I spent 3 days in Pai and could easily spend more. Here are ten reasons why I fell in love with Pai…
1) It’s chill. Pai is a backpackers getaway. There aren’t tourist attractions drawing the masses there. Which is an attraction on its own.
Pai is a laid back town, with a charming artsy, grungy, hippy vibe. If you want to explore, there is plenty to see. But it’s quite easy, and accepted, to waste away the days at a bar, on the riverbanks, or just outside enjoying the beautiful town with mountain views.
2) Pai is very cheap, more so than other northern towns. Dorm rooms range from 100-200 baht, on average. I actually struck gold by striking out. The first two hostels I arrived at were fully booked. On my way to a third, I met Dan, a friend of a new friend (#backpackerlife). He informed me that my third option, a series of small huts, was booked as well. However, he conveniently offered me space in his hut. I should mention each hut is 100 baht per night, making our shared price 50 baht each a night ($1.40)!
Food and drink were about the same as most other places, very cheap and still delicious.
As for exploring, it cost me just 100 baht to rent a motorbike for 24 hours. This was the cheapest I have seen thus far. And with many of Pai’s sights free, I didn’t spend too much extra money on entrance fees. One of my cheapest days of my trip occurred in Pai, where I got by (and had a great time) on just $15.69.
3) Pai’s 2 main streets turn into a walking street at night, with vendors and markets everywhere. You can find anything from clothes, artsy postcards, jewelry, tattoo shops, and an extensive food selection. It’s also got a ton of bars that make for great people watching perches.
4) Motorbikes! Like I said, I spent two days riding around Pai via motorbike. Not only was it super cheap, but it was a ton of fun. If you drive just five minutes out of town, you’re in the mountains, climbing twists and turns with amazing views. Just being on the open road, wind blowing past you, felt like complete freedom. Until you run out of gas. Which happened to me. Thankfully, I was next to a hut/makeshift store. And the old woman that presumably lived there sold gas. I’m guessing I wasn’t the first dumb traveler she’s helped. So yes, you MUST rent a motorbike. But plan ahead so you don’t get stranded in the mountains.
5) Because Pai is in the mountains, there are a ton of waterfalls. Some are cooler than others, with natural rock slides and pools to swim in!
6) Lod caves. Unfortunately, this was one place I didn’t make it to. It’s the largest cave in Thailand and travel agencies run tours there all the time. It might be cheaper to go yourself, though. It’s on 1095, towards Mae Hong Son, a ways out of town. But from what I’ve heard, it’s amazing and worth the trek.
7) Pai Canyon is a must see while you’re visiting. It’s maybe 5 km outside of town and really easy to get to, following the road that leads to Chiang Mai. It’s got series of canyons and narrow walls to walk along, branching out at many different points. If you walk straight out, you’ll run into a steep descent, followed by a steep and slippery climb back up. It looks scary (and is) but it was totally worth it. There’s a giant crater at the end that you can only see from here. And most people are too afraid to go that far, so most likely you’ll have the area to yourself.
I went to the canyons at sunset which was nice to watch, but also packed with tourists. A lot of agencies run buses to the canyons specifically for sunset, so I would recommend going at any other time.
Tip: the white Buddha on the Hill is better for sunset! Far fewer people and a better view!
8) There’s a river that flows around the north and east parts of town. It’s the perfect place to hang out, take a nap, or meditate. I loved sitting riverside, especially at night as I gazed up at the stars to the trickling of the water.
9) There are a couple different natural hot springs you can relax in. One is just outside town but costs around 200 baht for foreigners. My advice? Rent a motorbike and ride about 30 minutes northwest on 1095. You’ll see a sign for a turnoff to the hot springs. A guard will charge you 20 baht to get in (No one was there when I went so I got in for free!) and continue driving until you see them on your right. It was pretty empty when I went and the water was nice and warm. It was so relaxing to just hang out in the hot water in the middle of the jungle. I even gave myself a mud facial!
10) And finally, after all this exploring (or relaxing), finish off your day at the many bars. Many have open mic nights, jazz, and reggae. The Sunset Bar, located outside of town, is a backpackers favorite. Once the sun goes down, this bar is the place to be, complete with bright lanterns, funky music, and specialty drinks! Beware: It’s definitely for the free-spirited, younger crowd, though. 😉
Although Pai is pretty far north, make sure it’s on your itinerary! You won’t be disappointed!
Have you been to Pai? What were your favorites?