Pai: Northern Thailand
January 1, 1970
by Brittney St.Amant
So you have decided to do a Southeast Asian adventure, great! There are so many options it can be hard to downsize the limitless stream of possibilities on what to do. As a fellow backpacker, I highly recommend making Northern Thailand a priority addition to your journey.
You may want to tack on some extra travel days through this magnificent country. I laugh now because when I first landed in Thailand, I planned to stay for under two weeks – which ended up turning into a visa extension and two months later! Trust me, you will know what I mean when you get there!
As you will hear, Thailand has the reputation of ‘The Land of Smiles’ and with good reason! Everyone in this country seems to be extremely warm and welcoming. There is such an astounding sense of community that can’t easily be forgotten. Although, over the years, Thailand has become an extremely popular destination that may dilute the true Thai experiences you may be hoping for. This is especially true for the south, as many tourists have it on their bucket list to lounge around the southern islands. Although beautiful, it can be hard if you are not prepared to be around enormous amounts of tourist crowds. Unlike the south, northern Thailand still has the charm of the traditional culture and customs. The further north you get, the fewer tourists you will come across. Travelling through the north can be extremely pleasing and well worth the while.
There is an incredible amount of things to do and places to see to keep you busy continuously! To narrow down the options a bit further, in this article I will only be writing on Pai, one of my favorite places in all of Southeast Asia! So, keep scrolling for a quick guide on where to go and what to do around this quaint town in the mountainous region of northern Thailand.
The Town of Pai
Pai is an adorable town in the Mae Hong Soon province. This slow-paced town is the perfect spot to sit back, relax, and catch your breath. The best way to get to Pai from Chiang Mai is by minibus. The drive takes about 3 to 4 hours, with a quick stop halfway through – but beware of the twists and turns on the way (762 to be exact) that may get quite sickening! Just plan ahead of time with motion sickness tablets and some water. This may sound discouraging, but I promise it is worth it once you get there! I would recommend staying a minimum of two nights if rushed, but try to stay longer if possible. With countless new vegan restaurants and organic coffee shops, you are bound to be satisfied. There are plenty of places to stay on any budget, from secluded villas to busy backpacker hostels. If you are a budget backpacker, I would recommend staying at Purple Monkey Backpackers or Baan Aomsin Resort – both inexpensive and a load of fun! (You can find these places & more at https://www.hostelworld.com/) Both of these places are also extremely close to ‘Walking Street’ which is the main street that you will be heading to for all necessities. When you get to town, rent a motor scooter and get out and explore the areas around Pai! If unsure, look at the list below, pick a place, and go!
What to Do:
Pam Bok Waterfall
You will find the Pam Bok Waterfall on the same road that leads to the Pai Canyon, about a half an hour drive by motor scooter. Although there are quite a few options of different waterfalls to check out, I would suggest the Pam Bok because it is less known (less touristy) and also super interesting with an area to climb along the rocks and jump into the water-filled sinkhole.
Driving down the road a bit past the Pam Bok Waterfall heading towards to Pai viewpoint, you will find the bamboo bridge. As this is not meant to be a tourist attraction, you will not be coming across countless others doing the same thing. In Thai, the bride is called ‘Kho-Ku-So’ which translates to the bridge of merit. This long bridge, built solely of bamboo, stretches through beautiful agricultural land and rice terraces with backdrop views of the mountains. It is quite a site and will take about an hour to walk along, with a stop along the way to feed the fish in the man-made pond.
Tham Lod Cave
Tham Lod Cave is considered to be one of Thailand’s most impressive caves. The size, the structure, and the details to the cave are absolutely phenomenal. Although you will see tour packages that can take you, I would suggest renting your own motor scooter and heading there on your own. The drive is very scenic, the fresh air is very refreshing, and there are plenty of spots to stop to soak in the northern views. After about 1.5 to 2 hours on the scooter, you will get to the entrance of the park.
Pai Canyon is a beautiful place to go hiking the trails through the valley and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset at the end of the day. As it is quite famous for the picturesque sunsets that fall behind a mountainous horizon, you should prepare to get there a bit early as crowds of people set up each evening in a mesmerized awe.
Pai Walking Street (Night Market)
Pai Walking Street is the main street in the town. Starting at about 7 pm and like any night market, Pai Walking Street has many similarities of foods and other goods for sale. Night markets are a great place to taste a variety of tasty local dishes and stalk up on a few souvenirs. With many other travelers and expats out, it is also a great place to have a drink and make some new friends! I would definitely recommend getting some Mango Sticky Rice and trying some of the tastiest traditional Coconut Ice Cream in all of Thailand!