Going to Pai was a last minute decision. Popular with young backpackers and hippies, it didn’t sound like my sort of town at all.
Everyone that I had met seemed to rave about Pai though, a number of them even saying it was the best place they visited in all of Northern Thailand. I knew I would probably regret it if I didn’t at least give it a short visit, so I cut Chiang Mai short and headed further into the mountains instead.
The original plan was to spend two nights there, before doing an overnight trek in the jungle. A last minute cancellation of my trek (insufficient demand!) meant that I ended up spending four nights in Pai instead! If you’ve been to Pai, you’ll know that there really isn’t much else to do there, especially in the dry season when river water levels are low (no rafting) and waterfalls are unspectacular.
As a traveller who likes to be constantly on the go, crossing things off my To Do list, I was annoyed to say the least. However, instead of rushing back to Chiang Mai, I decided to take this opportunity to just chill and take some time out from my “target-based” travelling and just enjoy my calm, serene surroundings.
But what is there to do in Pai?
A few things of note! Here’s how I filled my time besides chilling in the gardens of my hotel with a coconut, some freshly cut mangoes and a good book on my Kindle. 🙂
Explore the centre of town
Upon my arrival in Pai after a ridiculously windy 3 hour journey in a minivan from Chiang Mai (if you are prone to motion sickness, make sure you prepare yourself!), I set off immediately to explore the town centre. It was fairly quiet and very small, especially on a bicycle.
Eat your way through the night market
Things start coming to life once the sun starts to set at around 6pm. Night market stalls selling food, clothes, cute souvenirs and other trinkets line the two main streets in the centre of town. In all of my time in Pai, I only ate in a restaurant once – with so much delicious looking street food on offer, I very much looked forward to dinner time when I could try something new and wonderful (and cheap!).
Cycle through the natural surroundings outside the town
I borrowed a bicycle from my hotel one morning with the ambitious aim of doing a self-tour round the waterfalls, temples and canyon dotted around the outer parts of town. Whilst you can pay for a group tour to take you to all the main sites by van, I felt the need to do some exercise and this was a good opportunity to do so as the furthest point of interest I wanted to visit, Pai Canyon, is located a very cycle-able 11KM away.
I hadn’t taken the lack of gears and good brakes into account on my borrowed “leisure” bicycle however, and it was ruddy hard work cycling up and down the hilly country roads. It was more of a workout than I had bargained for, but still, a good day out.
As we are currently in the dry season, the fields I passed were yellow and dusty, with waterfalls and streams, muted and calm. Not the best time to visit I guess, but it was still good to see via bicycle – I would’ve been disappointed if I had used a tour group, as the most memorable parts for me were cycling on the dirt roads past the villagers and fields. Here are some photos of the spots I visited.
My last point of interest to visit for the day was Pai Canyon. It is a fairly long way there, especially under the hot sun, but there are numerous cute cafes with awesome viewpoints to stop off and rest at along the way.
Take a guided tour round the Tham Lod caves
Located some distance away from town, a visit to the Tham Lod caves is probably one to do with a tour group. Once there, you will need to hire a bamboo raft and cave guide, who will row you through the shallow waters within the cave as you stop off at various points to climb into and explore the inner parts of the cave. As there are no permanent lights, you will need to follow your local guide closely as (s)he will hold the only source of light within the cave in the form of a gas lamp.
Our half-day tour ended with a visit to the Mor Paeng waterfall. Again, lack of rain rendered it pretty unimpressive, but local kids were still seen scrambling up the rocks and swimming in the pools above (out of sight of this photo).
Do I regret visiting Pai? Definitely not. In fact, I really enjoyed my time there. It was a good escape town to visit, and provided a change of scenery from the bigger towns of Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It would be nice to revisit during the wet season though, when I’m sure the town can be seen in its best light.
Have you visited Pai before? What did you think?