“I went to Pai for three days and ended up staying a week”.
This is something that you read when you do any research on the small mountainside town of Pai, Northern Thailand. So in sticking with tradition – I went to Pai with enough clothing and a plan to go for two days and ended up staying for two weeks.
The area, surrounded by mountains, natural forests and rice fields, is a picturesque escape 130 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. The road from Chiang Mai to Pai (and onto Mae Hong Son), is a renowned mountain pass with, according to the souvenir T-shirts for sale in Pai, 762 curves. Arriving in Pai you’re presented with a host of accommodation options from cheap hostels catering to backpackers, to medium priced bungalows, and premium hotels and guest houses built onto the river or onto the side of the mountains.
A view from the drive to Pai from Chiang Mai
The quaint town survives almost entirely from the tourist trade, and the place is full of tourists, but this is somehow ok. Everyone is there to simply relax in one of the many coffee shops or small locally owned and run restaurants. Each evening the “main” street, is closed to traffic and set up as a “walking street” where around 50 vendors set up a street food market selling a range of amazing food. Food ranges from sushi, to filled baked potatoes, fresh spring rolls to authentic Thai cuisine, all at decent prices. Tourists sample food from a few of the stalls before finding a small street side bar to have a beer before being kicked out at midnight – all bars to close at this time.
Fresh street food
There is not a huge amount to do in Pai itself, besides relax. The surrounding areas though, offer a few waterfalls to explore, the Tam Lot cave, which was better than I expected, and which needs to be access by a bamboo raft, a few short treks, natural hot springs and activities like elephant rides.
I met some amazing people during my stay time in Pai (including a visit by about 20 friends from Chiang Mai for the last weekend). One of the highlights was going to a bar called “Sunset”, to watch the sun go down. While there it was recommended to try a rather expensive “milkshake”, which was a dark colour and made the sunset and colours look incredible for about 4 hours. Magic.
It’s not that easy to explain why people spend longer than they plan to in Pai, but when you meet and speak to people in there, and ask them “What are your travel plans from here?”, they all to reply with the a similar response “I was supposed to go a few days ago, but am thinking about staying a few more days”.
The landscape, mountains and amazing sunrises and sunsets are also a great opportunity to take some photographs, although, as with most sunset photos – they never really do justice to the real life experience.
Sunset view from the “Pai circus hostel”
If you ever have the chance to spend a few days in Pai, I’d recommend it – maybe leave a few days open after you’re scheduled to leave, just in case you get stuck in this sleepy town.