“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
It would be a crime to venture to Northern Thailand and not visit Pai.
Only 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, it seems to be a favourite among backpackers for it’s “off the beaten track” status. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. Pai attracts many long term foreign expats too. After visiting – I can see why. The town screams freedom. There are hundreds of free activities to engage in, food is cheap, accommodation is spacious and quirky and it’s located in the countryside. It ticks all the boxes for many travellers. I caught a bus up to Pai with the intention to explore for a couple of days but ended up staying well over a week. It’s a town where you don’t have to do much yet there is plenty to do. Some days I spent lounging in cafes all day, and other days I was up early on a motorbike exploring the mountains. It caters for everyone.
Before heading to Pai, I had a quick look on Hostelworld to suss out accommodation. I was surprised to see only 5 hostels showing up in the town!!! This made me panic a bit because a few of them were already full. I booked a night at Purple Monkey Hostel and would look into it more when I arrived. The bus from Chiang Mai cost 180baht and took 3 hours. Its a VERY windy road so a few people in the bus threw up. I was fine, but if you are prone to carsickness – take tablets prior!! When I got off the bus in Pai, there was accommodation EVERYWHERE! Guesthouses, B&Bs and just random signs ‘room for rent’. I shouldn’t have worried at all! After one night at Purple Monkeys, I was glad to leave. The wifi didn’t work, showers were cold, staff were really unfriendly and it had just opened so nothing really worked. I went for a walk and stumbled across a place called DarlingView on the hill over the bamboo bridge. It was ridiculously cute. The setup was amazing! Bonfires, hammocks, chalets and a stunning garden. The owner, (named Darling) was really welcoming and introduced us to others nearby which promoted a social vibe. The dorm rooms were in large chalets with huge balconies and stunning views over the town! The only downside was that it was FREEZING overnight! I was so cold!!! The chalet has open doors and the bed only had a single blanket. I caved after the second night and decided to wander around town to look for something with 4 solid walls. I stumbled across a gorgeous little guesthouse on Bar Street called Baanpairoong (the street sign is entirely in Thai). The owner knew no English so we communicated in basic sign language and negotiated the rate by scribbling on bits of paper and crossing out numbers. We settled on 700 baht for a 3 night stay. The room was incredibly spacious, had a TV, hot water, free wifi and my own apartment entrance from the street. It was perfect. I ended up extending day by day and in the end stayed 10 days. It was difficult to leave!
TOP 10 PAI EXPERIENCES
1. H I R E A S C O O T E R
After having a motor accident in Greece last year, I was reluctant to get on a scooter. In fact, I was scared. It was my first day on a scooter and I had a million voices in my head. It didn’t help that they refused to offer insurance yet kept my passport. I guess that’s just the way things work here. Scooters start from roughly 110baht per day and in the bigger, more established places, you can add 40baht extra for insurance (I would strongly recommend this) As I started riding out of the garage, the owner grabbed my arm and said, “SLOWLY!!! Many people die here”. Very comforting. I was a bit unstable at first, but got the hang of it really quickly. They are designed to be easy to ride and by the end of the day I was feeling much more comfortable and actually loving it!
Honestly, having a scooter made everything a lot easier. The roads are perfect for beginners. Small hills, slight curves and mostly flat roads made riding really enjoyable and the scenery was magic. I had a map of a few main sights and managed to cover most of it within 3 days on the scooter.
TIP: Make a pitt stop at Landsplitt for lunch and enjoy fresh fruit and unique Roselle juice made from pressed flowers. It’s delicious and said to be a natural laxative for weight loss! It doesn’t even cost anything – just an optional donation!
If you really don’t feel comfortable getting on one, you do have the option to get taxis however you will be paying significantly more.
2. V I S I T T H E B U D D H A O N T H E H I L L
I had a feeling this was going to be crazy busy – especially at sunset. But it wasn’t. It was actually really beautiful and peaceful. The Buddha is located on 5 minutes outside of the main town. You can ride right up the the base on your scooter and then up some stairs to take in the scenery. Well worth a trip!
3. W A L K A L O N G P A I C A N Y O N
People had told me the canyon was overrated before I got there. So I didn’t expect much. That is maybe why I really enjoyed it. Never let anyone turn you off doing something – it is always worth seeing for yourself. It was difficult to find – signage wasn’t great, but made it eventually. You can walk around the edge of the circular canyon and admire the different views.
TIP: If you head to the Pai Canyon at sunset, the reflection turn the rocks to a stunning orange!
4. S O A K I N T H E H O T S P R I N G S
Being situated in the mountains, Pai’s temperatures can fluctuate greatly in a 24 hour period. I visited in February and it reached 28 degrees most days and then dropped to 10 degrees within hours of the sun setting. This made the hot springs particularly appealing in the late afternoon or early morning. I decided on the morning because I didn’t want to ride back in the dark. The hot springs open at 7am and it’s a steep 300 baht for entry but worth it in my opinion. I got up at 8am (extremely early for a backpacker!) and rode my motorbike down to the springs. It was freezing! By the time I arrived my hands were blue! It was painful stripping down into my bikini but well worth it when I got in.
As you enter, there are different pools with different temperatures. The first pool is the coolest (36 degrees celcius) and I would recommend starting here. There was hardly anyone else around other than a small group of Chinese tourists. It was so peaceful. It backs onto a stunning dense jungle and the steam from the water creates beautiful backdrop. I laid in the pool for about 5 minutes until it was no longer warm for me – it was beginning to feel cold. Slowly I moved to the next pool. Over the period of an hour, I moved from pool to pool, getting higher and higher until I reached 55 degrees celcius. This was perfect for me! I like my baths HOT! The pools are shallow enough to be able to lie down and rest your head on a rock. I closed my eyes and even think I had a little nap! It was a perfect way to start the day. I stayed at the hot springs until 10.30am when it started to warm up, and the crowds had made their way in. If you keep heading up the hill, the springs get as hot as 85 degrees celcius (and people are cooking their morning eggs in it!)
There are other hot springs around Pai that are cheaper. You can visit the Hot Springs in the nearby resorts and hotels however they are smaller and the setting is not so natural. Up to you.
A must do at some point no matter what your budget!
5. T R E K T H R O U G H T H E J U N G L E T O M A E Y E N W A T E R F A L L
When I suggested a “trek” to my new found friends. Only a few were keen due to hangovers, so it took some encouragement. We rode our bikes to the entrance of the hike and started our walk. It was 7km and felt a lot longer considering our slow pace. We crossed rivers many times and climbed steep rocky paths. I would recommend wearing proper shoes (that you don’t mind getting wet/muddy) We even walked through a bush fire at one point towards the end. We had been hiking for hours at this point so not even a FIRE could stop us.
When we finally reached the waterfall, it was beautiful. And freezing. It doesn’t look too much from the base, but if you climb up to the right, you can find a pool at the top and it’s amazing! We all climbed up and ventured under the running water.
Totally worth it – but be prepared for a decent walk!
6. S U N B A T H E B Y M O R P A E N G W A T E R F A L L
Only 20 minutes by scooter, is a beautiful serene waterfall with perfect sunbathing rocks. If you head here after lunch, you will have the chance to cool off during the hottest part of the day and soak up some vitamin D.
TIP: Bring a book – you will probably want to stay for awhile!
7. T R Y A H E A L T H C A F E
It may not be your normal ‘go to’ but when in Pai – I strongly recommend visiting a health cafe. Its where the hippies thrive and hang, and if anything, it can be a great people watching experience.
Lonely Pai is situated in a mini library and with comfortable lounges, you could probably stay all day. Another option is Good Life in Pai with healthy smoothies and delicious Jewish bagels! If you are on a budget – opt for one of the fruit shake stands!
TIP: Try a wheatgrass shot (55 baht) for a powerful detoxification
8. V I S I T T H E C A V E S
The Lod caves are located about 55km north of Pai and are well worth a visit. I met people who rode a scooter there however it seemed too long on a bike for me so I arranged a taxi driver and a few extra people to split the cost. Many of the taxi drivers wouldn’t negotiate on price. The standard was 1500 baht for the van and driver for the day (when we split this between 6 people it was nothing). Considering the 6 of us were standing there ready to go instantly, we got it down to 1300 baht. The drive was 1.5 hours but the gorgeous scenic views made it feel much quicker. When we arrived, we went straight into the caves. You can’t go in without a guide and you pay for 1 guide per 3 people. Then you pay extra for a bamboo raft which takes you into the cave via the river – an awesome experience!
If your feeling generous – buy some fish food from the ladies outside the gates and feed the fish in the cave. The large, blue fish swarm around the boats in masses! Pretty amazing! The guide then walked us through the caves with a small lantern and pointed out the incredible rock formations. They had clearly learnt particular words in English to help make the tour informative – “this look like crocodile”, “this look like buddha” – it was hilarious.
TIP: Opt for the walk back instead of getting a boat both ways – not only is it cheaper but you get to walk back through the beautiful jungle outside.
9. T R Y M E D I T A T I O N
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, promote happiness, strengthen the immune system and increase energy. Numerous studies around the world have confirmed its benefits in treating disease and if you are ever going to try it – this is the place. There are meditation classes, guidance and retreats everywhere you look!
How do you meditate?
There is no one set way to meditate because it’s a very personal practise. It simply involves sitting somewhere comfortable and quiet for 5-10 minutes each day and focusing on one thing. For most people, this is breathing. As you focus on your breath, your brain slowly filters out any other thoughts and reaches a truly relaxed state.
How does it benefit?
Stress and anxiety are a common cause of many illnesses and diseases that exist today. Meditation reduces the production of stress hormones in your body, therefore counteracting all stress related changes and allowing the body’s energy to boost the immune system and promote healing.
Meditation has been in practice for thousands of years but only recently have scientists truly understood the health benefits behind it. If you are going to give it a go, Pai is the best place. There are numerous yoga and meditation studios around. They also have one off retreats advertised around the town run by travelling yogis.
TIP: Steer clear of Mama Yoga studio – she is a nut job and has the worst reviews from fellow travelers!
10. D O N O T H I N G
Travelling can become really tiring. Exhausting in fact, and when you are on the go a lot, it seems like the trip is fast forwarding in front of your eyes. Sometimes you need to rest. Pai is the perfect place for it. If your travelling long term or even escaping the daily grind at home, park yourself here for a week and recuperate. That’s what I did and it was invaluable. There are hammocks, parks, rivers and cafes all calling your name.
Let your body catch up with you!