Pai is a tiny little town about 4 hours North of Chiang Mai and near the Burmese border. It’s a total hippyville. There’s nothing much to actually do in Pai, and I’ve heard the phrase ‘Pai is more of a state of mind’ bandied around a few times. It’s a very popular destination for both foreign and Thai tourists, and the town is full of ‘Pai in Love’ merchandise (a popular Thai love film.) Because of that, it has a an absurdly large selection of places to eat and stay for such a small place.
I think Pai is a marmite place. Half of the people who I’d spoken to who’d been there hated it, the other half acted as if they’d stumbled across the Garden of Eden. At my hostel I got talking to several people who’d been in Pai for the best part of a year! For me, I do think that if you’re not a hardcore, dreadlocked, aladdin pant wearing hippy you can feel a little judged by the more bohemian elements of the town, but that said, I did have a fun time.
1) Sleep in a rice paddy
I stayed at Spicy Pai backpackers hostel, which is a ten minute walk from the town centre.
It’s possibly the most amazing hostel set-up I’ve ever come across. It’s set in a working rice paddy, with incredible views of the mountains (when they’re not obscured by clouds like in this picture – sorry guys)
There’s a main communal hall, full of hammocks, (pictured) frequent BBQs and it has a really sociable atmosphere.
However, the showers were the stuff of nightmares. Wading through a muddy rice paddy to get to the shower, then realising you’re sharing it with 3 large banana spiders isn’t the best start to a morning.
2) Rent a motobike and explore the surrounding countryside
Pai has no major sights in the town itself, but the surrounding countryside is incredible.
I want to make clear that motorbiking isn’t the biggest of cleverest idea. Especially when you’re me, someone who hasn’t even passed a driving test, and hasn’t ridden a bicycle in ten years, nevermind so much as sat on a motorbike. But you need a bike to explore Pai, so I put aside my worries and decided to rent one out.
Riding a motorbike couldn’t be easier. They’re automatic, and although it takes a while to get to grips with turning and slowing down, it’s pretty simple. The roads are quiet, even in the town itself, and are also in very good condition (though in the more rural areas they can be very steep and a bit less developed.)
The shops which hire them out are a tad indifferent towards your ability, the only questions I was asked were ‘what’s your name?’ and ‘have you got the money now?’. I’m pretty sure a baby chimpanzee would’ve been approved.
I was then given a motorbike – and told to go. No lessons. No explanation. Nothing. I’m pretty amazed I didn’t die.
Make sure you hire a helmet – I saw lots of people zooming around without one on, and I also saw a few nasty incidents where people had come off. It only costs an extra 50 baht, do it.
Renting a bike costs about 100 baht for one day. You’ll need to fill up the tank, which can be done at little petrol pumps which line the road every few miles, but petrol is cheap, and it’s pretty easy to do.
I did manage to crash my bike once (oops) and completely bent the front basket. Fortunately the office didn’t notice, or I would’ve been slapped with a 1000 baht fine.
It’s also fun, besides doing the main loop of sights (Mor Paeng Waterfall, the Grand Canyon and the Hot Springs – the latter of which I didn’t go to) to just bike around. If you’ve never ridden before try to go early in the day so you don’t end up riding in the dark. On one aimless mission I stumbled across a bunch of elephants just chilling at the side of the road.
3) Eat at the Witching Well
This one doesn’t need much of an explanation.
The staff are incredibly sweet, the food is beautiful – and cheap – and the interior is really unusual.
I ate here every day once I’d discovered it.
4) Go to the Canyon
About twenty minutes on a motorbike away from town is the Canyon.
There are outstanding views of the mountains, lots of beautiful plants and trees, and if it’s a sunny day, it’s a great place to just sit and watch the world go by.
If you’re afraid of heights it might be a bit of a bad idea. There’s a long meandering dirt bridge which you can walk along which definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.
5) Visit the waterfalls
Another suggesting which requires a motorbike. About 30 minutes away from the town are a bunch of stunning waterfalls, great for a swim, or just to look at.
The most popular waterfall is Mor Paeng Waterfall, annoyingly my camera died just after I’d arrived, so I only have one fairly unimpressive picture, but it’s definitely worth a stop off. You have to pass through several little hamlets and villages to reach it, which is extremely interesting in itself.