If you were to ask me ‘What’s your favorite place in Thailand?’ Pai would definitely be in my top three. This northern little hippie town stole my heart immediately. It has everything I love – a nightly street market with amazing food and crafts, mountains and rivers to hike and swim in, a monthly party in an art gallery (complete with awesome live music), crystal shops, dive bars, hot springs – literally all my favorite things.
On numerous occasions we were told how much we would love Pai and how we ought to make it there. It was actually the last stop on our Mae Hong Son bike trip. Having moved quickly through the first few legs of the trip, we arrived in Pai with five whole days to relax and take in the surroundings. Here’s a little rundown of our time there to help you plan your Pai adventure:
First enjoy a video from our Street, Beats & Eats series:
There seems to be no shortage of places to stay in Pai. Whether you’re looking for a cheap bed in a dorm room in the town or a luxury resort out in nature, you can find it here. As we were on an extended backpacking trip, we stuck to the budget side and booked a room at the Mountain View Backpacker Guesthouse.
Thanks to its location on a hill outside of town, this place is nice and quiet and has excellent views (hence the name). For about $15 per night we had our own little shack with a bathroom and a porch with a hammock. They have a little restaurant serving up simple dishes and drinks as well as a TV with plenty of movies to choose from on a rainy day.
The Town of Pai
The town itself is quite small but it has everything you need as a traveler. It has an abundance of restaurants and bars, travel agents to help you plan excursions to the surrounding areas and plenty of places to just chill. We really enjoyed hanging out at Madame Ju Cafe. They have a plethora of yummy cakes and coffees to put a pep in your step.
Every night the streets come alive with a market full of vendors selling everything from handicrafts to colorful clothing. There’s also plenty of delicious street food, including the best burger we had in Thailand and mango with sticky rice. Mmmm… mango with sticky rice.
For the night owls out there, you’ve got lots of options for partying it up in Pai. Whether you’re looking for a cheap Chang beer or a fancy cocktail, you’ll be able to wet your whistle rather easily here. Live music is around every corner, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking out different singers and bands each night. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself in town for the monthly Pittalew Art and Music Party just outside of town at an artist’s home. It was at this party – full of amazing art work, local vendors, fire dancers, and Japanese hippies rocking out – that I expressed my love for this magical town. This is the moment I decided I would move there in a heartbeat.
As a guest at Mountain View, you’re granted free access to the local swimming pool and gym – Fluid. It’s hot in Thailand, so sometimes you just need to spend an afternoon getting wet. Located at the edge of town, they serve food and drinks and it’s a pretty happening spot. You won’t find too many people working out, but you will find lots of travelers soaking up the sun while sipping fruity cocktails and sharing stories from the road.
If you’ve got a motorbike, head 12 km out of town to Mo Paeng waterfall. It’s popular with backpackers and locals alike. We got a kick out of watching the young Thai boys slide down the rocks on empty water bottles. Don’t be surprised if you see a lady waving you down just before you get to the water fall. She’ll ask you if you want to buy a special kind of cigarette…. wink wink. 😉
There’s a river that runs through Pai called the Pai River (obviously). For an especially relaxing afternoon, spend a few hours lazing in a tube down the river. It’s no Vang Vieng “In The Tubing,” but it’s a good time nonetheless. Many agents in the town are more than happy to rent you a tube and drive you out to the starting point. Load up the cooler with beers, kick back, and enjoy the Homer Simpson of water sports. The place where you get out also has a few bars where you can keep the buzz going before walking back to town.
Hike and Soak
Just outside of town you’ll find Pai Canyon and Hot Springs. The Canyon has many hiking trails and is a beautiful place to spend half a day walking off your indulgences and enjoying nature. Unfortunately when we were there they were shooting a movie, so we weren’t able to enjoy as much of the park as we would have liked. I guess we’ll just have to go back!
From there you can reward yourself with a soak in the Pai Hot Springs. It’s just up the road from the Canyon and the waters are said to have therapeutic benefits. After all the walking and revelries you deserve a good soak! Just make sure you get in before 6pm and you can stay as long as you like. After so many days sitting on the bike, it was so nice to just relax in some really hot water.
Check out the Chinese Village
Back in the middle of the 20th century, hill tribes from China’s southern Yunnan province crossed into Thailand escaping Communist rule. You can visit one of their villages just outside of Pai on an easy half-day excursion. It’s not too far from Mo Paeng waterfall so perhaps you might as well check it out once you’ve had enough water sliding.
It’s a little cheesy but it’s worth checking out. If you enjoy Chinese food, this is the best you’ll find in the area. After living in China for so long, we’ll take any chance we can to eat legit Chinese food. There’s also a viewpoint near the village where you can enjoy a pot of tea and take in the surroundings.
It wouldn’t be Thailand without some temples thrown in. Wat Klang is the temple in the town center right beside the night market. It houses many old, revered Buddhas. Right outside the town is Chedi Phra That Mae Yen which has a large, white Buddha you can climb the stairs to get an amazing view of the town.
You’re never a stones throw away from a temple in Thailand. Rent a scooter and ride around the surrounding areas and you’ll be sure to fine more temples to explore.
Check out Sasha’s video about “10 Things to Do in Pai:
Although we could have stayed much longer, our trip had to roll on. Another long day on the bike brought us back to Chiang Mai – thankfully in one piece. While many travelers attempt to do the MHS Loop in just four short days, we’re pretty thrilled with our decision to spend ten days tackling the 1,864 curves. We would recommend anyone to do the same if you can.
Have you been to Pai? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Leave a comment and let us know!