Sunlight creeps through the cracks of your bamboo hut.
Beyond your shutters diligent workers harvest their crop in expansive rice fields.
The town sleeps as you walk the path along the river into the village.
A secret courtyard welcomes you with organic nourishment and an enveloping embrace.
Morning’s chill becomes afternoon’s heat
spilling Rastafarians, drummers, jewelers, and dancers into the dusty streets.
Motorbikes emerge from alleys throughout town.
You decide to hop on one.
Below a spectacle of rolling hills flowering trees form arbors
providing shelter from the sun.
Beyond the cafes, the guesthouses, and the shops
are hot springs for soaking your weary traveler’s bones.
For a thrill you head to the sandstone canyon
gravel slips below your bare feet
your balance is tested.
The waterfalls nearby offer a cool reprieve, but be careful on the rocks, jump if you feel the need.
Rubber tubes will send you on an adventure down the river
and run chills down your spine when the sun begins to lower.
The sun paints the sky in hues of lavender and pink
people stop to gaze
the hums of motorbikes cease.
In town the streets come to life once again
lined with vendors selling more than your desires can comprehend.
Street sushi mingles
with Indian and Thai
smoothies, sweets, and dumplings
fried insects for you to try.
The hums of electro beats beckon you to imbibe beside the river
before lazing around bonfires surrounded by reggae until an early hour.
With crafts, street food, nature, and chill vibes
you may wonder in a place like Thailand
is Pai too perfect to survive?
For now I can say is that life does remain
and what a life it is
may Pai forever stay the same.
How to Get to Pai
3 hours, 170 baht ($5)
Tour companies and guesthouses all over Chiang Mai arrange minivan service between Chiang Mai and Pai. The trip takes you through beautiful, although nauseating, mountainside. If you’re an experienced driver riding the stretch on a motorbike is said to be amazing.
What to Do in Pai
Explore the countryside on a bike
Rentals available on Walking Street, $5 for scooter, $2 for bicycle
For effortless bliss hop on a motorbike and let the wind blow through your hair as you ride through rolling hills and expansive countryside. If you want a workout or are a scooter wuss like myself it’s possible to take mountain bikes as well. Most of the nature sites in Pai need to be reached by bike.
Tube down the river
$7 for a half day tour
Guesthouses around town organize tubing trips down the river.
Lounge in the hot springs
Free to $7
A variety of hot springs site are scattered around the outskirts of Pai. The most expensive and touristy one costs about 200 baht ($7). The warmth and minerals feel amazing on your muscles.
Walk the trails of the canyon
The Pai Canyon has beautiful views and challenging paths. It’s a lovely place to watch the sunset.
Swim at the waterfall
Be careful not to wreck yourself jumping from the rocks.
Visit the Buddha overlooking the town
A steep but satisfying walk from town brings you to a nice temple with a view of the town. Climb further up and you will reach the large white Buddha nestled in the hills. The site is humbling.
Get into the culture
Pai was once home to fascinating indigenous tribes who operated independently of the rest of the country. Unfortunately series of wars over territory drove the tribes out into the countryside. Fortunately Pai today has its own distinct culture from the artists, hippies, and musicians who have moved here. Local craft shops, chai cafes, and music venues create an interesting vibe that is worth getting into.
One of the glorious things about Pai is that you can have an amazing day sitting around doing nothing. Enjoy the gorgeous surroundings and relax.
What Not to Do in Pai
There are various elephant camps just outside of town. Please don’t go there. These elephants look poorly taken care of and many are wrapped in chains and rode through the streets. Some tourists I met bought bananas to feed the elephants because they felt bad for them. Visiting these camps in any capacity supports the industry that exploits elephants. Don’t do it.
Pai is notorious for its police corruption. It’s not uncommon for police to randomly drug test people and raid bars. If you decide to take illegal substances be extremely cautious about who you buy from and where you choose to take them… but you would do that anywhere…right?
Where to Sleep in Pai
$7 for a dorm bed
Eco huts in expansive rice fields house backpackers looking for inexpensive dorm accommodations. You can’t beat the view, but be aware that it’s a bit of a jaunt outside of town.
$7 to $20 for a bungalow depending on the season
These huts are an incredible value for money. The communal space and pool feels like a resort, the showers are hot with good water pressure, and the owners are very kind. Most of the people staying here were long term tourists or returning visitors.
$100 – $150 during the high season
For a luxurious splurge stay at Pai Island. It has a tranquil setting along the river with decadent rooms and facilities. It’s the perfect place to chill in a beautiful setting.
Note: While popular I do not recommend staying at Darling View Guesthouse unless you’re desperate for a bed. We had a crazy encounter with the owner who verbally attacked us for changing our recommendation, the started beating the housekeeper. This was after they accidentally locked us in our room.
Where to Eat in Pai
$2-$5 for coffee, juice, smoothies, breakfast and lunch
They had me at “om”. I ate at this café all five days that I was in Pai and I wasn’t alone. The place has a serious cult following. With healthy, organic, delicious meals for around 70 baht ($2.50) it’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is lovely tucked away in a courtyard with a garden, fountain, and lots of comfortable seating. I started every day with one of their healthy juices, usually beet, carrot, ginger, apple. I wish I could have tried everything on their menu, but some of the standouts included the fruit with homemade yogurt and granola with pumpkin and black sesame seeds, the grilled eggplant in turmeric coconut curry with salad and brown rice, and the healthy raw carrot cake.
$2-$5 for coffee, juice, smoothies, breakfast and lunch
I did not discover this place until the last day, ahem I was too busy eating at Om, but I’m so glad I did. For breakfast they have perfect poached eggs with hollandaise and fluffy omelets and all different salads, sandwiches, and wraps for lunch. The interior reminded me of somewhere I would have brunch at in Seattle.
Because of its distance outside of town I never made it to Silhouette, but I really wish I had. I heard it was the best food in Pai. If you have a scooter and don’t mind spending a bit more head over to Silhouette. Let me know how the food is and snap me some pictures of its gorgeous interior.
Walking Street Night Market
$.50 – $1.50
Pai’s street food scene is probably the best I have experienced anywhere in the world. Hundreds of vendors line Walking Street at night selling every kind of cuisine you could imagine, for cheap. Imagine a full on food festival every night of the week. We stuffed ourselves beyond belief every night, so it was a bit of a blessing and a curse. My favorite delicacies included spring rolls steamed in a bamboo basket, Indian samosas, grilled corn, mango sticky rice, peanut dumplings with garlic sauce, and phad thai wrapped in an omelet. All day and night a woman on Walking Street sells the best green papaya salad I have had anywhere in Thailand for $1. She makes the dressing in a mortar and pestle and adds sliced cucumber and green Thai eggplant. It makes an amazing and cheap snack or lunch.
Where to Party in Pai
This may be one of my favorite bars I’ve ever been to. It lies on the other side of the river from town which means entry requires walking across a rickety bamboo bridge. Bonfires blaze along the river and low tables with grass mats and pillows invite patrons to lounge. DJs spin electro and the staff is a range of locals and expats who are all very friendly. If you stop in, tell Electro Schnitzel (yes, that is his name) I said hello.
Chill vibes and live music can be found here. It’s a great place to get your night started, meet other travelers, and snack on some tapas.
Live music, reggae, and the occasional open jam.
When Sunset Bar shuts down, the masses head to Don’t Cry for reggae and mingling until dawn.