A Breath of Fresh Air!
After the bright lights of Phuket, the blasting music of Phi Phi, and the beeping horns of Bangkok we wound our way around the Mae Hong Son hills completely oblivious of the pure beauty we were about to witness. With Theo in front and Grace hanging on the back, we drove 137 km from Chiang Mai to the refreshing paradise nestled in the hills; this place is Pai.
Due to its sheer beauty and relaxed atmosphere, the Chinese whispers have spread amongst backpackers seeking the tranquility and serenity amongst rolling hills and waterfalls that Bangkok, Changmai and the islands of drunk partygoers fail to fill.
Pai is the new and upcoming destination on the backpacking and tourist trail of Thailand. Once a small market village, the locals have embraced the economic benefit the tourist bring and because of its ‘hippie’ feel, they are aware that the chaos and partying has been left in the dust of the motorbikes and minivans that have winded down the hill and arrived in Pai.
How to get to Pai
Most people choose to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai. This is about 137km. You have a few options here. We’re going to give you the budget options (there are flights from Chiang Mai to Pai for a bank breaking amount).
Basically, you can take a minivan, booked through a number of travel offices around town, or you can rent a motorcycle and take on the road yourself. Either way, it’s going to be an adventure! Minivans will take approximately three hours from Chiang Mai to Pai but people have been warned of the perils of taking this option with stories echoed of travelers sickness, erratic and dangerous drivers – buyer beware! Book at your own risk.
Or you could hire a scooter and ride the road yourself. This is the way we chose and we highly recommend it. It’s approximately the same price but you are in control. You are not confined to a hot and windy minivan and you can stop when you need the bathroom, take photos or stretch the legs. Even if you’re not the most confident scooter driver you can take it at your own pace.
Aya services on Rodfai rd, close to the train station rent motorbikes out daily to people travelling from Chiang Mai to Pai (and return). They even offer a free luggage service to Pai and you can pick it up from their office there. (Or, if you already have a motorbike they will take your luggage to Pai for 100 Baht.) They do offer insurance also, which covers you if you damage the bike, or if it is stolen. You can’t prebook the motorbikes so you should make sure you are at the office when it opens at 7am in order to secure one. It is easy to keep your scooter for the rest of your trip in Pai also, just let them know you’re keeping it when you pick up your gear and keep your receipt. You’ll pay up at the end of your trip. This option was a great way to see the sights on the way! We stopped at some lookouts and there are plenty of lovely cafes to stop off at for coffee on the way – this is a must for Grace!
Our top activities to do in Pai
Not the Grand Canyon, but nevertheless this impressive landform is, in our opinions, one of the best attractions in Pai! Approximately 8km from Pai center it is easily accessible by bike, scooter or taxi. Make sure you spend some time here, scaling the narrow, dusty paths. We noticed many people were walking the pave way up to the lookout and stopping there. A beautiful view, but you definitely don’t get to experience the real essence of the place! Make sure you wear your sport shoes as it can get pretty dusty climbing the rocks. Not for the fainthearted, these narrow ridges have up to 30 meter drops. Don’t stand too close!
Only a short ten minute scooter ride from the center of Pai or about thirty minute walk, this white Buddha temple is spectacular. The perfect spot to watch the sunset over the Pai, with a full view of the town. You can see all the pictures you like, but once you are there and the God towers over you do you really get a feel of its presence and size.
Yun Lai Viewpoint
This early morning wake up is so worth this stunning sunrise. Make sure you get there early, as it can get busy with Asian tourists. There is a small patch of grass to the left of the raised viewing area that is perfect for cuddling up in a blanket with a cup of hot tea away from the gaggle of Chinese. There is a small entrance fee of 20 Baht. It is about ten minute drive from town, so either get a taxi or scooter. Walking could be slightly more difficult with a steep hill to climb up. There have been reviews on TripAdvisor that say it is too difficult for a scooter to travel there. We did it with two people riding and it’s absolutely fine! It does get quite steep at one stage, but easily maneuvered on your scooter. No problems. Make sure to bring your camera!
Ride (or feed) the elephants
There are a quite few Elephant farms in Pai. They are fairly close together and can be found on any local Pai map. With a range of prices and options within the different companies, it’s important to check TripAdvisor to help you decide which one you would like to go with. It is free to feed the elephants (with a small cost of purchasing the bananas). We chose to visit and feed the elephants, rather than ride them, as we feel quite strongly about the well beings of these magical creatures!
Stroll the Walking Market
This is on every night of the week. The Famous walking street is closed off to vehicles and becomes a bustling walking market. There is a range of excellent souvenirs, crafts, clothing and delicious street food as well as some very nice restaurants and bars. Take a moment to stop and take in the atmosphere of this market, you’ll notice a big difference with Pai’s night market in comparison to the rest of Thailand. Relaxed and friendly, you won’t have any of Thailand’s classic ‘you buy from me!’ at Pai’s markets! Be sure to try the amazing tea’s served in bamboo shoots. You can keep these and have them refilled for 10 baht. We recommend passing on the sugar syrup they add on at the end for a more natural flavoured tea.
Hang out at the local swimming pool: Missing the beach? Fluid swimming pool is a well-known backpacker hangout. The friendly staff, bring your food and drinks out to you as you laze in the sun (mats are provided) and cool off in the pool. A perfect place to chill for the day. Cost is 60 Baht per person. There’s even a little gym with a few weights and old equipment – it is Pai after all!
Where to stay in Pai
There are a many options for accommodation in Pai. Here’s a few of our favorites that we would highly recommend! Pai is the one place where we chose to stay a little out of town, in order to really feel Pai’s country vibe. Some of these options are up to 5km out of Pai town, if you hire a motorbike it makes your stay just a little bit more worth it! Prices are based on two guests, one room.
Nusha Homestay: 260 THB/ 11NZD
These rustic bungalows are a perfect nature ‘glamping’ experience where you can wake up to a beautiful mountain view. Breakfast is included in the price. You will be greeted by the very kind owner who enjoys teaching you everything you need to know about Pai. Price is for a double bungalow and shared bathroom. Book Nusha homestay through Airbnb or Booking.com.
Bannamhoo Bungalows: 500THB/21NZD
We couldn’t rate these lovely little bungalows any higher! We ended up staying longer than originally planned in a gorgeous little bungalow set in a flourishing garden, surrounded by small ponds, hammocks and small nooks to cuddle up with a book and a wine. A real home away from home. You can book Bannamhoo Bungalows through Airbnb or booking.com.
Reverie Sam Resort: 2500THB/105NZD
If you’re looking for a little more luxury, Reverie Sam Resort is a perfect choice! This place offers twenty gorgeous guest rooms with a real character. Great value for the price. This place was awarded the 2016 travelers choice. It has two swimming pools and the food is prepared to a very high standard. Reverie Sam Resort can be booked through TripAdvisor or booking.com.
Pai Island Resort: 7900THB/330NZD
Feel like splashing out? Pai Island Resort offers 5-star boutique villas, only 5 minutes from the Pai airport. This resort offers a shuttle service from the airport, bus station and the walking street for free. Breakfast is served every morning by the river. This resort is known for its romantic setting, and honeymoon suites! Book through TripAdvisor or booking.com.
Famous for its trekking, whitebudda, elephant camps, waterfalls and much more, Pai is fast becoming the perfect getaway for tourists to experience something different in Thailand.
Trade in the buckets, chaos, and cutthroat nature of bigger cities for a slice of heaven. We don’t know how long before Pai is overrun by the tourism industry, so get there now while the feeling is just right!