Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pai Day (a week early)

This week we headed farther north to the town of Pai in the Mae Hong Son district. Our first impressions were not highly optimistic due to the influence of two ubiquitous negatives in the area: throngs of tourists and slash & burn agriculture. On our recent trek (soon to be documented to accommodate your looking-busy-at-work needs) we were a bit heartbroken when we could only see the faintest shadows of what we know are stunning mountains hidden under a thick blanket of heavy smoke. Every year, farmers in the region burn the forest to clear the ground for planting in the rainy season. Through some type of magic we have yet to uncover, only the fallen leaves and low-lying plants burn, everything else stays green and hearty and the fire's path is completely controlled by the farmers.

Our first morning here we worried we might not see any of the north's natural beauty. But that afternoon we rented motorbikes (we've definitely become fans of this form of transport!) to tour around on our own and saw some beautiful country. The first stop was Pai Canyon - a strange series of high cliffs almost Seussian in design. Yafit and I walked, scrambled, and climbed our way across several of them, at one point arriving at what would be a gorgeous, lush vista if not for the smoke!! The beauty is definitely here and I can see why people fall for the north. If you plan to visit, make sure to get here before the fires. You will be rewarded with stacks of green mountains surrounding valleys of rich farmland as far as the eye can see.

After our jaunt across the dry canyon, we fancied a dip in some cold water - and I mean COLD!!! Pam Bok waterfall is by far the chilliest we have jumped in on this trip and it felt incredible! Let me share with you the secret of surviving chilly swims: commit. A two-fold determination is required. First, just get in. Do it. The process of walking in slowly - feeling the cold creep up your legs, your lower back spasming in anticipation of the coming attack - is far too painful. Just jump in and get it over with. Secondly, stay there once you do! Force yourself to stay in for thirty seconds of swimming before running to the nearest towel. Somehow the water just suddenly gets warm (no, not from that) and you can stay in forever. In fact, after I had been swimming for a while, the prospect of getting out into the cold seemed less appealing than staying put.

So after our initial anxieties, we were happily taken with the beauty of some of Pai's natural attractions. This enthusiasm carried on to today when we explored Mae Yen waterfall which you can read about in the next post!