Pai, Thailand: the town of hippies, rice fields, waterfalls and millennials.
After hearing about how great Pai (pronounced – pie) is from other nomads and travelers my boyfriend and I decided to check it out for the weekend. It is a three hour bus trip from Chiang Mai and as of now, is my favorite part of our trip. It’s small enough to get around on on a scooter, large enough to go on plenty of adventures, and mountainous enough to be spectacularly gorgeous. I’ve rounded up ten reasons why you have to visit Pai.
Getting there is an adventure in itself! There are many ways to get to Pai. Airplane, bus, scooter and car, but we decided to take a van. We had never driven a scooter before and after hearing there are 762 sharp turns on the highway to Pai we opted out. There are two options at the Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai; the bus (40TBH per person) or a shared van (150THB per person). We read that the bus goes very, very slow and takes 4-5 hours to get there while the van zips it there in 3.5 hours. We read that the van made people sick and scared, but we were willing to take the risk. 762 sharp turns later we were there with no bumps, bruises or sickness. When I say sharp turns I mean you are on a roller coaster making a turn at 40mph looking over the edge of a cliff.
The hotels. We did some research and found we didn’t want to be on the main walking street, but wanted to be near/on the river and picked the Pai Lanna Resort. Little did we know we were in the most convenient spot in Pai. It is walking distant to the city center, but removed enough that you still feel like you are tucked away in the middle of nowhere. We had mountain and rice field views and slept in a bamboo hut. There are plenty of places to stay in and around Pai. Do your research and pick a place based on your wants and needs. Up the road from us was Pai Circus School which is filled with back-packers, has a pool and is much more of a party vibe. In town you have plenty of hostels and hotels that make it easy to walk around the night markets, shops and cafes.
The scooter culture. We haven’t had the guts to ride a scooter around Chiang Mai. The roads are crowded and we have never driven one before. However, in Pai we figured we would try. There are less people and only a few roads to drive on. We hit up a scooter shop, but the guy denied us the rental because when we showed him our driving ability we almost crashed the scooter. Whoops!
Fortunately, on one of the three main walking streets in Pai there is a Scooter School! For 150THB they teach you how to drive a scooter. It was quite the experience. We hopped on one scooter and the instructor took us to a little track just a few blocks away. Within 25 minutes he shook our hands and said “congratulations, you are now qualified to drive a scooter”.
It was the best 150THB each that we had ever spent. Once we completed the class, we rented our scooter and went on a tour of Pai. Every view was better than the next.
FACTS: there are many scooter rental places within walking distance of the bus stop. The scooter driving school rental place is also walking distance. Scooters can be rented from 100-250THB and they take your passport as collateral.
Pai Canyon. Hop on your scooter and drive south on the main highway for 15 minutes and you’ll hit the Pai Canyon. This spot really took my back because until that point I had only seen dense forest. Once you walk along an up-hill path at the Pai Canyon it’s like a tiny slice of the Grand Canyon or The Badlands. We went here for sunset, but the best part was getting to a desired look out spot. The first few steps you have to take are on a skinny, tiny path about a few inches wide with drop down cliffs on either side. If you fall off this part, you will fall 30 feet of a cliff. After that you can make your way along other hiker paths that have been flattened due to tourists. Tons of people go here, so don’t expect it to be secluded, but the view and setting are great. The sunset was rather uneventful in our opinion.
Waterfalls. Pai has beautiful waterfalls. Some are easier to get to than others, but they all make for a fun adventure.. We made it to the Pam Bok Waterfall. Once you’re in Pai, you can use Google Maps show to show you how to get there. The trip takes you up and down a few rugged roads, but the mountain views are stunning. You have to make your way over a questionable bamboo bridge and down a hill to the waterfall which then opens up into a small cave. The water was FREEZING, but we didn’t venture all this way not to jump in!
Hot Springs: As an alternative to freezing waterfalls you can journey on a scooter to the hot springs. There are tiers of temperatures from 76-80 degrees. This was the most expensive thing we did in Pai,costing 300 THB for tourists. Everything else we did in Pai, besides meals, was free. However, it felt amazing to be bathing in hot water at such a high altitude.
The smoothies. Thailand has turned me into a smoothie fanatic. All the smoothies I have purchased have never cost more than 70THB ($2USD). My favorite smoothie was from Good Life Detox on one of Pai’s main streets. A coconut, banana combo costs 50THB. Words can’t explain how delicious it was. It truly was the best smoothie I’ve ever had.
Casually passing elephants. On the highway going to the hot springs there are a few elephant farms on the side of the road. I saw a lot of tourists riding them, but wasn’t interested. There are options to feed them for a donation, pet and ride them if you’d like. I found it pleasing enough to drive by and look at them. It is a refreshing and somewhat exotic change of scenery from the deer you see grazing on the side of the highways in New York State.
The Food. Pai is filled with amazing street vendors during the night market, but also plenty of restaurants with delicious bites. We had a mix of Thai cuisine and western food. We tend to go through a push and pull of feeling obligated to only eat Thai food, but when you’ve been here for a month an egg sandwich or a burger sounds extremely appealing. Our favorite spots were:
Irie Bar – We went here to have a beer and a small bite, but had to be secretive to drink beer because Thailand alcohol laws don’t allow restaurants or business to serve or sell alcohol between 2pm-5pm. We had the yellow curry and a few beers for 200THB. The bar is equipped with a pool table and low tables with pillow seating.
Good Life Cafe – Although we didn’t eat here I found the best smoothie (pictured above). They also have the cup holder where I have coined the phrase The Smoothie Purse. This cafe also has wheat grass shots, tea, and tasty looking bites.
Na’s Kitchen – Every night this spot was packed. A line outside everyday starting 5pm. We knew we had to try it. Number one rule in picking out a restaurant – are there a lot of people there? If so, it must be delicious! Once we sat down we realized it was #5 of TripAdvisors best places to eat in Pai. They’re most well known for their whole fried fish, so we had to try that, accompanied by panang curry.
Calexico Restaurant – A Mexican restaurant in Pai!? Is it good?! Very resistant to try Mexican food in Thailand we went out on a limb. I’m so glad we did. Set a tiny bit out of the main town, Calexico made you feel like you weren’t in Thailand anymore. Cement tables, cactus everywhere, and home made hot sauces, this spot was a definite win.
The vibe. Pai has a laid back atmosphere. Going from Brooklyn to Chiang Mai to Pai, I was able to settle into mountain views, calmness, happy people, and a star filled sky. The pace in Pai is slower. Pure beauty.