Even though Pai is still not among the top travel destinations of Thailand, it is becoming more and more popular among the young backpacker community, and very rightly so. While you might realise that it is going to be a green paradise during the 3 hour journey on the curvy mountain road from Chiang Mai to Pai, what you will experience when you arrive there will genuinely surprise you.
You’ve Got To Love Pai
“Pai is Love”, “Pai is Falling in Love” and “Love Pai” are just some of the beautifully decorated signs you’ll see throughout the charming mountain town. Indeed, Pai is not just beauty and nature, Pai is a feeling. And while this might sound very hippie, it stands true for all the travellers I met and spoke to. It is one of those places where you go for a few days and 2 weeks later you’re still enjoying its beauty and relaxed artistic atmosphere. For me those 2 weeks turned into more than a month, and I still couldn’t get enough of it. Whether you choose to explore the amazing spots around the town on a bike, just swing in a hammock while sipping on a fresh fruit shake, or visit one of the “Happy” bars in town, the feeling of happiness, ease and relaxation will cast a spell on you.
Things to Do in Pai
Boredom does not exist when you’re in Pai. No matter whether you’ll be exploring the natural beauty of the place, sip a cup of tea while enjoying spectacular views or just spend the whole day swinging in a hammock, being bored is just not an option. The moment you arrive in town you will receive a map with the different spots of interest and activities, and here are my favourite:
White Buddha Temple – the huge white Buddha statue cuddled among the green hills of the mountain is almost impossible to miss. What feels like 1000 steps to go up is absolutely worth the view, especially popular for sunset. Going there in the morning though, gives you the opportunity to relax, absorb the magic and meditate.
Secret Hot Spring – while the popular Pai Hot Spring charge 300 baht to get in, the Secret Hot Spring just 15km out of town costs only 30 per person/bike and is absolutely beautiful. Don’t be shy and dig into the bank of the spring to find some natural spa clay and put it on your face – your skin will become as soft as a baby’s bum!
The Land Split – caused by a massive earthquake which almost destroyed the land of a local farmer, the Land Split was turned into a touristic attraction. While it may not be super extraordinary or exciting, the place is worth a visit mainly because of its friendly and welcoming owner. After the tour he’ll give you plenty of home made food, juice and roselle wine produced on his own land, for which you can leave a donation of whatever you feel like. Be generous 🙂
The Bamboo Bridge – this place is quite new and still not on the tourist maps, but it’s very easy to find. Just continue for 10-15 min more on the dirt road from the Land Split and you’ll find the endless bamboo bridge, wining among the green rice fiends and showing some spectacular views. The temple at the end of the bridge is still under construction, but the walk and the views are definitely worth the visit.
Chinese Village Viewpoint – for the 20 Baht you will pay to enter the view point you will get a cute pot of freshly made Chinese tea, which you can sip while you enjoy this fantastic 360° panoramic view. No matter whether you’ll choose sunrise, sunset or any other time of the day, the views are spectacular.
Pai Canyon – views, views and more views. The natural beauty in and around Pai just doesn’t seem to end, and the Pai canyon is another one of the popular sunset spots. I’d recommend going there during the day as it can be overcrowded for the sunset and it’s a perfect place for some awesome pictures.
Mor Paeng Waterfall – it might not be one of the most spectacular waterfalls I’ve seen, but Mor Paeng waterfall could be a lot of fun. With several natural pools you can dip in and cool off, the waterfall also offers a couple of natural slides for the more adventurous people. Just follow the local kids and you’ll know where the safe spots are.
The Fluid – another place in town where you can cool down in the hot days is the swimming pool called The Fluid. For the 60 baht you pay to get in, you can get a mat, a deck chair, an umbrella or a whole hut, where you can chill while you listen to some really good tunes, sip on a cocktail and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the place. It also offers amazing food for the hungry souls and a ping-pong table in case you want to have a game.
Where To Stay in Pai
There are so many places for each type of budget, that finding accommodation is just too easy. Whether you like a more sociable backpacker environment or want to have your own space and privacy, Pai has everything to offer. I personally tried a few places (5 weeks is a long time… or was it 6 weeks..?) and here are a few you won’t regret visiting:
Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse – if you prefer to stay in town for cheap, Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse is your place. You can rent a private bungalow in a beautiful garden for 200 baht a night, and the walking street is less than 5 min walk from there. Ice House Guesthouse next door offers more or less the same conditions.
Buzza’s Backpackers – a little bit outside of town, the place provides great opportunity to chill and socialize. Whether you enjoy the piece of your own bungalow or stay in a dorm, you can spend the afternoon swinging in one of the many hammocks around the garden or join the rest of the people for group activities in the evenings. Movie nights, BBQs and bonfires are not rare in this chilled, but fun hostel.
Pho Ruk Na Pai – I’d recommend this place for long stay or for people who’d like to have some piece and quiet. The resort is off the road, close to the White Buddha Temple intersection, and while it’s not very popular, it offers amazing huts and small houses surrounded by nature for cheap price. We rented one of the huts with big porch for 4,000 baht for the month and the owner also offered us a bike for 2,000 baht for a month – a super deal for the budget travellers.
Valhalla Bar & Camping – now that’s a place for the real adventure travellers. Situated deeper in the jungle, you’d definitely need a bike to move around. For 60 Baht a night you can put your hammock or pitch your tent wherever you like, and sleep under the gorgeous Pai sky, while listening to the sounds of the jungle. Even if you just go there for a drink, the place is definitely worth a visit, and the super friendly people working there will make you feel at home from the moment you enter.
A Bite and a Gulp
The whole town is filled with little charming restaurants where you can enjoy a cheap and delicious meal. If I try to list them all this will be an incredibly long post, but here are a few that stand out:
Karsa Long Thai Food – the little restaurant on the side of the road offers a great variety of Thai and Western food for cheap price. We ate there many times and we were never disappointed either with the service or the quality of the food. All you need to do is just be a little patient as the owner is also the only cook and the food might take a while.
Om Garden – being one of the trendy spots in town, Om Garden offers a variety of freshly made delicious food and fruit shakes to satisfy anybody’s taste. The home made carrot cake is a must try.
Burger Queen – the local alternative or Burger King offers amazingly delicious burgers with vegetarian options as well. Don’t forget to order the awesome fries and admire the beauty of the huge white blue-eyed dog, who’s the face of the place.
Most of my dinners however, I had on the street. In the evening the main “Walking Street” in town is filled with little food stalls offering all sorts of delicacies for a cheap price. You can enjoy a big portion of Pad Thai for 40 baht, fresh sushi for 5 or 10 baht a piece, spring rolls, veggies, lasagnas, curry, pizza breads, desserts, fruit shakes and what not! Having so much cheap, delicious and easily accessible food is quite dangerous though as you can easily end up having 2 dinners, especially if you’re into the “happy” smoke type of thing.
You won’t go home thirsty either as the town offers a lot of charming little bars with live music and DJs, and you can choose between a more relaxed atmosphere or a UV face paint and fire shows for a more groovy nights. Popular places in town are the Spirit bar, Boom bar and Yellow Sun Bar, which form a bit of a pub crawl scene. As the bars close at midnight, the crowd usually ends up in Don’t Cry Bar, which stays open till 2-3am and you can have a dance, watch a fire show or just chill by the bonfire. The Sunset bar is a popular place among the locals if you are a fan of the mushrooms (and I’m not talking about a stir fry) or a “happy” smoke. Going there is considered relatively safe, just make sure you don’t leave the place with anything on you as there are frequent and very thorough police checks, and the fines are crazy. Some of my most amazing days and nights (including my birthday) I spent in Valhalla Bar & Camping, where I could experience the feeling of complete carelessness and relaxation, a perfect zen, surrounded by nice and loving people (I’ll take a moment to say a huge THANKS to my Pai family for being so amazing!).
All in all, so far Pai is my most favourite place in Thailand and I need to go back there to pick up my heart. When you’re surrounded by so much beautiful nature, art, young friendly people and easy-going life, getting stuck there is almost inevitable. All I’m only hoping for is that the place keeps its charm and spirit, and continues to fascinate the travellers the way it fascinated me. Pai is Love… Pai is falling in love…