Pai – A Travel Guide
Sitting three hours north of Chiang Mai is the once sleepy market town of Pai, now a favorite among backpackers for the bohemian vibe and relaxed atmosphere. With its small sleepy streets, and with “magic shakes” and Thai weed offered in several of the local bars Pai is like any other town you’ll come across in Thailand. If this sort of town is your scene, Pai is a great place to easily spend a few weeks in a hazy bubble, for me it was a great little town to explore for a few days before moving on to the beautiful countryside in the North of Thailand.
Getting there: Most people travel to Pai through Chiang Mai, by which it’s a 3 hour minibus ride around a windy mountain pass. If you suffer from travel sickness take precautions as there are over 760 corners which the bus drivers handle at ferocious speed. Most buses will provide plastic bags which are attached to your seat due to the sheer volume of people that suffer travel sickness during this journey! The minibuses are a little cramped but air-conditioned and only cost ฿180 – 200, they’ll also pick you up from your guesthouse / hostel and then drop you in the center of Pai.
Although small, Pai does also have an airport where you can catch flights to/from Chiang Mai with a flight time of about 20 minutes, a pricier option but if you want to avoid the twists and turns or suffer from motion sickness then this may be an option worth considering.
Where to stay?
If you want to fully embrace the the laid back lifestyle in Pai the best place to stay is Circus Hostel. This hostel is set about a 10 minute walk from the main part of town on top of a hill and you will have magnificent views at sunset and sunrise. They have basic dorms for ฿200 a night or your can rent your own bamboo hut for ฿300 a night for one ฿400 for two. As common with a lot of the budget lodging in Thailand Circus Hostel is rustic, the showers aren’t great, and the bamboo huts are basic; however it’s the vibe you’re really there for. Everyday they run a circus school, where fire dancers, jugglers and all manner of crazy circus folk practice their trades. The pool is great to cool off in during the day and at night the on site bar comes to life and the fire dancers show off their skills.
If you’re looking for a more traditional hostel Common Grounds in the Center of Pai is a good spot. This hostel is fairly busy so you’ll find it easy to socialize, and they’ve got a pool table and bar area to chill out in the evening and the facilities are decent. Dorm rooms start at ฿295 which include lockers, air conditioning and decent beds.
Where to eat?
Pai hosts a vast array of culinary choices; at night the main street through Pai comes to life with a decent night market, where you can get all of your cheap street food eats for ฿30-50 for a main dish, and as you’d expect from a town serving up Thai weed and other recreational activities, there are plenty of carts selling munchies, snacks and sweets.
My favorite spot for breakfast was Om Garden cafe, this place serves up a delicious breakfast in an incredibly chilled garden setting. They also serve lunch and dinner but I stuck to the cheap eats for those two meals and gorged at breakfast here. My favorite was toast, avocado, tomatoes and two fried eggs for ฿90 and it was spectacular, with the eggs cooked to perfection. The food was so great that I went back for breakfast again the next day for the hummus, tomatoes and two fried eggs on pita again for ฿90 and once again absolutely superb. This is definitely the best breakfast spot in Pai, and it can be incredibly busy especially around 10-11am so try and get there early to avoid a line!
Things to Do
One thing you will notice in Pai is a lot of tattoo shops and if you were going to get one in Thailand this wouldn’t be a bad place. One of my friends had planned to get a tattoo here and after weeks of talking through the design with the artist it came out beautifully.
Pai Canyon- Situated 8km outside Pai on the road back to Chiang Mai is Pai Canyon. Forget health and safety (watch my video, and you’ll know why) and head off exploring the cliff tops overlooking the dense green forest beneath, also a fantastic spot for sunset.
Conservation and Elephants Sanctuaries of Pai- There are a couple of Elephant Sanctuaries in Pai, the one I went to was a reforestation project which happened to have rescued a couple of pregnant Elephants, it was ฿500 baht donation when I visited although I believe this has since increased to ฿1000. This conservation sanctuary is trying to plant a vast number of trees to slow down deforestation in Northern Thailand and there are now 2 adult and 2 baby elephants to interact with! Check out their website!
Sai Ngam Hot springs – the secret ones! While in Pai, skip the famous overly visited hot springs which cost ฿300 and head for the secret hot springs of Sai Ngam, costing only ฿40 you are sure to have a less crowded experience with more locals than tourists.
White Buddha Sitting above Pai town on top of a hill is a the 40 metre high bright White Buddha. You’ll have to climb a fair amount of steps to get up there but once you’ve done that you are treated to an awesome sunset with sweeping views over Pai town and the surrounding countryside.