Pai, The Destination on Every Backpackers ListWe had heard great things about Pai from every traveller we encountered between Singapore and Chiang Mai. By the time we reached Northern Thailand the village had an almost magical aurora associated with it’s name. A small, sleepy village 3 hours north-west of Chiang Mai, Pai is a small town in a valley enclosed by Thai mountain ranges.
A well-established destination along the backpackers trail, the town has a very international feel. Aside from the Thai restaurants and shopfronts you could easily confuse this town to be in another country, anywhere in the world. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed this environment. Most travellers who make the effort to head to Pai do so to relax and enjoy the social scene for a few days. Saying this, there are a multitude of things to keep you entertained while you are there.
ACCOMMODATIONWe stayed at the Common Grounds Pai for the first 3 nights and Family Huts for the last 2 nights. I was a bit anxious about the Common Grounds, it had very mixed reviews, and some quite negative comments in regards to the private rooms. We found they were very basic but ok for a couple of nights. The main complaint would be the bathroom door is designed for short people, anyone over 1.4m tall will have to duck (which we both forgot more than once). This hostel is extremely social, which was great. We even met a few people with whom we had common friends. The downside to the more social environment is it can be quite noisy overnight.
Family Huts were just down the road and across the river. A cluster of bamboo huts (complete with a hammock on the balcony) amongst a meadow of tall flowers, it was a serene conclusion to our stay in picturesque Pai.
FOODThe food in Pai was pretty good. As there is a huge western influence you can get an awesome breakfast and decent coffee (always go for fresh coffee, otherwise it will be instant). We particularly liked Big’s Little Café, which is along the main drag and has fresh, home-made hash browns, a nice omelette and real cheese in the sandwiches!
Otherwise, we mainly ate street food. Every night there is a market with food, clothes and crafts. The food here is all really good, we enjoyed wandering along trying all the different bits and pieces. There is a black rice and sesame patty-like speciality which they then cook over hot coals, drizzle with something sweet (maybe condensed milk), roll up and cut into pieces. It was great to try, quite a unique flavour. It was nice to have something sweet too.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSWhile Pai is a quiet town, there is plenty to do to keep you entertained in the surrounding area. We spent a couple of days recharging and a couple of days checking out the region.
Temple on the HillWat Phra That Mae Yen, commonly known as Temple on the Hill, is exactly that; a beautiful Buddhist temple sitting atop a hill which overlooks the valley where Pai is situated.
It is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset. The stairs getting to the top are a bit of a killer, if you are going to walk the whole way there be prepared! We took a scooter to the top carpark, which left more than enough stairs for me to climb!
Pai CanyonThe Canyon in Pai is a geographical wonder. A series of paths paved after years of erosion has created the natural wonder that the Canyon is today. The paths have sheer drop offs on either side and rise high above the forest below. A hot, dusty trail winding through the treetops. This is a pretty awesome place to visit.
Mor Paeng WaterfallThis waterfall was the busier of the two we went to, for obvious reasons. A series of easily accessible pools linked together by waterfalls, it is yet another natural wonder. The smooth rock and moderate gradient forms a natural waterslide for those who are keen. After winding up through farmland, the waterfall comes as a great relief to the midday heat.
Pai Memorial BridgeDuring World War II, Japanese troops forced prisoners of war to build a bridge to facilitate the movement of heavy weaponry to Burma, where they were planning an attack on the British Colony that was established there. Today, only foot traffic is permitted to cross the bridge and it is now a main attraction in Pai.
Pam Bok WaterfallThis waterfall is much smaller than Mor Paeng, but also a bit more secluded and quieter. Be wary of the drop off into the pool at the base of the waterfall, the water is murky and the pool gets deep really suddenly.