From Chiang Mai, a four hour journey through beautiful mountainous countryside on incredibly curvy roads. (762 curves to be precise – you can buy the T-shirt when you get there to prove it!) will bring you to Pai.
Pai is a small, laid-back town nestled in among the picturesque mountains of northern Thailand. Filled with cafes and restaurants, it’s a perfect place to take a breather and relax, but there are also lots of fun and adventurous things to do in the area. The town itself is quite small; walking down one of the main streets in town takes about 10 minutes, and a meandering, circuitous route around town won’t occupy more than an hour or two. It’s small size and delicious food makes it a great place to “get away from it all” and to chill out.
Right outside of Chiang Mai, you’ll feel like you are worlds away.
Pai is also a great place to get out into the more natural scenery of Thailand. A favorite activity is renting a motorbike and simply seeing where it takes you. Rolling hills wind through the surrounding area, offering beautiful views of mountains, farmland, villages and waterfalls. Trekking is also popular in the area, as is bathing in the local hot springs.
Not so long ago, Pai was just a small, typical northern Thai town. Recently, it has grown with a burgeoning tourism industry and visitors from all over the world. The town itself is infused with a real bohemian vibe that attracts lots of new age travellers; with an artsy scene, live music and opportunity to take reiki, yoga and spiritual healing courses. Pai is not just a favourite with hippy backpackers, it’s also becoming a chic weekend destination for the Bangkok cool brigade; youngish, well dressed middle-class types float around. Even with the influx of travelers, however, Pai has maintained its relaxed atmosphere and still feels like an off-the-beaten-path getaway.
Pai has lots of great hippie shopping options.
Places to Stay:
Pai is filled with places to stay suitable for all budgets. If you don’t make a reservation beforehand, just take a stroll around town to find a place that fits your budget and your esthetic sensibilities. You’ll find guesthouses all over town, and across the bamboo bridge in the northeast corner of town are many beautiful, peaceful bungalows.
Here are a few recommendations:
Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse: This is a pretty, peaceful and cheap guesthouse (US$5 per person) that’s a little off the main road, but still very central.
Duang Guesthouse: Although not the most beautiful guesthouse you’ll ever stay in, its location is good (right across the street from the bus station), and the price probably the lowest you’ll find (US$3 per person for rooms with a shared bathroom). They also have bungalows in the back (US$15).
Pai Circus School: This place is a little outside of town, but very easy to walk to and very peaceful and beautiful, with a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and mountains. Cross the rickety bamboo bridge over the river in the northeast corner of town, and walk along the dirt roads until you see signs. They have cheap dorms, bungalows, and tents for rent. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s a great place to come and relax for the day, enjoy the out-of-doors, and learn some circus skills.
Things to Do:
Hiking/trekking: There are many options for one-day and multi-day treks out of Pai. Some start from Pai itself, requiring no transportation other than your own to feet, and you others you can arrange with a company.
Rent a motorbike: renting a motorbike is a fantastic way to get out of town, do some adventuring on your own, and see the area surrounding Pai. There are waterfalls, villages, and great views all over the place. Rent a bike, fill up on gas, and hit the road! Motorbikes typically go for US$5-10/day.
Rent a motorbike and get outside of the city center.
Night Market: The Pai night market runs every evening along the main roads in town. Food stalls, vendors of all sorts and street performers create a lively atmosphere. Walk, eat and shop, or just park yourself at a restaurant overlooking the crowds and do some great people-watching with a cold beer or smoothie in hand.
Pai Hot Springs: The Pai hot springs are an attraction for locals and tourists alike. They’re easy to get to via motorbike, and a great place to relax and soak up some minerals. If you want to blend in with the locals, bring some extra clothing and go bathing in shorts and a t-shirt. And don’t forget your eggs! The upper hot springs are hot enough to cook eggs, and many people do this, then eat their hard- or soft-boiled eggs while bathing in the cooler pools below.
Eat!: Pai is brimming with restaurants offering delicious food from all over the world. Indian, Middle Eastern, Western, Thai…you can find it all. A few recommendations: The Curry Shack (near Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse), Mama Falafel (near the bus station), other middle eastern place (shabish!!), and smoothies.
Pai Circus School: Want to learn how to juggle with fire, stilt walk, spinning poi and other circus tricks? Backpackers flock to this resort and circus school set amidst beautiful natural landscapes to learn circus skills, jam around a bonfire, relax and play with the cute puppies! There’s a BBQ most nights and a festival feel to this traveller paradise.
Exploring waterfalls outside of Pai.
How to Get There:
Take a minibus from Chiang Mai. They leave often and are pretty cheap. Warning: it’s 3-4 hours of sharp hairpin turns and steep drop-offs. Don’t go on a full stomach.
For the more daring types, you can rent a motorbike and make the drive yourself, though unless you’re confident on a motorbike, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Places to Head Next
- Back to Chiang Mai
- Mae Hong Song
- Hop on a motorbike, and see where it takes you!
About the author: Eliza Arsenault is an English, math and science teacher in Isaan, Thailand. She travels around Southeast Asia during her breaks. Check our her blog.