A really cute little town, which used to be a village, extremely popular with the hippies and Rastafari lovers, who by the way happen to be mostly french, hence the French too. Not sure whether it’s everyone’s cup of tea, though I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Pai.
Once you’re past the 3 and half hours and 762 curves that divide Chiang Mai and Pai, you find yourself immersed in a rather tranquil and bucolic setting. The air is clean, the scenery astounding, there is no shortage of activities or places to visit, including hot springs and waterfalls. One day or half-day tours are also available, along with a beautiful and scary canyon, bamboo rafting, tubing, you get the picture.
Given its geography, Pai is best explored if you’re motorized. Make sure you read my upcoming post on Driving in Thailand before you hop on a moped.
My Time in Pai
Luckily I managed to find a sort of half-decent accommodation off the main street, which gave me immediate access to the night market for quick and dirty bites and morning cafes for delicious unhealthy breakfasts. You may have a hard time eating healthily in Thailand , therefore the longer your stay, the harder your effort should be to remain healthy. And Pai is no different.
As previously mentioned, Pai can only be fully explored if you roll on wheels, and I followed my own advice. In my opinion, there is only one place in Pai where you can hire a scooter o moped that comes with insurance. This will almost certainly double your daily rent, but I am always happy to pay more for extra peace of mind.
Once I familiarized myself with its geography, I went scouting for photogenic places, engaged with the locals for advice, and I must say that, if photography is your thing, Pai can be a fun place to be. Although I wound up staying longer that I had anticipated, as the New Year can be a very busy time to return to the more civilized Chiang Mai, those extra days were put to good use. One thing is sure, in Pai, you have plenty to do.
Places to visit and Things to do
Located at 8km away from the main street, Pai Canyon is probably one of the most mesmerizing sights in Pai. Though it is most often referred to as the counterpart of The Grand Canyon, the reality of Pai Canyon is somewhat different, if not altogether so. Don’t let this discourage you though, as it’s worth more than one visit and definitely more than one sunset.
Next on my list is the Temple on the Hill, or Wat Phra That Mae Yen. The view alone overlooking Pai Valley is definitely worth the 353 steps one must climb, and if that is coupled with a dramatic sunset, well, all the better.
Waterfalls are another popular attraction here in Pai, and not without reason. I was somewhat unlucky I happened to be in Pai during the dry season, however, as often happens in life, it’s the journey and never the destination that matters. I can recommend Pam Bok Waterfall for a number of reasons. You definitely need a moped to reach it, though it’s absolutely worth it, if anything for the scenery that complements the way to get there. On your way back, make sure you stop at the Land Split. You will learn about the earthquake that in two instances literally cracked the earth wide open. You will also enjoy the warm hospitality with freshly squeezed fruit juice and local snacks.
Natural thermal springs are a huge go-to in Pai. Whether you decide to spend a full day or half a day there, to be sure you will regain the strength eaten away by the rigors of travelling.
As for tours, there is a plethora of full-day and half-day ones. My advice would be to go for a half-day ones, as full-days are incredibly strenuous given the long distances that need to be covered, in means of transportation and on roads that are not exactly up to western standards.
Definitely worth it, whatever you do, make time to visit Pai for at least 4 days. Rent a moped, eat local, scout for those tucked away cafes that will serve excellent quality food in a very relaxed atmosphere.