Contrary to what this title suggests, our trip did involve certain activities that weren’t eating. We really did have a wonderful time here and I wish we could have stayed longer.
We arrived in Pai at around 13:30 after a rather rough bus journey from Chiang Mai. As mentioned previously, the route consisted of 762 turns, all of which we felt as we were jerked violently from side to side on our ascent into the mountain town. Having bought some travel sickness tablets, we were absolutely fine – though some of our companions seemed to take the jarring experience less gracefully.
Pai was everything we were hoping for and more. It was quiet, relative to our experiences and Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and the air seemed far less humid. It was however hotter and sunnier – something my horrendous farmers’ tan is evidence of. Despite the 35 degree heat, Maria and I made the terrible decision of walking from the bus station in the town centre to our hotel which lay 1.9km away. This may not seem like such a long walk but in the heat, and carrying our 20kg plus of backpack luggage each, we really suffered. This leads me on to my first piece of advice for people staying further out of the town centre in Pai – get a taxi! You might think you’re saving money (100 Baht), but you’ll hate yourself for doing it afterwards. Alternatively, just stay in the town centre and save yourselves the hassle!
Once there and settled, there are two things that I recommend you do straight away:
1. Learn to ride a moped
If you don’t have experience of riding mopeds, this is essential. When we were learning, we were told that people die every month around Pai in moped related accidents due to overconfidence, the state of some of the roads, and the mountainous nature of the region. I would highly recommend Vespai in the town centre as place to go for moped instruction and hire. The guy who owns it doesn’t let you leave him until you are 100% confident of what you are doing and he is also incredibly thorough in his damage checks prior to anyone renting his bikes. All this means we were happy to pay slightly more for his services. The mopeds around Pai will generally cost you around 150 Baht per day, whilst Vespai mopeds will cost you between 200-250 with an added 100 Baht for lessons.
2. Rent a moped
With so many of the sights and activities that Pai has to offer being out of town, it can be a little difficult and expensive to get around. Taxis are limited and buses are expensive. Renting a moped will save you a lot of hassle, and is also a lot of fun once you get out of the town and onto the open and very quiet roads.
Top things to do/see after you get your moped
1. Memorial Bridge
Built by Japanese soldiers during WWII, this serves as a reminder to those of us from Western countries that our countries were not the only ones affected by the conflict. The bridge was built to transport troops, munitions and supplies in order to prepare for an attack on then British Burma in 1943. This is a must see for anyone interested in war history.
For anyone more interested in food and coffee, there are some nice and relatively cheap cafe’s across the road.
2. Love Strawberry
This place is a tourist trap, but nevertheless an enjoyable place to visit. You will have spotted a massive strawberry on your way into Pai from Chiang Mai – its part of the attraction here!Like many cafes on the outskirts of Pai, it enjoys lovely mountainous views from its terraced seating area, and the decor makes the place all the more unique. An added bonus is the amazing strawberry smoothies this place does – definitely worth a visit!
3. Pai Canyon
The first thing I could think of when I arrived here was “wow, its too hot!”. However, I then reached the top of the trail to the top of the canyon and was simply stunned by the scenery. It really was amazing, with its rusty red and orange dirt colours in contrast with the green of the trees. This place is a lovely place to visit and take photos if you can somehow stop the sweat pouring off you! I wish I could have seen it at sunset, but I was told to avoid it by people who’d been due to how crowded it would get at that time.
4. The Land Split and Pembok Waterfall
The land split is exactly what it says it is. In 2008, the land in this area split apart creating a deep ravine for seemingly no reason. However, an earthquake nearby was soon deemed to be the cause. in The farmer whose land this was lost his farm and the ravine has only grown since.
Pembok waterfall is 7km down the road from the land split. The waterfall itself was beautiful but we couldn’t get near it because of all the tourists. I would recommend going earlier in the day to avoid the crowds. Drive safe – the roads leading there aren’t the best quality.
5. Mo Paeng waterfall
This waterfall was my favourite in Thailand so far. It is quite big and very slippery so tread carefully if you’re looking to jump over the edge! And watch the water carefully. If it rained the night before, you may not be there on the right day for the jump as the water will be moving too quickly and the jump will become too dangerous.
If you’re not interested in the adrenaline rush, the river is a lovely temperature to bath and relax in. I would recommend going at around 11:00/12:00 to avoid the crowds.
6. Yun Lai Point
If you’re near the waterfall at Mo Paeng, you should visit Yun Lai Point. It’s a viewpoint at a Chinese village north of Pai where sunsets are apparently surreal. We didn’t get enough time to do it because we needed to return our moped, but we would have loved to.
7. White Buddha
The White Buddha is famous throughout Thailand and is a majestic monument set near the top of a very large hill. There a steep uphill road (I recommend that you use a moped for this), and then 353 lung-busting steps to the top. You’ll feel every one of them, but it’s worth it for the view you get once you get to the top.
Dining (and drinking) out
Pai is full of amazing restaurants. All you need to do is wander into the town centre and walk around and you are bound to find some that are to your liking. However, if you’re struggling here are some suggestions (in no particular order) that might help. FYI, Soi Raddamrong and Soi Chaisongkram are good streets to start looking.
1. Charlie and Lek’s
We came to eat here on our first night. Our meal cost around 160 Baht, including 2 bottles of water. Enough said. Oh, and it’s a healthy restaurant that serves the freshest food – something you can really taste when you try it.
2. Earth Tone
This was one of our favourites. The whole menu is vegan and vegetarian, so as a meat lover you may be surprised that I enjoyed it here. The food was incredibly tasty, and so were the drinks.
The location and decor is also a big draw. It sits at the foot of the road leading up to the White Buddha, and is built by the side of a stream with no wall on that side so diners can feel at one with their natural surroundings. It is built mostly from bamboo and is on stilts that hold it above the water level. As I said, I’m a big fan.
3. Dang Thai
Probably one of our better finds whilst we were in Thailand, Dang Thai was incredibly cheap even by Thai standards. The food was also unbelievably good given the prices. The drawback is the number of mosquitos in the area so be generous when applying your insect repellent. You’ll find this little restaurant near the end of Soi Raddamrong.
4. Om Garden Cafe
This was one of Maria’s finds. Being a lover of all things breakfast, she was unrelentingly keen to go and I have to say that I’m glad I went with her. It’s lovely wooden cafe near the centre of Pai, with very clear western influences but a good variety of Thai food. The menu has vegan and vegetarian options and the food is very good. If you are like Maria and were desperate for some porridge after 2 weeks away from home, you will enjoy this place.
5. Night Market
The Night Market can be found on the walking street every night in Pai. By walking street, I mean Soi Chaisongkram, and the food here is amazing. Cheap AND amazing. You could quite easily not bother with restaurants and live off street food from this market every night. It runs from 5-11pm every night – don’t miss it!
You can buckets here for 250 Baht…
7. Soi Raddamrong in general
The street is lined with amazing bars that seem to run special offers every night. Mix cheap drinks with a walking night market and suddenly your drunk food will no longer cost you an arm and a leg. Neither will it disappoint you by tasting rubbish or being cold!
My final thoughts
Pai was an amazing place for us to come to 2 weeks into our trip. We were sick of the hustle of the bigger cities in Thailand and fancied something more chilled out where we might have a chance to relax and enjoy our surroundings. It delivered quite spectacularly! We were able to really relax for the first time in a while and, we met so many new people, two of which we hope to remain in contact with for some time. For anyone who likes open spaces, amazing food and meeting new people, this will be your perfect getaway.
Final tip: DO NOT visit the elephant sanctuaries here. The elephants are chained and kept in enclosures for most of the day until visitors arrive.