Pai is one of those quirky, homely, hippie hubs that everyone falls in love with the second they arrive. It just has a chill vibe to it, and seems to cater for all.
Far removed from the crazy drink, drug and M150 fuelled islands of the South, Pai is surrounded by hills and greenery and nature, the locals are friendlier and less eager to rip you off, and there’s a whole load of really cool bars and cafe’s.
WHERE TO STAY
The two main hostels are Spicy Pai and Circus hostel. Both have their selling points.
Circus, as it’s name hints, has a circus theme to it with slacklines, hula hoops, circus lessons, yoga classes, and also has a pool but was quite grimy, the bunks were cramped and dark and the showers and toilets were dirty. Circus was a fun hang out after all the bars in town had closed, however, the people who stayed here came across as quite clique-ey and hostile. Circus is also a pretty long walk from town, and not one you’d want to do alone.
Spicy’s, on the other hand, despite being one of the biggest dorms I’ve stayed in (26 beds), was spacious, breezy, clean, super chilled and ever so sociable. With it’s bamboo treehouse style bunks, lush paddy field surrounding and hammock loaded chill out zone. There is also a bar and restaurant which serves delicious food and cheap booze. Everyone seemed to mingle here at night and explore the beautiful surroundings together by day (via scooter). Spicy’s also organise pool parties, either at Fluid when it’s open or at a local guest house.
If you are a little more privacy, Family Huts, is a great choice, with whole huts from just £2 per night, and a lot closer to town (providing the bridge has been rebuilt. The last time I visited the bridge had fallen down).
WHAT TO DO/SEE – Your best bet is to rent a scooter, pick up a paper map and see what you can find. (Pai is one of the best places for not so confident drivers as although it’s pretty hilly, the roads are super quiet). Bicycles are also available for rent but be prepared to work those legs like a machine!!
HOT SPRINGS: There are a bunch of different hot springs around, the maps will tell you to go to the touristy expensive ones (Tha Pai Hotsprings) near the canyon and the elephant camp, but there’s one in the opposite direction that’s completely free. (Tip: go early evening when it’s still light but a bit cooler outside).
WATERFALLS: As with hot springs, there are many waterfalls around Pai, the main ones are the slide waterfall (Mor Paeng) the jumping waterfall (Pam Bok). These can be done in the same day and is a great natural way to cool off during a hot day of exploring in sweaty helmets.
PAI CANYON: Not far from memorial bridge and Love Strawberry cafe you’ll find Pai Canyon. The landscape here is incredible and you can have some fun seeing how far you can get climbing in and out of cracks!
WHITE SITTING BUDDHA: This is actually pretty close to Spicy’s, we drove – of course we did! – but some of the girls went for an early morning jog up here. It’s up a hill and then up a flight of pretty steep stairs!
POOL PARTY: You’ve worked up a sweat climbing up stairs and hills etc, and exhausted yourself jumping into waterfalls and exploring caves – why not relax by the pool with some funkin’ tunes and an ice cold Chang in hand. Fluid swimming pool is the most well known sociable one, but it was closed when we were there in September so we went to Farmers House instead, which was equally as cool and also had a bar.
GO ON A TREK: Many companys offer trekking tours from Pai as it is surrounded by hilltribe villages. We booked through Back Trax Tours and paid 1600BHT (approx £30) for 1 night, 2 days, food, water and accommodation included. We were a group of 7 with two guides.This was the first trek I’d ever done and I loved it! The guides were great at pointing out useful plants, trees etc. We had a chance to make our own cups out for bamboo cut straight from the tree and watched as they managed to make us cups of tea in the middle of the forest using lake water boiled inside bamboo. We stayed in a hilltribe and our guide cooked a wonderful meal using bamboo again to cook the meat inside. The walking was long and pretty tiring as its always up or down a hill, but we had the chance to refresh in an icy cold waterfall on the way back to town which was nice. We ate figs off of a fig tree and blew bubbles from the stem of a ‘bubble?’ tree/plant? Overall it was a great experience and not too difficult for non experienced hikers.
MEMORIAL BIRDGE: A photo op spot for tourists in Pai. The Memorial Bridge was made of iron and was built in 1942 by the Japanese to transport weapons and provisions to Myanmar during World War II. It’s a few minutes drive past Love Strawberry cafe and Pai Canyon.
CAVES: Although technically not in Pai, Tham Lod Caves (aka Spirit Caves) situated about 8km north of the small market town of Soppong between Pai and Mae Hong Son. You can book a tour from your hostel or from any of the agents on walking street, alternatively, you can rent a scooter and drive. It’s about 45 minutes to 1 hour from Pai.
The cave itself is a large spectacular natural limestone cave system, its main feature being the stream which runs through the heart of the cave. The best way to see the caves is to hire a guide and explore some of the dark caverns by lamplight and/or taking a bamboo raft into the cave. Watch out for bats!
WALKING STREET: Full of handmade crafts, vintage clothing, edgy souvenirs and DIY postcards, Walking Street is a lovely little treat! As the sun goes down, the food stools appear – get anything from meatsticks to corn on the cob to loaded jacket potatoes and fresh fruit salad. And let’s not forget the infamous fresh spring roll burritos!!
GET A MASSAGE: As with the majority of Thailand, there isn’t a shortage of massage parlours especially around walking street that offer many kind of massage and beauty treatment.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
FOR COFFEE: Art in Chai (relaxing bohemian vibe, artsy decor, amazing homemade chai), Pai in Love (great view, CHEESECAKE), Boomelicious Cafe (amazing breakfast), The Container (great viewpoint, hanging basket hammocks)
FOR DINNER: Walking Street Food Market (cheap, hundreds of options, quick and easy, delicious), Thien Art Space (huge, incredible bamboo structure, water features, atmospheric) I.P Burger & Grill (burger bar that serves a wide assortment of meats, wild boar, ostrich, crocodile! good choice of toppings, streetside seating), Witching Well (witch themed, drinks menu is like a potion list, great food, amazing desserts), Silhouette Bar (Meditteranian & Local dishes, sophisticated, chic decor, exquisitive food), Earthtone Vegetarian Food (cosy & inviting, awesome spot for vegans as well as veggies. Healthy & organic, raw vegan cakes & herbal shakes)
FOR DRINKS: Start your evening in town; Sabai Bar (small but classy and full of character – they often have live singers), Jikko Cocktail Bar (cheap, strong cocktails and jenja!), Almost Famous (16 flavours of mojito, 5 for 4, 100BHT each, or 50bht mai tai’s – the owner is such a sound guy), Yellow Sun (reggae glowpaint artwork, chill vibe, pool table), Boom Bar (drinking games, beer pong table, live dj), Why Not Bar (the place everyone ends up, buckets, fireshows, glowpaint wall decor), Sunset Bar (super chilled, tiered layout, pool table, mushroom shakes, usually the last place to close)