Pai was once a sleepy market town but it has been firmly on the Banana Pancake Trail since around 2006. Based on my experience in Chiang Mai I almost skipped Pai, but luckily not. The minibus took about four hours from Chiang Mai, a bit longer than usual as a lady with motion sickness clearly hadn’t read about the 762 curves she’d be going around.
The town has a very laid-back vibe compared to a lot of other places in Thailand and that’s certinally helped by the number of hippies in town. It isn’t unusual for people to go to Pai with the intention of staying a couple of nights and leaving a week later.
There is one main strip catering to tourists which becomes a walking-street in the evening with dozens of street stalls. Even with 350 guesthouses scattered about it isn’t hard to find a quiet spot in town though, most of the other roads are much smaller and can easily be explored on foot.
There are a few other spots out of the town that are worth a visit. Scooter rental is hugely popular and there are two loops that can be done, though even combined there is no more than 50km of riding.
The two closest points of interest are Pai Canyon and Ta-Pai Bridge. Both get compared to bigger things, the grand canyon and the bridge on the river kwai, though neither are anything like them. The canyon does offer some great views though and there was only a few other people there when I visited. The bridge was much busier and people were scrambling to have their picture taken on it. I’m not sure why; it was rebuilt twice after the Japanese burnt down the original in 1945 after their defeat in WW2. Other than crossing the Pai River the bridge has nothing in common with that built in the war, but refering to it as Memorial Bridge does seem to bring the tourists in.
Stone Forest is mostly what it sounds like and wasn’t that great, a lot of it was overgrown and was in the process of being cut back by some workers. There wasn’t any information around either so I have no idea where all the boulders came from. It turned out I could actually take the scooter all the way up but the walk was actually the best part, again with some nice views.
Pai also has a few waterfalls, I made it to Mor Paeng since it was nearby a couple of other places I was seeing. It wasn’t too impressive (maybe it was until I got to Mae Hong Son a few days later) but like most things in Pai it’s easily accessible on a scooter. The road on the way up passes through a Chinese village and following it all the way leads to a viewpoint with more great views. You can say what you want about the amount of people in town but it doesn’t detract from how beautiful the area is.
Closer to town I stopped at Wat Phra That Mae Yen, better known as Temple On The Hill. The white Buddha can be seen from the other side of town and up close (unsurprisingly) it’s huge. The road and any proper path runs out at the temple, the Buddha is a further 150m up a steep path cut through the forest.
There is one last view worth seeing in Pai; the sunset over town. You can see it from a bunch of places but being up high, my hostel had one of the best views.
Once the sun is down the campfire at the hostel gets lit making a great place to sit and chat with other backpackers. Pai isn’t the place to go for a cultural experience, but it is well worth the visit.
More photos from Pai on Flickr.