Pai - Thailand
Everything you Need to Know about Pai0
This postcard-perfect little town set approximately midway between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai is a dream destination for many travellers. Tucked deep in a valley, surrounded by walls of endless mountains, Pai seems to exist in its own time zone. Here, nature is your best friend and, perhaps, chilling out while doing close to nothing is going to be your second best friend.
Pai has three happening main streets, with the scenic Pai River cutting through the eastern part of town. Bamboo rafting and white-river rafting, popular among adventurous souls, are two of the best ways to appreciate Pai’s picturesque landscape. If you prefer to stay on dry land, hiking or mountain trekking is another fascinating option, apart from browsing a collection of souvenir shops in the town centre. Exploring outer Pai, peppered with natural hot springs, waterfalls and ethnic hill-tribe villages, is also something to consider.
For many people, coming to Pai simply means slowing down completely. Artsy types often haunt Pai’s many café galleries, while others prefer to lounge away on their riverside porch or at a chilled-out bar.
Getting into Pai has been made easier with the opening of a domestic air route from Chiang Mai to Pai by Kan Air. Most travellers, however, still prefer to drive or take a bus from Chiang Mai, partly because it’s much cheaper and also because it’s part of the Pai experience. Route 1095 is very scenic but also extremely windy and steep. The 136-km stretch from Chiang Mai can take up to four hours, passing through nearly 2,000 sharp turns. Read More...
Pai town centre is more about relaxing and immersing in the idyllic atmosphere than doing any active sightseeing. There’s not really much to see, besides a few Burmese-style temples, cute shop-houses and the riverside scenery. Outer Pai, however, is another story. Set on a hill 2km from town, Wat Phra That Mae Yen offers panoramic views of Pai, its luscious green countryside, and is where to catch a magnificent sunset. Other attractions include Pai Canyon (or Kong Lan), World War II Memorial Bridge, Santichon Yunnanese Village and Muang Paeng hot springs, just to take in the scenery not to bathe in because the water temperature is way too hot.
While local cuisine dominates Pai’s dining scene, a handful of restaurants run by Thai-western couples offer typical international variety, such as pizzas, pastas and burgers with fries. Some of the more notable include Thai French Burger & Steak (opposite bus station), Phad Thai Nawin, Pa Laeng Khao Soi (open Oct-Jan only) and Nong Beer, which serves up tasty northern Thai curries and local dishes. Besides the restaurants, Pai is home to a colourful café culture, and art cafés prove to be popular hang-out places, particularly among the jaded holidaymakers from Bangkok.
Although a quiet little town by day, Pai isn’t lacking in terms of nightlife. In fact, drinking and bar hopping seem to be a major highlight of Pai at night. Depending on where you go, though, the atmosphere can vary from Khao San-style sidewalk bars to indie house with live jazz, blues and international pop music to full-blown dance parties. Besides drinking and partying, check out a small night market on Rungsiyanon Road or along the main backpacker’s strip (Chaisongkram Road).
Pai’s colourful shopping scene is concentrated along the walking street (Rungsiyanon Road). Compared to Chiang Mai’s walking street or Bangkok’s Khao San Road, which are jam-packed with vendors, Pai Walking Street has a much more laid-back and pleasant feel. You can actually browse the shops at leisure, instead of finding yourself lost in a sea of people. While Pai souvenirs, such as magnets, postcards and artsy T-shirts, seem to dominate the scene, a handful of shops do carry one-off handmade collections of jewellery, scented candles, stationery and paintings.
Pai is all about getting yourself in touch with nature, whether it’s a hot springs dip, cave exploration, waterfall hike or bamboo rafting down the scenic Pai River. For the more adventurous soul, try an overnight trek that takes you to a distant ethnic hill-tribe or rice-farming villages. You’ll be doing a lot of hiking, exploring and chatting with the villagers, as well as learning to cook your own meals from ingredients foraged in the forest and even harvesting rice when it’s in season. If you sign up for one of these, though, be prepared to live in the jungle, with no electricity, running water (sometimes) or modern conveniences. It’s a real back-to-Nature experience.
Getting Around Pai
The town centre has a simple layout and is easy to explore on foot. But to really get a feel of Pai, you need to get out of the town centre and immerse in its sleepy countryside. The best way to do that is to rent a motorcycle and just set off on your own. Don’t know how to ride one? The next best alternative is to drop by one of the tour agencies lining Chaisongkram Road, the main backpacker’s strip, and get your sightseeing plan customised.
Getting into Pai has been made easier with the opening of a domestic air route from Chiang Mai to Pai by Kan Air. Most travellers, however, still prefer to drive or take a bus from Chiang Mai, partly because it’s much cheaper and also because it’s part of the Pai experience. Route 1095 is very scenic but also extremely windy and steep. The 136-km stretch from Chiang Mai can take up to four hours, passing through nearly 2,000 sharp turns.