If you stay in Chiang Mai a trip to Pai is pretty much mandatory, so one Friday evening we hired scooters from Chiang Mai for USD7 a day to ride up to Pai in the morning. It was beautiful ride up through the mountains and much chillier than in the city, so wear pants and a jacket.
Take care while riding as the road can be slippery in areas – even when the weather is good. Cars or even worse – mini vans will regularly cut corners and cross lanes, which can be hazardous to scooters! Our trip took just over 4 hours with several stops along the way to stretch the legs, grab some food and coffee.
Pai has deep roots in hippy culture, art and music. Life in Pai feels slow and closer to nature than in surrounding towns.
For a place to sleep, there are plenty of hostels and guest houses – you can find a shared dorm as cheap as USD4 per night. If you want to stay at a fancy lodge there are a number of boutique five star resorts available.
We stayed at Pai Highlands – a guest house less than a five minute scooter ride from the walking street. USD9 per night with a fan in the room, from November to March you don’t need A/C as the nights are cooler with temperatures from 12deg to 25deg, we even asked for a second fan which we did not end up using.
Here are 3 of the best things to do in Pai
1 – Pai Walking Street
Everyday at 6pm – late, Runsiyanon Road turns into Pai’s famous walking street. This night market has some of the most unique merchandise you will see in Thailand. You can find everything from Pai souvenir t shirts to exotic tea blends and pirate dog costumes – all at good prices, just remember to bargain.
You will also find an array of bamboo tattoo shops offering traditional Buddist prayer tattoos. Thai massage and beauty treatment shops offering foot scrubs, manicures and of course massages.
Tiny live music bars which seat less than a dozen people to large bars with free barbeques and pool tables playing Hip Hop, Reggae and dance music all bring the walking street to live on night fall.
Pai is famous for it’s street food culture and for good reason. So many surprising offerings which we’d never expect to find in Thailand, we’re talking gourmet mushroom and avocado burgers, first class home made lasagna, vegan friendly winter salads
We aren’t sure if it’s due to the large population of foreigners who came to visit Pai and just never left or just a collection of enterprising Thai’s who decided to cater to all the western tourists. We’re guessing it’s a combination of both – with a number of foreign-local mom and pop teams utilizing grandmas traditional recipe straight from the homeland.
Quite possibly the best beef lasagna to be had in Thailand can be found in the walking street in front of the temple, go see Gigi she is their from 6pm till 11:30, the lasagna is so delicious our friend Kim from rejsehjerte (a self declared lasagna connoisseur) ate it 3 days in row – you will not be disappointed.
We know you didn’t come all the way to Thailand to eat winter salads and hamburgers. Fortunately there is a huge variety of Asian and local fare as well. Thai curries, fried noodles – yes Pad Thai included, goyzas and the token stall selling deep fried creepy crawlies.
2 – Pam Bok Waterfall
Pai has 2 very popular waterfalls – Pam Bok and Mor Paeng, we only made it to Pam Bok but we heard that while Mor Paeng is easier to get to, it tends to be a lot busier. A short 15 minute scooter ride out of town will take you to the Pam Bok waterfall scooter park. From there it’s less than a 5 minute walk including a quick climb over a rickety old bridge.
While the water certainty isn’t turquoise blue it’s safe to swim in and the location makes for some great photo opportunities. If you’re game, set your camera to action sequence, hand it over to your designated photographer – climb up on the rocks and throw yourself into the pool below, then say hello to your new Facebook profile picture!
Watch those waterfall rocks as they are as slippery as they look
3 – Land Crack
Funny name, but a great place to spend a couple of hours after a good splash at Pam Bok. Land Crack is owned by a Thai local and his wife, conveniently located along the same track as the waterfall. As the story goes, one day in 2008 a giant crack appeared in the couples land, making it unstable and difficult to farm. After the natural disaster they decided to open up their farm to visitors on their way back from the waterfall, serving them fresh food and refreshments.
From it’s humble beginnings Land Crack has steadily become famous and is now one of the top destinations in Pai. Their popularity is equally to do with the incredible hospitality of the owners as it is their fantastic food.
Everything on offer was organically grown on their farm – from the tree ripened bananas to the sweet potato and papaya. What we found most delightful was their fresh Roselle juice and fruit wine.
Sample the great variety of food and drink, go for a short walk up to check out the Land Crack then take a nap in one of the bamboo hammocks, if you can find a spot!
Land Crack operates on a donation box policy, a pay what you want system. Judging by the brand new Toyota Hilux parked in the driveway, it seems to be working pretty well for them!
There are plenty of things to do in Pai, if you want to try out your fishing skills don’t forget to check out the Piranha fishing park. If you are after a good look out point then check out the White Buddha and the Pai Canyon. We had originally planed to stay there for 2 nights, but couldn’t get enough of this place and ended up staying for another night! So give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of Pai
Pai is a wonderful destination, which is particularly accessible if you are going to be based in Chiang Mai. Negotiate the 762 curves through the rolling mountain ranges on your trusty Honda rental scooter. Then when you arrive enjoy the international street food, the charming live music bars and closeness to nature.
After talking with a handful of foreigner-turned-locals who have lived in Pai for decades, I can only imagine what life in Pai would have been like in the hay days of the 90’s. There is definitely still more than a pinch of magic left in Pai – even if it’s swirling around the bottom of your glass of Thai whiskey
So forget the hustle and bustle of the big Thailand cities for awhile and find your own unique reason to love Pai.