Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
Dreadlocks. Backpackers. Happy hour specials. Motorbikes whizzing around you. Yoga. Vegan food options. Waterfalls and mountains and incredible views.
This is Pai.
It’s a hippie town for sure and it’s become quite popular with young backpackers. There are tons of bars lining the streets with happy hour deals and, walking around the night market, I often felt old at 36. Everyone just seemed SO YOUNG. It’s also quite Western – there were many times that I felt like I was in California or Costa Rica…really anywhere. That’s the downside of all the tourism I guess, these towns start to just all look the same.
I actually only booked 2 nights in Pai because I feared that the young backpacker vibe would not be my thing. Two nights was fine for me, but I probably could have spent at least one more night there especially if I had done a trek or found someone to take me on their motorbike. But if you are hanging in the town and don’t have transportation, you might feel a bit stranded. Besides, I had seen a lot about exploring areas further from Pai (including Soppong and Mae Hong Son) and so I decided to limit my time in Pai in favor of spending more time in these other places.
Getting There: Take a minibus from Chaing Mai, easy to arrange via your guesthouse. You can also set up on 12Go yourself, but if you have the hotel do it they will also arrange pickup from the hotel to the bus station which will make things easier. The ride takes about 3 hours and it goes along some very winding roads. It’s a bit infamous for this. If you get motion sickness, make sure to take your meds beforehand! Once you are in Pai, it’s tough to really explore outside of the city without your own transport. You can rent motorbikes in town if you are comfortable driving them around here. You can also use tours or hire tuk-tuks to take you around in Pai if you don’t want to rent a motorbike. The main part of the city itself is walkable, but there’s not much there.
Where to stay: This depends on what you are looking for in Pai. You can stay right in the center of town, but know that it will likely be a bit louder and busier here. You can stay on the other side of the river, there are some nice looking resorts/bungalows there – but you will definitely need your own transport if you stay over here. I chose to stay just outside of the town, a few minutes walking distance but not on the other side of the river – Pailin House. The location was perfect for me because I could walk around easily, but it was set away from the night market and the bars in the city so it was quiet and peaceful. This guesthouse has a few different bungalows for guests, each with a little porch to chill out on. This was by far my favorite part – I loved being able to sit outside and enjoy the quiet in the evenings or in the morning with my coffee.
Things to do:
Get out of town – there are lots of things to explore around Pai, but you will need to either rent a scooter or hire transport to see them. Since I didn’t rent a bike (more on that later), I opted to do a half-day “tour” which was basically a tuk-tuk shared among 10 women where we got taken to 6 different sights around Pai, including seeing the sunset at Pai Canyon. While it was a lot to see in a few hours, it was an easy way to see many things around Pai and meet some cool people.
There are waterfalls, viewpoints, and trekking options available. You can also do a 1-day or multi-day trek (with an overnight stay in a village homestay) – there are tons of tour companies offering these.
If you’re hot and your hotel doesn’t have a pool, cool off at Fluid Pool. There’s a minimal entrance fee (80 baht), they serve food and drink there, and it’s a really nice 25-meter pool that is perfect on a hot afternoon. It’s just outside of the town across the river, walkable from town.
Take a walk up to see the White Buddha, ideally at sunset when it’s a bit cooler outside.
Eating & Drinking:
There are a lot of options in Pai if you want Thai food, Western food, or just street snacks. There are also a lot of bars in this town, most offering some sort of backpacker-friendly happy hour deal.
The Walking Street Market runs every night and is quite expansive. There are plenty of things to eat here, as well as souvenirs to buy. I ate all of my dinners at the night market – it was so cheap and there was a lot of variety (including lasagna, Indian food, and vegan spring rolls)! It’s also not super crowded unlike the markets in Chiang Mai.
There is a little breakfast restaurant next to the bus station. I don’t know the name of it, but it has the BEST coffee/banana smoothies. I had one each of the 3 days I was in Pai.
Nong Beer – Great little restaurant serving local dishes, including some Shan dishes. I highly recommend the Hang Lay curry if you go there. It’s one of the specialties and it’s awesome.
For breakfast try Om Garden Cafe. Very cute little place on a side street. Had a very good Thai omelette with toast and fruit here. Mostly Westerners of course