Posted: June 2013

Pai sits in a basin of hills. Nearly every accommodation offers an appealing view. It hasn't been very often since we took to the road in 2011 that we have spent so long sitting in one place doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, trying to work on this, but otherwise nothing. We're here in the low season so have bagged ourselves a great deal at Pai Park Cottage, across the river from the small town area and it seems a million miles away from anyone else. 

Perhaps it is the effect of the 762 curves from Chiang Mai to Pai that has relaxed us? Whatever it is, there seems to be something for everyone in this calm relaxing town. Waterfalls, hiking, cycling, trekking, over-night jungle camps and everything else that seems to be on offer in Thailand's main tourist route. It has been a while since we've seen as much wildlife in Thailand, though still nothing in comparison to the abundance one would see in the likes of Sri Lanka or even the parks of Malaysia.

Pai has changed again. Some guide books list it as "the undiscovered secret of the north!" which is amusing because if it is being written about then it's known about!?!? A bit like going onto a travel forum and asking for advice about "getting off the beaten path" which is senseless because anybody off of the beaten path is hardly going to have WiFi and respond? I digress.....

A few years back Pai was a major tourist destination for both travellers and Thais. This followed several very 'successful' Thai films, resulting in every Thai and his family visiting the area to have their photograph taken on the same streets that their stars and hero's stood in for their movie shot. Backpackers and other areas cottoned onto this quickly and places like Chiang Mai made themselves more desirable at weekends with "walking street markets" and the like. The movies have now long since been forgotten and the Thai's love for Pai has diminished somewhat. Today is Monday and it seems as though a star-ship has landed and Pai is being invaded by the great unwashed. Well, most are washed but some may need to visit the 7-Eleven for deodorant at least!

Pai itself doesn't seem to bothered about the lack of Thais visiting. The spent little money on the tourist things and so bought little money into the town. For us, it makes it amazingly comfortable for the weekend.

There's a bag full to choose from. Some within easy walking distance of the main travel agents and some a little further out. If you're travelling in a group, then follow our guide - split into two groups and leave one with the bags and the others go explore! We've listed places with websites/ email addresses as much as possible but as always, some of the best deals will be found on foot on the day. Staying for more than 3 nights in the low season will get some great prices.

Pai Park Cottage
Prices from: 200B - 600B
What an amazingly relaxing place! Just over the river by a swaying suspension bridge, Pai Park Cottage offers something for all budgets. Lower end huts up to brick-build accommodation with A/C, TV and refrigerator. The reception area has a book exchange section and a pool table. Thinking of visiting Pai, then do consider this option.

Eating and Drinking
Welcome to the land of "Bossa Lounge Music". I think someone did a deal here a few years ago, or do they think that's hippy? There's some great food to be had in the town and out off. The market food is amazingly fresh and it's always reassuring to see locals pull up on their mopeds and get the same food as you. Fresh spicy-sausages, chicken, liver pastes and dumplings are amazing.

Quite a few to choose from abut not over-kill. Nearly all offer deals on cocktails and buckets and those with life entertainment tend to only sell small beers making it a little more expensive for those on a tight budget. The ones listed are inner city as such and close-up around 0100 hours. If you want a late drink then head over the river to Don't Cry Bar and Bamboo which are open until about 0400 and still only charge 100B for a big beer! We didn't get there... so no comment!

Almost Famous
Aka Piet's Bar a cool friendly hangout bar with great cocktails and good music. Wednesday nights pub quiz is hosted by Ed.

The Blah Blah Bar
No live music, no bullshit, no fire show, just cheap drinks and cool punk music. Free WiFi and the smallest pool table in town!

50 Satang
One of the first bars in Pai, this is the place to try Thai herbal whiskies!

Be bop
Live bands every night from 2100 until 0100 with an open-mike session on Wednesdays.

Buffalo Bar
Live music every night from 2030. They have a big screen TV showing football. Small beers only and cocktails. Food until midnight.

Edible Jazz
Pai's original live music restaurant and bar. Live acoustic sets in what looks more like someones garden party than a bar which actually makes it cooler! Really nice vibe inside.

Hi5 Bar
Pool table, WiFi, movies and hammocks. It's a real doss down place for the night. Thursday night is ladies night and a pool competition on the 1st of every month.

Yellow Sun Bar
There line "Drop your bag, relax your back with an ice-cold beer or cocktail". Large screen showing sport from around the world but another of those small beer only bars.

Na's Kitchen
Great Thai food set in a relaxed "no frills" environment. Nearly always full, even at the weekends and in low season. Tell Na that you'd like the food Thai spicy and she'll be overwhelmed with pride!

Tiger Bar
Reasonably good food with a chilled, wait for it, "Bosa Lounge" cd playing the in the background. The pictures really don't match the food... either that or the chef has never seen the pictures. Still worth popping in. Pool table and beers only later on.

Are you ting tong?
On walking street, it is sometimes confusing who works here. Not even sure if it is just a community project! But, the food was good and in our case, thankfully they didn't deliver the full order because the portions can be big for some dishes!

Curry Shack
Good honest curries and a good honest price. Our sales pitch, not theirs!

Ping's Burger Queen 
One of the low-cost beer stops in town we were tempted back the next night by a taste of one of Ping's home-made chunky chips! We were all set to write about how great the food was until we sampled the chicken "fillet" burger: really chicken-sandwich-sliver. The beef was okay, though if you're from the land of the hamburger (and a lot of Pai's tourist are) then you'll most likely be disappointed. We should have followed our own advice - when in Thailand eat Thai!


Local Temples
Wat Luang
This is the most famous and most important temple in Pai. In the past it was used to feed elephants today it is where important Thai ceremonies are held. The big Shan pagoda and spirit house protect the town from negative occurrences.

Wat Phra That Mae Yen
This temple sits atop a hill and has great views over the Pai valley. It's a beautiful place to watch the sunset. It's only 15 minutes from the town and 353 steps up to the temple. Check-out the torture scenes inside the temple!

Wat Nam Hoo
This temple houses a sacred Buddha image said to have once emitted holy water from its head. It is believed that the King built this temple in order to give good khama for his older sister. It is popular with visiting Thais and there is a small market on the grounds.
Hua Chang Waterfall
This is one of the least known waterfalls in Pai.
When you come to the stream, park up and walk across the stream and follow the trail along the side. It's about 90 minutes walk to the falls. There are tracks most of the way but you also have to keep crossing over the stream so flips flops are not the best idea. It's remote, so drinking water and repellent are a must!

Mae Yem Waterfall
This 3-tiered waterfall is one of the most beautiful in the district. It's a 7 km hike from Pai so if this is how you're getting there, take plenty of water and leave early. Head out of town towards Fluid and follow the signs.

Mor Paeng Waterfall
This is one of Pai's most popular attractions. There's a jungle pool that's ideal for swimming and the rocks are smooth enough to slide down, just like the locals do! The waterfalls are 8 km from Pai making it a long walk or a short moped trip.

Other Sites

Pai Canyon
Located off of highway 1095 along the road back to Chiang Mai a paved stairway here culminates in an elevated lookout over high rock cliffs and the Pai valley. The latter can be followed by a dirt trail but lacking shade it is best tackled either early morning or late afternoon.

World War II Memorial Bridge
This is a major tourist attraction built by the Japanese as a transportation route between Chiang Mai and Myanmar. It's also one of several crucial photo opportunities along the 762 curves to Pai. Either make your way there by moped or try and get the driver to stop if you're travelling to/ from Pai via minibus.

This Chinese village offers tea tasting sessions, horse riding and souvenirs. The Chinese houses are built o mud and straw surrounded by a "beautiful" Chinese landscape. This "amusement park" wouldn't be high on the list of recommendations for us.

Local Fresh Market
Daily from 0500 until 0700 and 1500 until 1800 hrs. The street leading up to the market is lined with food vendors in the afternoon and worth a visit if only for the spicy Thai sausage.

Walking Street Market
All sorts of BBQ food available on sticks and stores selling hand-made jewelry, hill-tribe goodies and leather products. Check-out the queues of Chinese buying herbal tea in bamboo! This is a no drinking or smoking street in Pai. Daily from about 1800 hrs. Even though it's called Walking Street, be mindful of cars, vans, mopeds and bicycles! If you're reading this and then rent a bike... why not help turn walking street back into that?!?! It's mostly the inexperienced Farangs that crash into other tourists or bikes.

Monday Market
Local style market. Look up and you'll see the biggest mango tree in Thailand. Out near the airport, this market starts at 0500 until 1200.

Wednesday Market
Another local market where you will find all kinds of treasures. 0500 until 1200 hrs.

Mountain biking, circus training, tubing, cooking classes.............

Red Orchid Cooking School
There are several schools in town and we opted for this one because of the price (cheapest in town), the flexibility in the menu that we chose (ANY 5 dishes that we wanted) and the flexibility in the timing (most people are mid-morning, cook for lunch, then return later in the afternoon and cook their dinner! We stretched ours over two evenings which worked great for us!). If you want to know more, have a read of the Red Orchid Cooking School blog.

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    Posted 4 Jul 2013, 02:30 by Elli Murr
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