side note- our driver tried to drop us off god knows where but luckily we had a young couple with us who knew the area and argued with him until he took us somewhere a little more central, we found this was a pretty common occurrence in Laos, so be prepared to stand your ground and ensure drivers take you to where you want to go.

strolling along these streets never gets old

strolling along these streets never gets old

One of the first things we learnt was that Laos is more expensive than neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. This was something we weren’t expecting, if anything we expected it to be on the cheaper scale. But while we found accommodation to be relatively on par things like food, transport and tours were definitely pricier. There’s also not as much room to haggle, I don’t know if they just don’t have that culture yet but I bought a few things at the markets and came ready to test my haggling skills, skills I’d spent the previous month honing in Thailand, only to find that they didn’t really get it. I still managed to get a slightly cheaper price but it was nothing like the fun, fast paced bargaining I’d encountered in other SE Asian countries. Laos is still cheap though and if you head off the tourist strip away from restaurants that serve western food you’ll be able to find some cheap eats. We should also remember that Laos is a developing country, one that is 20 odd years behind its neighbours in this tourism thing, and while we say more expensive, realistically it’s still ridiculously cheap.

We started and ended our time in Laos in Luang Prabang, this wasn’t really planned it was just the way things worked out. We spent eight days’ total here and honestly, I think it was a few days too many, you could easily round out the highlights in two or three days. We saw a lot of incredible things in and around Luang Prabang and enjoyed our time in the city touted as the ‘most romantic city in Asia. I’m a bit behind on the blog so I honestly can’t remember everything we did while we were there but have pulled together some of our highlights-

Waterfalls

Luang Prabang tuk tuk drivers are relentless. I swear I started dreaming of tuk tuk drivers chasing me asking over and over ‘waterfall?’ ‘waterfall?’ ‘waterfall?’. Regardless, if you do nothing else, at least go to Kuang Si Waterfall and if you have time you should try and squeeze in Tad Sae as well. You may have guessed that waterfalls are big business in Luang Prabang so of course there are numerous ways to get there. You can hire a moto and make your own way, book a private tour, book a minivan transfer or go with a tuk tuk driver. You can do the tuk tuk either privately or if there are a few people you can split the cost so it’s cheaper. After getting the biggest bruise on my butt (I bruise like a peach on a regular day but this was epic) from bouncing around the back of a tuk tuk in Thailand, I suggested we go for a minivan transfer. This was a great decision as roads in Laos are rough, like crazy rough, sometimes you’ll be driving along and then one side of the road is just gone – #cray.

The incredible turquoise pools at the bottom of Kuang Si waterfall

The incredible turquoise pools at the bottom of Kuang Si waterfall

We paid 45,000 kip for the ride there and back. It took about an hour to drive there, an hour to drive back and we had 3 hours at the waterfall itself. When you arrive you’ll have to pay the entrance fee of 20,000 kip pp before starting the short walk up to the waterfall. Along the way you’ll go past the Free the bears project, an organisation that rescues bears from poachers and traffickers. You can view the bears in their enclosures and read about their plight and the fantastic work being done to help them and if you feel so inclined you can support them by buying a t-shirt or simply leaving a small donation in the boxes provided.

Keep walking along the easy, flat path and you’ll come to Kuang Si’s lower pools. You will stop. You will gape in wonder. The view is so indescribably beautiful and the water such an inviting shade of turquoise that you won’t believe it is real. While it’s tempting to stop and get lost in these never ending pools, trust us and keep walking up the path. Keep walking for about 800m, past more cascading pools and you will be rewarding at the end with a stunning waterfall gushing water, creating a hazy mist with the sun just peeking through. If you’re feeling energetic and have brought along appropriate footwear you can climb to the top of the falls, or you can simply head back down to one of the alluring pools for a swim. We opted for the later, or at least Shane did, I got in awkwardly fell over, decided it was too cold and promptly got out. Shane insists it was lovely, though I’m not so sure.

The cascading waterfall at the end of the trail

The cascading waterfall at the end of the trail

The Living Land

nom-nom who knew so many yummy things could be made from rice!

nom-nom who knew so many yummy things could be made from rice!

Anyone who has spent any length of time in South East Asia will no doubt have memories of rice fields stretching far and wide. We realised though we had seen what felt like hundreds of rice fields and eaten more rice than we could remember, we really didn’t know much about how rice farming worked. This seemed like a pretty big oversight for people spending so much time in Asia so we booked ourselves into a day at The Living Land Farm. The tour was slightly pricier than those we’d normally book but the experience was well worth it. We went through all of the stages of rice farming, from ploughing with a reticent water buffalo named Rudolph, to planting, harvesting and milling, right through to husking and grinding the rice to make rice flour. The whole thing was interactive so you could try your hand at each step or not if squishing through the mud freaked you out and best of all they brought out a whole host of yummy rice products for tasting at the end!

Shane and Rudolph, hard at it

Shane and Rudolph, hard at it

Mekong

Luang Prabang is at the confluence of two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. There are a multitude of tour operators offering boat tours to the caves and whisky village both of which we avoided as it just sounded like too much of a tourist trap. We also felt like after two days on the slow boat, we’d seen enough of the Mekong for now but if you wander down to the river near Wat Xieng Thong you’ll find various boat operators, if you’re keen on a boat trip try to take one at sunset, few things I’ve seen in life compare to those Mekong sunsets.

just wow

just wow

If Boats aren’t you’re thing and you still want to catch a sunset over the Mekong there are loads of restaurants along the water front. All of them are more than happy to let you sit for a few hours sipping a beer Lao and taking in the views. We did this one night and met some of the friendliest locals who invited us to join them for a few drinks, absolutely gorgeous people and one of my fav memories of Luang Prabang.

Mekong and beers- yes please!

Mekong and beers- yes please!

Temples

Apparently there are 34 temples in Luang Prabang. By the time we arrived we felt complete temple exhaustion. We did see a couple and honestly I was a little more intrigued by the Laos temples than the one’s I’d seen in Thailand. Wat Xieng Thong seems to be the must see and I can certainly see why. Considered one of the most import Wat’s it was built in the 1559 and was the site for many import historical events in Laos history including coronations and religious events. The detailed mosaics scenes, gold stencil design and tiered red roof make this temple a standout and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen so far.

The incredible mosaics at Wat Xieng Thong

The incredible mosaics at Wat Xieng Thong

Mt Phousi

At the top of some 300 odd steps sits the temple on top of Mount Phousi. After a hot and crowded walk to the top we joined about a hundred other people who all had the same idea. The temple itself is nothing special, what people pay their 20,000 kip entrance fee for is the view. Come at sunrise or sunset and you’ll be jostling with crowds of tourists, but when the light hits at just the right moment you’ll be glad you came. A panoramic view over Luang Prabang on one side and a stunning view of the Mekong on the other at sunset is hard to beat, so despite the crowds I’d recommend this one.

View from the top, def worth battling the crowds

View from the top, def worth battling the crowds

Royal Palace & Museum

Shane is not that keen on museums so I took myself to this one for a few hours to feed my inner nerd. I love museums and history, I love learning about something I know nothing about and Laos is a country I really didn’t know much about, so naturally I jumped at the chance to visit the museum. What made it all the more interesting is that it wasn’t that long ago that the monarchy was over thrown, with the last King being booted out in just 1975, there’s something I find fascinating about the way these communist governments and monarchies existed until the inevitable overthrow. I wandered through the museum viewing royal life as it was in the 70’s, looking through reception halls, the throne room and royal sleeping chambers. There is a reception room which features murals depicting everyday Laos life and a really intriguing series of works depicting Laos folk stories which were brilliant.

Royal Palace Museum

Royal Palace Museum

Tak Bat- Alms giving ceremony

We got up before the dawn to see the traditional alms giving ceremony on our last day in Luang Prabang. It was somewhere in the 5am’s and Shane kept trying to chat to me, clearly forgetting that I do not function at all before 7am. After a few grumbled responses, he got the hint and led me down to Wat Mai to sit and wait quietly for the monks to arrive. We waited for about 15 minutes and then the barefoot, brilliant saffron robe clad monks began their silent walk with baskets to collect the days’ offerings. This is a religious ceremony that takes place each day at around 6am, it’s a beautiful ceremony to witness as the sun slowly blankets the still sleeping town and was very much worth the early start. Unfortunately, it’s no longer as special as it should be, as Luang Prabang becomes a more popular destination, people are forgetting that it is a very meaningful experience for those involved, not just an opportunity for a photo for your Instagram page. As such they’ve had to develop some guidelines on how people should behave when attending Tak Bat which you can see here – these guidelines are up at every hotel and while most people are respectful there are still quite a few numpty’s around, honestly people there’s a time and place for your selfie stick!

Tak bat

Tak bat

Overall, we had really liked Luang Prabang. It is a gorgeous place to spend a few days, it’s easy, nice, and there is much to entertain but Luang Prabang is not real Laos. Maybe 10 years ago it was but these days? – it’s basically the glossy travel brochure version. Luang Prabang does not offer a true depiction of Laos and the lifestyle of typical Laos people, it basically shows you what happens when tourists come to town so while we definitely recommend going, don’t be surprised by a somewhat less than authentic experience in the tourist centre. Go there, enjoy it for what it is, a shiny version of Laos, but then get out and explore the rest of the country! Real Laos is just as lovely if not quite as shiny.

 

 

There’s a lot to love about Pai

Seven hundred and sixty two. That’s how many bends there are on the road to Pai. Those of you who’ve been in the car with me coming down Macquarie Pass will know how well I handled that. I may not have been enjoying the twists and turns as I moaned to Davis ‘I feel sick’ whilst turning an unnatural shade of green, but even I couldn’t ignore the stunning vistas passing us as we ascended through the mountains.

It takes 3 hours and costs 150 baht per person in a mini van from Chiang Mai to Pai, they must get a lot of queasy travellers though as just when you think you can’t take another bend they plan a strategic stop at the half way point – something everyone on our bus was very grateful for.

We arrived in Pai with intentions of doing the full Mae Hong Son loop but it quickly became apparent we wouldn’t be leaving Pai in a hurry. Originally we planned to spend just 2 days in Pai but somehow this turned into 6 and plans of trying to fit in the rest of the loop were quickly abandoned.

Pai itself is a chill little village with a hint of a hippie vibe. It has become a haven for backpackers in northern Thailand. Whilst it was once probably an exotic destination off the beaten track offering a unique insight into village life, the Pai of today has definitely been discovered.

This has both positives and negatives, on the negative side Pai is now geared toward tourism and vaguely reminded me of Bangkok’s Khao San Rd. It can get busy and there are often loads of people at the main attractions, and whilst there are plenty of places to eat, as with a anywhere that is geared towards tourists there are plenty of mediocre restaurants.

But for every negative there are ample positives! Yes, Pai is busy, but that just means there’s load of other travellers to meet and since most of the crowd are young backpackers we found that if you got out to the sites early you could still enjoy the feeling of being the only people there, there is amazing food just don’t eat on the main tourist strip and definitely try out the street food at the markets. It’s popularity meant that travel to and around Pai has become ridiculously cheap and easy, but the biggest positive? Pai has some of the most breathtaking scenery in Thailand.

We loved Pai! And no one we’ve chatted with has disliked it with almost everyone saying they ended up staying longer than planned. We probably would have stayed until our visa ran out if not for the call of the Yipeng lantern festival in Chiang Mai beckoning finally us back to the city.

Some of the things we loved most and recommend from our time in Pai-

Stay in a bungalow outside of town

Our first two nights in Pai were spent in town at a guesthouse which was a quick 2 min walk to the night market, brilliant location but otherwise nothing special. When we decided Pai was going to be home for a week we decided to splurge on a Bungalow in the mountains. Our big splurge set us back $35 AUD per night and for that we got a bungalow which overlooked rice fields and offered endless views of the mountains. We even had a pool and on top of the bungalow was a deck which was the perfect place for drinking beers and star gazing. If you’re going to Pai and you’re going to stay for a while- and you should! I definitely recommend renting a bungalow, far enough away to be completely serene and peaceful but close enough to still walk into the markets.

Tham Lod Cave

One of our definite highlights in Pai was Tham Lod Cave. We saw this as part of a tour that combined a couple of other sites and all in all ended up being cheaper than trying to get there on our own. The cave itself is insane! You are guided along the 1.6km caves by local ladies armed with just a lantern, they don’t speak much English so any information they give you about the cave is hilariously limited to pointing out stalactites and stalagmite formations that they’ve nicknamed like ‘UFO’ and ‘popcorn’. They deliver these tidbits with a little giggle making you feel like it’s comedy hour without the two-drink minimum. All up the cave tour takes about 40 minutes you walk through several areas and up loads of rickety, dark staircases which are loaded down with bat crap, I was disgusted for about 1 minute, but as I’d stupidly worn my thongs I quickly embraced those handrails, bat crap and all. Make sure you bring some hand sanitiser with you because I guarantee you’ll be gripping those hand rails too! Once you get to the end of the first cavern you’ll jump on a bamboo raft for a few mins to cross to the end of the cave, you’ll get out here and go up yet more stairs to another cavern before coming back down and beginning the walk back to the park entrance.

the entrance to the caves

the entrance to the caves

Pai Canyon

We stopped by Pai Canyon for sunset…but so did basically every other tourist in Northern Thailand, for a more serene experience try going for sunrise. Regardless of when you go, this one should definitely be on your list, the canyon is about 8km’s outside Pai and offers a lookout over Pai valley. Local’s like to claim it’s Pai’s very own Grand Canyon but that is a pretty big stretch. It does however offer stunning vistas and, if you’re not too freaked out by the impossibly thin and sheer red tinged ridges with 50m drops to the forest floor, there are some nice trail. It’s not for the faint hearted though and the viewing platform is as far as most people go and is easily reached by a set of concrete steps.

Sunset over Pai Canyon - this view makes braving the crowds worth it

Sunset over Pai Canyon – this view makes braving the crowds worth it

Hire a scooter and see what you can find

If you want to go anywhere in Pai the easiest way to get around is to rent a scooter. Whilst the road rules seem a little unobvious your biggest worry should be novice tourists drivers rather than local road rules, we saw many a tourist sporting tell tale white bandages. If you’re a semi decent driver and have minimal common sense though you should be fine and for around 150 baht a day you can rent a scooter. Some of our best times were just cruising around on the scooter and taking in the amazing scenery. Whether you’re going with or without a plan, any road will lead you to some spectacular views and the locals joke that ‘all roads lead to Pai’ so getting lost is hard.

Shane very proud after day 3 of not killing us on the scooter

Shane very proud after day 3 of not killing us on the scooter

The Land Split

The land split itself is kind of cool. Basically a farmer noticed that after an earthquake in 2008 a 2 meter wide and 11 metre deep crack had appeared in the middle of his farm. With his livelihood at stake the farmer decided to turn his farm into a tourist attraction! The owners allow you to visit the land split and taste their organically grown produce all for a donation. The people here are so lovely and continually try to give you more and more food- the rosella juice is amazing!

making rosella jam @ the landsplit

making rosella jam @ the landsplit

The Bamboo Bridge

This one doesn’t seem to be popular in the ‘must see’ lists or included in many tours but we stumbled across a picture and decided to try and find it. A 30 minute scooter ride over some pretty rough and steep roads delivered us to the Pai Bamboo Bridge or Kho Ku Su. There is no entrance fee but a donation box is placed at the entrance and you can also feed the fish for a donation. The walk itself is about 800m and winds across the rice fields that are nestled against the backdrop of the mountains. There are strategically placed huts along the way where you can stop and take in the incredible scenery or even buy a bag of food to feed the fish, proceeds of which are donated to locals in need. We got there early so we had the whole walk to ourselves but for the farmers working in the fields. The bridge ends at the entrance of a temple, which was closed when we were there. I’ve since read that the main purpose of the bridge is to be a time saver for the monks coming from the temple into town.

the bamboo bridge stretches over rice fields

the bamboo bridge stretches over rice fields

Hot Springs

Go directly to the hot springs. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 just go to the hot springs. There are two hot springs in Pai, the Tha Pai Hot Springs while closer are quite hot with stories that you can boil an egg in the 80 degree water! If you venture a little further though you’ll find Sai Ngam hot springs this is where you want to be. Crystal clear water, a lovely sandy creek bed and warm water- soooo relaxing!

Waterfalls

There are a few waterfalls that are easy to get to. Pai Mo Paeng which seems to be a favourite of backpackers keen for a few beers at the top while they find the courage to slide down the rocks into the pool below. Pam Bok, in my opinon is the nicer (and quieter) of the two, this one is secluded and requires an easy walk between high cliffs to reach it.

chasing waterfalls @ Pam Bok

chasing waterfalls

Coffee with a view

Everyone raves about Coffee in Love and while it does have good coffee and great views, it is also the stop for every tour bus that comes through Pai. Not wishing to battle the crowds, we decided to head up the road a little and found The Container. Equally impressive views, great coffee and even better a verandah full of swing chairs! We got caught here during a storm and ended up staying for a few hours, the staff were super chill and even has some decent tunes playing, all in all I can think of worse places to be stuck.

swinging @ Container cafe

swinging @ Container cafe