Pai was most likely my favourite spot on my journey around Thailand, a small town north of Chiang Mai. It was the place that the Pai Panther Biker Club (as I called us) was born, a collection of 16-20 backpackers who instantaneously came together on the road in search of amber skies, winding highways, caves, waterfalls and springs. Here's how it went down...
Ben and I had been travelling north of Thailand since my earliest days in Bangkok. We hopped off the bus that had brought us from Chiang Mai, our heads spinning from the bumpy, serpentine route across the mountains to this small hippie town we had caught wind of. Online we had found a relaxed looking hostel to stay at over the coming days and followed our maps around the corner and down a seemingly empty alley... surely, the maps have got it wrong? Soon enough, the strumming of a guitar caught our ears and the hostel logo came into view. We turned into the hostel and were greeted by a long-haired dude at the bar and then the barman - John - an image of John Lennon if ever I've seen one. "Welcome to Common Ground fellas!". Liverpudlian too, amazing. Two guys we're singing and playing guitar from the comfort of a string of hammocks, while another guy painted the wall behind them, a psychedelic tree of life made of fluorescent greens and blues. I loved this place already.
We were introduced to Jordan, an Australian whose welcoming and laid-back attitude made it feel as though we'd been here for weeks already. "Need anything guys, just give me a shout," he said. Having come from two busy cities, full of vibrant energy and life, we happily welcomed this new environment, this perfect hub of calm, cool bohemian culture. We immediately went to fetch some scooters for hire. No questions, no license enquiries, just payment. In under twenty minutes we were driving back up our alley to our hostel, greeted by quite a few more bikes outside than before. As we walked back inside, we noticed a collection of backpackers, some checking in, some introducing themselves to others - the last bus of the day had just brought a fresh batch of backpackers to our new home. After some short introductions, the group were eager to get on the road. We all hopped on our bikes and head to the top of the alley, ready to head to Tham Lod Cave. I looked over my shoulder and smiled back at the 16 strong congregation of scooters, revving and ready... the light went green and we were off.
This was my first time riding a scooter, ever. Before I knew it I was on the open road hitting 60mph and it felt amazing. The wind beat against my chest as I rode past other members of the group, looking out onto the most fantastic landscapes. Pure and complete freedom, that was what it felt like.
We extended our time in Pai from three days to seven and in that time, the Pai Panthers shared many great rides together, often riding back on winding highways, beside a blanket of deep orange sky and a vast green bed of forest and jungle. We shared some of the best days and nights with this group of people in Common Ground hostel, my favourite home in my journey so far. If you get a chance, go to Pai. Stay at Common Ground. You won't regret it.