I bid my sister adieu in Chiang Mai with a little trepidation – we’d been on the road for the better part of three months together, and now the next five months yawned ahead of me, only a rough sketch of plans in place, and no one to ask, “Is this a good idea?”
I’d already been in Chiang Mai for a few days longer than I felt I needed to be, so I packed up, headed to the bus station, and jumped on the next minivan for a small town called Pai. The ride to town was a nausea-inducing three hours hurtling through forests and winding mountain roads, upon which we were unceremoniously dumped in the town center.
My arrival in a new place was enough to keep me busy for the first few hours – find a place to stay, get myself situated, peruse the Lonely Planet and a few blogs for things to do here, and check out the map to situate myself. And then it was time to go out on my own.
There are a lot of blogs that extol the virtues of solo travel, and all the things they post are true. But maybe a lot of them don’t remember that traveling solo for the first time requires a little warming up. I felt weird wandering around a town with no real destination and no one to mark my observations to. I felt like people were staring at me wandering the streets alone (they weren’t, I’m just paranoid and always think people are staring at me), I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands while I wandered the roads with no real destination, I felt like I should be making friends but it would have been so weird to just walk up to someone and introduce myself. So I parked in a little hippy cafe, ordered a chai tea latte, and caught up on my travel journal like a recluse. Some things take easing into.
I did sign up for a trip to Pai Canyon to watch the sunset, and was able to chat with a group of girls from the UK on the way up and the way back, so my social interaction wasn’t exactly zero for Day 1 solo on the roads.
Since my time in Pai was limited to a couple of days, I signed up for a ‘Pai Sights’ Tour, one of these package deals where they pack you into a van and take you around the various sights for a fee. It was about $18, and I figured it was better than trying to figure out how to get everywhere on my own. And then my decision to do this crazy traveling thing alone was fully validated by discovering that every person on the tour was a solo female traveler! There were five of us in total, we all came from different places, were different ages, and we all got along great. All my doubts from the day before were put to rest.
Pai is a place that seems to encourage becoming one with the earth. There are plenty of dreadlocks, Bob Marley decor, incense and other hippy-esque details about the place that give it this vibe. So naturally part of the day included taking a dip in the natural hot springs and choosing to climb the sandstone rocks of Pai Canyon barefoot, just to get into the spirit of the place.
Pai is what the rest of Thailand probably was 15 years ago: still a little undeveloped, a little off the radar, but beautiful in it’s own rough, earthy, unapologetic way. What a fabulous place to start traveling alone.
Til next time, xoxoxo!