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Pai, Thailand

Feb 14 – 17

After leaving Pun Pun and You Sabai, Miguel and our motorbike were both feeling sick, so we drove back to Chiang Mai to fix everyone all up. It turned out that our motorbike just needed to be on a different setting (not sure about the technical stuff…but it wasn’t sick) and it turned out that Miguel just needed a good night of sleep. Once that was all taken care of, we headed out again. Our destination: Pai.

This was our trusty vehicle.

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai was super super curvy! Up to this point, our driving had been mainly on straight country roads (with small spurts of city streets here and there). These curvy roads made it feel like we were in a video game – and Miguel had officially moved up from level one to level five!

It was funny that they even bothered to mark the curves with signs. Because the entire stretch of road was so curvy, that you’d have to place a sign every few meters. And some of the sharpest curves were unmarked.

Of course there were other hazards too.

On the way to Pai, we saw a sign for hot springs and decided to stop and take a look. The best part about traveling by motorbike rather than bus is that you can do that! It was a little bit of a detour on a really steep gravel road. Our poor motorbike was barely chugging along and at one section I had to get off and walk so it could make it up the hill.

The hot springs were nice, but we had to pay the standard National Park entrance fee (350 Baht) even though we were only wanting to make a quick stop. It was a very pretty place though. And it felt good to get off the motorbike for a while and walk around.

The sulfurous pools were nice to look at, but too hot to get too close.

These cows didn’t seem to mind the sulfur steam though. They seemed to like it.

It seemed a bit too hot and sunny outside to be hopping into hot springs, but we stuck our feet in for a while.

After getting back on the steep gravel street and then navigating around more curvy stretches of road, we finally made it to Pai, a small town in Northern Thailand near the Myanmar border and between Chiang Mai and Mai Hong Son.

With lots of lush farmland, big mountains all around, and a nice river running through, my first thought was: Wow – this is a pretty town!

And there were flowers! Flowers all around!

And lots of green stuff everywhere!

Because the streets are so nice and quiet, Pai is the perfect place to relax and roam around on the motorbike.

Pai’s relaxed atmosphere is exactly why the travelers tend to migrate here in droves. And this huge influx of travelers definitely does detract from the quiet market village atmosphere Pai used to be known for.

But while you can’t help but notice that Internet cafes, cheap guest houses, and souvenir shops, now dominate the heart of the city, there is something really comforting and alluring about Pai. And it’s one of those places where many people get sucked in and never seem to leave. With cozy cafes, live music clubs, art galleries, vegetarian restaurants, and used book shops, not to mention that all of this is surrounded by beautiful scenery, hot springs, and nice waterfalls, there’s no doubt that it’s a nice place to be.

So if you’re looking for a place to meet other travelers or maybe just needing a peaceful place to take it easy for a while, this is a great destination. But if your looking for an unspoiled destination free from tourists, dreadlocked hippies, and fire dancers, Pai is definitely not the place (as it has been discovered and transformed by the farang, many many years ago).

Many tourists use Pai as a base for trekking in the nearby mountains and visiting the hill tribe villages in the area (like Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu). Although sadly, I’ve heard that these “authentic” villages are fabricated and that the tribal people are largely being exploited to bring in money from foreign tourists. Here is an article about this. So…we didn’t go.

We did go to some of the markets in the area, where the tribal people sell their handicrafts.

And if you wander around the countryside by motorbike, you’ll see the tribal people. They scream at you as you pass by and to try to sell you weed or opium.

There are some really nice accommodation choices in Pai – some very cheap (the cheapest of which can be found clustered on small side streets near the town center). You can even stay in tents along the water.

But Miguel and I splurged a little and stayed in some pretty bungalows for a few days (for about 500 or 600 Baht a night).

Our place had nice sunset views and cute little huts to lounge around in during the day.

After a few days though, we moved here. It was cheaper (200 Baht) and close to town. And the room was nice, with lots of plants and a cute little porch.

And of course this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our favorite places to eat. Overall I was disappointed with the food in Pai. Many of the restaurants were owned and run by foreigners, catered exclusively to foreigners, and as a result were bland and overpriced. But there were definitely a few exceptions. Na’s Kitchen is by far the best place in town. I was initially turned off by the lack of Thai people eating there, but Miguel had a good feeling about it and he was right. Highly recommended! The Mamai Oi award definitely goes to her. She was closed the second time we tried to eat there, so we didn’t get her photo unfortunately. She seems to have such a bumping business that she only opens in the evenings and can afford to close whenever she feels like it. But if you make it to Pai, go to Na’s Kitchen and try her Panaeng Curry. Delicious!

For lunch, this is a great place. They have a buffet during the day and also serve cheap noodle soup.

For street food, I was a big fan of the fish cakes filled with blueberries.

In my opinion, a perfect day in Pai is spent having a late lunch at the veg buffet place, lounging around at the waterfall nearby, eating dinner at Na’s Kitchen, then having a few beers at the reggae bar.

Miguel and I loved visiting these waterfalls. We spent two days there.

A bunch of little kids also loved this place.

And we watched them jump and slide into the water.

Miguel is like a little kid too, so he decided to join them. Then so did I. The water was icy cold, but it felt nice.

I wasn’t thrilled with all the cigarette butts lying around, but that’s how things tend to be at natural spots in Thailand (and everywhere else in world really). Cigarette smokers: PLEASE don’t ruin all these pretty places for everyone else. Put your butts in your pocket until you can find a trashcan.

Miguel and I tried to find the other waterfall listed on this sign. And we even took a photo of the sign so we could show it to people and try to get directions. But we never had luck finding it.

But we did find an abandoned taekraw net and tried to practice a little bit. We still sucked.

And in the evening, we found some hot springs. They were closed, but the guard still let us enter for a discounted fee. Nice place, but a little creepy being in the water without being able to see anything around us. Bats swooped around us to eat the bugs our headlamps attracted. And when we shined our lights on the ground, we could see that it was covered in daddy long leg spiders.

Overall, our time in Pai was nice and pleasant.

We thought we would continue on to Mae Hong Son. But since we needed to go to Laos before Miguel’s visa expired, we had to drive the motorbike on that long curvy road all the way back to Chiang Mai. I could just hang on to Miguel and look at all the scenery, but Miguel had to concentrate they whole way and try not to wreck. We made it back safely. And poor Miguel was tired.

Notes:

  • This is probably not the best sign for advertising your restaurant. The words “MSG” are bigger and more prominent than the actual restaurant name. Funny.

  • I just wanted to post this picture because I think this guy is cute.

  • After fresh squeezed orange juice, a close second is strawberry juice.

  • If you travel for a long time in lots of different climates, you should carry lotion at all times. Otherwise your skin might start to look like an elephant’s.

  • I like this toilet. Haha!

  • No trumpets in Pai either. Bummer.

  • Don’t forget. No tissue in the toilets!

  • There are several different brands of soymilk in Thailand. But if you’re looking for a vegan brand, lactasoy is a actually still has milk products in it (hence the word “lacta”).

  • You can find all kinds of weird vitamin drinks in Thailand. And often they’re boottlegged whiskey drinks in disguise.

  • We saw this sign and thought it would be so strange if there actually was a Buffalo Exchange in Pai. But actually we realized that someone had just straight up stolen the sign and used it as the name for their bar. The flyers around town were written in the same font and everything. Interesting advertising tactic!

  • If we don’t get a welded contraption for our South America motorbike trip (see notes in previous Chiang Mai post), we might go with a set of woven baskets instead. It’s nice to know we have options.

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1 Comment

  1. Gualla

     /  April 2, 2012

    Hi, I was searching Pai Bungalows to stay in, and I saw your pictures, which look very nice.
    Do you mind sharing the name of the bungalow guesthouse you stayed in?

    Thank you very much.

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