There is always a whisper travelling around South East Asia, a whisper about a small mountain town that seems to never go away. A whisper about Pai, the small mountain village located in the North of Thailand. A place that draws backpackers and travelers alike, to spend a few days, or so they think. It’s one of those places where you book a couple of nights and end up staying weeks, in some cases, months or years.
It was those exact whispers that drew me in and had already engraved the intention of me staying there for a few weeks. How could you not? The thought of a small slow-paced village of only a few thousand-people nestled in the middle of lush jungle and mountains. Not to mention the localized Rastafarian like culture, the promise of crazy night life (should you choose to partake) and the best part… the food.
After travelling for the majority of a few months through the craziness that is South East Asia I was looking for somewhere to park up for a couple of weeks and chill. Somewhere to relax and reset myself. It’s funny when you make mention of your tiredness to people that have not traveled, they look at you with a confused face. They say (and defiantly think) what? You are on ‘holiday’ what do you mean you need a holiday from your holiday? They don’t get it as much as a ‘traveler’ would I guess.
It can get tiring, fast paced travel through certain parts of the world can take its toll. Catching buses, trains, all through the day and night. Arriving at a new destination every couple of days. Barely getting enough to put your bags in your room before you are out the door exploring the local attractions. Only to get back to find yourself a few too many beers deep with some new friends you made from different corners of the globe.
Waking up, knowing you have had a few only to start the day’s adventures again, not sure whether you are tired, hungover, sick, or just slightly depleted from all the fun you have been having. Do this for a month and you will know the feeling. Sometimes you just need to slow down and Pai was my place to do exactly that.
Arriving from Chiang Mai after a 3-hour bus ride through one of the windiest roads I have been on in a long time. It winds its way up through the mountains through 700 plus bends and corners. If you are prone to motion sickness this is something you need to be aware of. I usually do not get motion sickness but even on this road, my stomach felt a bit uneasy. Best thing to do is not to eat so much before getting on the mini bus.
Accommodation in Pai
There are hundreds of various places you can choose to stay in Pai, all very dependent on your preference. There a few hostels around, one that I stayed at which I would highly recommend would be Common Grounds. With its location right in the center of the village, it also provides killer vibes and decent dorm rooms. If you are after a good balance of price, location, vibes and comfort book in at Common Grounds now.
As I mentioned above I stayed in Pai for nearly a month so I moved around every 4-5 days just to keep myself fresh. With so many guest houses around, you can pick up a private room and ensuite for as cheap as 200 baht. But there was one place I found that I would go back to every time I head to Pai. Pai Chan is the place that I recommend to everyone who asks me where to stay.
Located only 5 mins walk from town is Pai Chan a little location with 10 or so private bungalows. There’s a pool and the communal area is located right next to local rice paddies. They also have the best food and vibes if you just want to hang out. 100% would recommend.
Top 5 Things to do in Pai
Firstly, all of the activities in Pai will require you to hire a scooter or motorbike. You may also get a taxi or tuk tuk of sorts but getting from place to place will end up costing you a lot of money. Hiring a scooter is extremely cheap only costing around 100 – 200 baht depending on the season you visit. Pai is the perfect place to ride if you are not so confident as well. With not so much traffic and empty roads making it easy to get around.
Pai Canyon is located about 10 mins south of the Pai township itself. It consists of a maze of paths that wind around the jungle. Thin peaks rise out of the ground where you can walk along with sheer vertical drops either side. It can be dangerous but it is very unlikely that you would fall. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
The Pai Land split is a unique attraction and is something worth checking out if you have a spare 15 mins. It also helps that it’s on the way to one of the waterfalls mentioned below. Basically, it is where an earthquake occurred in 2011, on one particular farmer’s land. The earthquake opened up the ground deeming it unfarmable. He then turned it into a local attraction which is free to access. He also offers free food and drinks once you have finished for a donation of your choice.
Lod cave is a bit off the beaten track taking a couple of hours to get there just by scooter. The drive to get there, itself, is well worth it. Winding your way up one of the mountains to the most incredible view before dropping down the other side. Going through lush jungle and open rice paddies. I swear going for rides like this is one of my favourite things to do in Asia. Once you reach the destination of Lod caves you need to get a guide. You are required to go in groups of three per guide. They will get a lantern, and guide you around the dark cave for about half an hour. Also included is a small bamboo raft ride through the center of the cave.
There are 3 main waterfalls in the Pai area. One of them is extremely difficult to get to and takes about 5 hours walking round trip through dense jungle. That waterfall is definitely for people with a sense of adventure and experience in hiking. Supplies like food and water are necessary if you choose to undertake this trip.
The next two are extremely easy to get to by scooter and a small 2 min walk. One of them is located as mentioned above 5 mins past the land split. The other is in the mountains by the Chinese village. Both are well worth doing and have the possibility to go swimming.
This for me is by far the best part about Pai… the night market that happens every night on the main street. It cannot be missed. Here you can find all the cliche knick-knacks that you can get in Asia, clothes and of course the food.
The food is unlike any other market in Asia. It has a massive variety from all over the world including multiple vegetarian options. You can get Indian, Italian, classic Thai and everything in between. For dessert, you can get crepes, ice-cream and waffle cones. If you can think about it you can find it. Although there are multiple places you can sit down and eat, save your hunger for the walking street.
Once you spend a few days in Pai it doesn’t take long to work out why it draws thousands of backpackers from all over the world and retains a big percentage of theses backpackers for a prolonged period. It has everything you want as a traveler.
Although the only downfall and it’s not for everyone, is the pace, it’s a very slow-paced environment. For some people, this a dream and for others who are used to a faster-paced lifestyle can find it too slow. Put this aside, because this only applies if you are intending to stay for a long time. If you are ever in the North of Thailand you would be crazy not to put Pai on the list. I know I will be back for sure.