I’ve been to many places where I had absolutely no plans to go : Odessa in Ukraine, Batumi in Georgia, Jaipur in India, Kerala still in India among others… Most of the time I went to those places following advice from fellow travelers. Pai in Thailand is one of those cities. I didn’t even know the existence of this city and when I was in Chiang Mai, I met several travelers who were telling me they had been to Pai, in the north of Thailand.
It first started in Myanmar. I was telling people that I wanted to go to the north of Thailand, and the name Pai kept coming “You’re going to Pai right?” In Chiang Mai, but also in Bangkok, I met travelers who went to Pai “It’s great, I really loved it! You should definitely go, you’re gonna have a good time!” “Go go go! It”s a little paradise in the north of Thailand! We were supposed to stay there for four days, we spent three weeks in Pai!”
Oh wow… Since I kept hearing about Pai, I was like “This town must be exceptional!” I was hearing this name several times a day for quite some time, and all those different people were unanimous : this is the place to be in the north of Thailand. Therefore, after Chiang Mai, I decided to go to Pai, in the north of Thailand, exactly 130 kilometers north of Chiang Mai.
And honestly, I’m not gonna lie, I was pleasantly surprised by this city! Yeah I said it, I loved it! Coming from a person who’s often skeptical when so many backpackers praise a city, I have to admit that I, also, really liked my stay in Pai.
This is not the city with tons of things to, but it’s the whole vibe of the city that I really liked : not too big, not too small. You eat food for a cheap price, people are relaxed, the area is beautiful and the weather is nice (I have to admit it’s a bit cold in the morning…). Mount your scooter or your bicycle, and go to explore the area.
Actually, there’s an unofficial reason explaining why so many backpackers love this city. Pai is also the city of mushrooms. A lot of travelers go to Pai just to get high, or to buy some of those things. Apparently, those are very high-quality mushrooms (I’m not sure that’s how you say it, I don’t know shit about mushrooms, but you get the point!). In my hostel, one guy was addicted. He was supposed to stay three days in town, but he hadn’t moved for the past two months… You could clearly see he was weird… Anyway, in Pai, it’s very easy to find what you’re looking for. Not only mushrooms, but also weed, ecstasy, MDMA…
I don’t take any of those things, but it didn’t prevent me from having a good time. I arrived in Pai late in the afternoon, so I decided to have a look the night market (you have many of those in Southeast Asia!). They sell cheap food (pad thai, pork kebab…) but not just that. They also sell cheap traditional clothes and, surprisingly, they’re good quality! However, something bothered me. Who was running the various stands at the night market? Mostly kids, 8 to 10 years old… Anyway, there are bars around, attracting all the travelers stopping by the city.
Daytime, to get around, forget about walking because the distances between the different places to see are too big. Rent a scooter or a bicycle, and you’ll be able to go everywhere. Yun Lai Viewpoint, located in the north of the city, allows you to have a view of the city. The road to get there goes through a Chinese village (Santichon), but more important the more is fuckin steep!!! Now you know! Even on a scooter, it’s not easy. You’ll have to pay 20 baht (0.50€) to get to the viewpoint.
I heard about a waterfall to see, Mae Yen Waterfall. That’s the first thing to do in the morning, because you’ll need at least two hours to go, and two more hours to come back (by foot). A road goes to the starting point of the hiking trail, then you have to walk! It’s a good way to stay active, ’cause this hike is not easy at all, and it’s easy to get lost! I strongly advise against hiking there alone, or with kids. And most importantly, do not go in the afternoon, because by the time you’ll get to the waterfall, it will be dark. Completely dark. You won’t see anything and it’s too dangerous. Anyway, a few locals at the starting point will prevent you from going further if you arrive late.
In the heights of the city, you can also see Wat Phra That Mae Yen. What is that? Yes you have it, a temple! As I said, it’s in the heights of the city, so you’ll have to climb 353 stairs to see the huge Buddha on top and, of course, you’ll have a view of the city.
In the south of the city, you’ll find the main attraction of the city, the Pai Canyon. Perfect place to admire a sunset. When I went there, the Pai Canyon was way too crowded for me, so I didn’t stay for a long time. Be very careful if you want to have a walk on the canyon, there’s no security and if you fall… Actually I don’t even want to think about it. Just make sure to have a travel insurance!
If you keep going south, you’ll see the memorial bridge. Actually, this bridge doesn’t look anything special. It was built by the Japanese during World War II, then burnt in 1944, and finally rebuilt after the war by the locals.
I wanted to see another bridge, the Buddha Bamboo Bridge, and also another waterfall, the Pam Bok Waterfall, but that day I didn’t have much time and I was leaving the day after… I can’t forget to mention the famous Tha Pai Hot Springs. Getting in there is expensive because that’s where all the tourists go. It’s 300 baht (7.50€). If you want to relax in a more authentic place, and not less good from what I heard, go to another hot spring, Sai Ngam in the north. It’s 20 baht (0.50€) to get in. You’re welcome 🙂
If you stay in Chiang Mai, I strongly suggest you to spend a few days in Pai. I may not have showed it well enough, but the city is really enjoyable, and the atmosphere is less “intense” than in Chiang Mai. A must see in the north of Thailand!
Info to visit Pai
- Wanna go to Thailand? Check the visa policy here. Most Western countries can stay up to 30 days without a visa.
- Do not leave home without a travel insurance! Thefts and accidents are frequent in Thailand!
- There are many pickpockets in Thailand, think about getting a money belt!
- There are many places to stay in Pai. Check Booking or Agoda. You can also compare the hotel rates on HotelsCombined.
- I paid 160 baht (4 euros) my 4-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Pai. Be prepared, the ride will hardly be restful, cause the road is very bumpy! You’ll feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster! Now you know 🙂
- I said it earlier, to get around, you’ll have to rent a scooter or a bicycle. Renting a scooter is not expensive : 200 baht per day (5 euros). The basic bicycles can be rent for 50 baht (1.25€) per day but don’t take ’em! You won’t go far, especially with all the slopes there. Get the better ones, it’s 120 baht (3 euros) per day. Those ones are efficient. Tested and approved!
- Regarding the hike to Mae Yen Waterfall, take running shoes or hiking shoes. You’ll cross a river many times! Either you bring flip flops with you (but it’s hard to hike with flip flops…), or you take your shoes off everytime you cross the river (I’m telling you, you’re gonna waste a lot of time), or fuck it, you cross the river with your shoes!
- There are many things to do in Thailand, and no typical itinerary. Some people head to the north, others go to the islands in the south… To get an idea of what to do, a Thailand travel guide will help you.
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