Pai, Northern Thailand
More than a destination, a lifestyle
The river is refreshing but not that powerful. The mountains are curvy but not that steep. The waterfalls are hidden but not that full. So what is it that makes Pai a destination that compels travellers to stay longer than they had originally planned?!
I originally booked for 2 nights, stayed for 5 and then wished I could have stayed longer. I wasn’t alone in this feeling. It was a recurring theme that people initially came for couple days but ended up staying for several weeks or even months. Travelers who had flexible schedule found they had a difficult decision to make… when to move on?
Pai attracts travelers of all ages, who have different plans and life backgrounds and yet, this small town in Northern Thailand seems to fit everyone’s needs, even before they know what they are.
More than a destination, it is a lifestyle. It is about freedom. Freedom embraced by daily blue skies, hot middays, lots of activities and lots of places to do nothing at all.
Freedom in the form of whatever it represents to you. Be it waking up in a bungalow to the sound of birds; finding a quirky café with a view; or drinking excessive amount of fresh fruit smoothies and indulging in the smells of the evening food market; reading a book swinging in a hammock, or renting a motorbike and hitting the road, leaving behind all worries.
Yes, motorbikes are the main transport used in Pai. You can rent one at AYA Service in the main street. They didn’t ask me for my driving license, in fact they only asked me two questions: Do you know how to ride a motorbike? I said no. Do you know how to ride a bicycle? I said yes. So freedom was handed to me in the form of a small scooter along with a helmet rather too big for my head. The employee also gave me an “express driving class” in an abandoned field not far from the main street. After my feet spent most of the time on the ground and an embarrassingly high number of brisk starts and stops, he was happy to certify me a “competent driver” with only one loop around the field. And off I went exploring. It was that easy!
On a side note: if you are going to ride a motorbike be sensible, get an insurance, always wear a helmet and respect speed limits and traffic rules as it is obviously too dangerous otherwise. The sight of injured people is far too frequent.
Pai is small enough that you feel you know everyone and equally exciting as vans unload new faces everyday. It is intimate, surrounded by nature and breathtaking landscape.
Around Pai, the clock is timeless. You do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. Well, almost! Sunset is the only hour you will not want to miss.
Pai Canyon is the sunset adventure that everyone should experience at least once! Be prepared for the adrenaline you experience while walking on a rough labyrinth of narrow cliff paths. If you don’t come out of it with your hands and bum covered in dirt, then you didn’t adventure far enough. Find your spot and watch the sun give up his space in the sky for the stars, while snacking on some strips of sweet mango and papaya.
After sunset, the main street closes to traffic and opens for a market displaying a mouthwatering array of flavours. It offers the freedom to choose from an eccentric well-established restaurant with typical Thai dishes or the spontaneity of snacking on meat sticks, potato spirals and other exotic bites as you walk around the market. Your meal can be as cheap as you want it to be and variety is on the menu for as long as your stay lasts.
Bars close relatively early (mostly 1am), but nightlife continues around intimate fireplaces in the grounds of any nearby hostel. The night unfolds while listening to some bohemian guitar playing classics; sharing dreams with strangers, who you quickly call friends; and inventing games of counting stars.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN PAI
Visit Tham Lod Cave
43 km north of Pai, you can find this impressive cave with limestone stalactite formations. Visits take nearly 2 hours and have to be done with a guide who will carry a petrol lantern to light your way and show you the grandiosity of this place. At the end you float in a bamboo raft down Nam Lang River in the dark in the direction of the cave exit.
TOP TIP: Time your visit to finish near sunset to see the swifts (commonly called bats) flying out of the cave.
Watch Sunrise in Soppong
I couldn’t explain to you where exactly is this place as I went with a tour organized by Cave Lodge. It is only 100Baht and the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Even if you aren’t a guest at Cave Lodge, you are welcome to join their group tours.
Take a dip in a Hot Spring.
There are a few to choose from and prices and water temperatures vary. Make it early in the morning if you want to beat the crowds and have a pool just for yourself.
Visit the White Buddha or Temple on the Hill
Just outside Pai, climb the steps to visit the White Buddha. I must warn you, unless you are into meditation, there isn’t much to see at the top, but the steps are worth the climb for the spectacular view, so I would suggest to time your visit here for sunset.
Visit the old World War Memorial Bridge
Visit this historical landmark, a bridge made of iron built in 1942 by the Japanese to transport weapons and provisions to Myanmar (Burma) during World War II.
Go swimming in a Waterfall
There are a few to explore around Pai. Pam Bok (see photo) has a nice pool and a place to jump. While Mo Paeng is a good one to slide down the rocks.
WHERE TO STAY?
Tribal Pai Backpackers – Their location is 5 minutes on the motorbike from town center and therefor it is perfect if you are looking to wake up in a quieter place. I stayed in a wood bungalow with aircon that had a massive comfortable bed, own en-suite and a lovely balcony.
The common area has a bar with pool table, hammocks and in the evenings they light up the fire in the garden. Excellent atmosphere and great staff!
When I wanted to extend my stay last minute, their woods bungalows had already been taken and I ended up sleeping in the dorm. However, I would not recommend the dorm as there are 14 beds with very little or no space between them and only one shower for everyone.
Pai Village Boutique Resort & Farm – These rustic romantic wooden cottages will have you wanting more “bed time”. Located right in town centre, the Thai-style cottages present beautiful views of the mountain or garden. As a plus, breakfast is included here! And if you still have a sore back from all the hammock time… they have Spa and Massage onsite.
Pai Island Resort – If you are looking for something more luxurious, this Resort is strategically located away from the town buzz, but close enough to not miss a thing. A fortress of bamboo fences, offering complete seclusion, separates each of their villas. There is plenty of space to relax, be it in the terrace by the river, or in the private outdoor bathtub.
CAVE LODGE – Stay in a trendy archaic bamboo hut. Their common area is so lovely and they serve delicious food. As an advantage, they have lots of different activities, such as kayaking, cave walks, visits to hill tribes and trekking that can make you stay here for an entire week and never get bored!
I highly recommend staying here for at least one night to visit the Tham Lod Cave and to watch sunrise.
To book your stay at Cave Lodge, you need to call or contact them via email.
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