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Life of Pai Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

After trekking and caving in Soppong, our journey across the MHS Loop continues on to the small mountainous town of Pai (ปาย). With stunning landscapes, a vibrant arts & music scene, and a bumping nightlife, this once quiet northern Thai town has morphed into a backpacker/hippie Mecca of sorts. Thanks to a cheesy romance movie called “Love of Pai,” the town has also become wildly popular with vacationing Thais, and it seems to be catching on with the hordes of selfie-snapping Chinese tourists as well, especially during the Chinese New Year. Although it’s very much on the radar these days, Pai is still an excellent place to visit – just don’t be surprised if you end up staying longer than planned.

The trailer for the famous 2009 movie.

Back in 2011 when we spent a month backpacking around Thailand, we didn’t actually make it to Pai. Throughout our travels and in the following years, we would hear stories of this mountain town full of outdoor activities, art, live music, and rowdy bars. On numerous occasions, we were told how much we would love Pai and how we ought to finally make it there. Fast forward to 2014, and we had plenty of time to fully enjoy riding the 1,864 curves of the Mae Hong Son loop. Having moved quickly through the first few legs of the trip, we arrived in Pai with five whole days to take in the town and its surroundings. Here’s a little rundown of our time there to help you plan your very own Pai adventure:

On the way to Pai from Soppong.

On the way to Pai from Soppong.

Accommodation

Mountain View Guest House in Pai

Mountain View Lodge in Pai

There seems to be more guesthouses than actual residences in Pai, as the tourism industry has enjoyed a huge boom in recent years. Whether you’re looking for a cheap bed in a dorm room in the town or a luxury resort out in nature, you can find it in Pai. As we were on an extended backpacking trip, we stuck to the budget side and booked a cabin at the Mountain View Lodge. Thanks to its location on a hill outside of town, this place is nice and quiet and has excellent views (hence the name). For just about $10 a night, we had our own little shack with a bathroom and, most importantly, a porch with a hammock.

The Town of Pai

Looking down at Pai

Looking down at Pai

The town itself is rather small, but it’s got just about everything you need as a traveler. There are plenty of travel agents who can guide you on excursions around town, an abundance of restaurants and bars, and plenty of places to just chill out. One place we rather enjoyed was Madame Ju Cafe, where you can satisfy your sweet tooth with a variety of cakes and perk up with some strong coffee.

It's not Paris, but the cafe scene is great in Pai.

It’s not Paris, but the cafe scene is great in Pai.

Every night, the streets come alive with a market full of vendors selling everything from handicrafts to colorful clothing, and there’s also plenty of delicious street food. For the night owls out there, you’ve got lots of options for partying it up in Pai. Whether you’re looking for a cheap Chang beer or fancy cocktails, you’ll be able to wet your whistle rather easily here. Live music is around every corner, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking out different singers and bands each night. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself in town for the monthly Pittalew Art & Music Party just outside of town at an artist’s home. It was at this party – full of amazing artwork, local vendors, fire dancers, and Japanese hippies rocking out – where my fiancé expressed her love for Pai and her desire to move there. It only took one day for Pai to hook her, and I wasn’t far behind.

Afternoon Chilling in the Water

Fluid Pool in Pai

Fluid Pool in Pai

It’s hot in Thailand, so sometimes you’ve just got to chill out and get in the water. Luckily, there are plenty of options for doing this in Pai. In town, you can head to Fluid – a gym and pool that also serves up food and drinks. You won’t find many people working out here, but you will find travelers laying out by the pool, sipping on fruity cocktails and sharing stories from the road. If you’ve got a motorbike, you can also drive 12 km out of town to Mo Paeng, a waterfall popular with both backpackers and locals. We got a kick out of watching the local kids slide down the rocks with the aid of empty plastic water bottles.

Local kids having a good time at Mo Paeng.

Local kids having a good time at Mo Paeng.

For an especially leisurely afternoon, you can also go tubing down the Pai River. Load up the cooler with a few beers, kick back, and enjoy the Homer Simpson of water sports.

In the tubing!

In the tubing!

Hiking and Soaking

Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon

A great way to spend half a day in Pai is riding out to the canyon and hot springs. Take a hike in scenic Pai Canyon to work off some of the street food and beer from the long nights out and enjoy nature for a while.

More scenes of the canyon.

More scenes of the canyon.

From there, it’s not far to the hot springs, whose water is said to have therapeutic benefits. Just make sure you get in before 6 and you can stay as long as you like. After so many days of sitting on the bike, it was great to just relax and soak in the hot water.

Pai Hot Springs

Pai Hot Springs

Go to China in Thailand

The Chinese village outside of Pai.

The Chinese village outside of Pai.

Back in the middle of the 20th century, hill tribes from southern China’s Yunnan province crossed into Thailand to escape Communist rule. You can visit one of their villages just outside of Pai on an easy half-day excursion. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s worth checking out for a while. At the very least, this is the best Chinese food you can find in town. Near the village, you can also cruise up to a viewpoint where you can sip on a pot of Chinese tea and take in the surroundings.

Chinese tea and Thai mountains.

Chinese tea and Thai mountains.

Hang with Buddha

A temple outside of town.

A temple outside of town.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Thai town without plenty of Buddhist temples. There are a few in the town itself, and a couple of others just a short ride away. After multiple nights of partying, it’s nice to get a little culture. From the temple, you can also take a short hike to reach a massive white Buddha statue. From here, enjoy a great Buddha’s-eye-view of Pai.

A huge white Buddha near a temple.

A huge white Buddha near a temple.

A beautiful little temple in town.

A beautiful little temple in town.

 

Although we easily could have stayed longer in Pai, our trip had to roll on. Another long day on the bike brought us back to Chiang Mai, where both us and the bikes thankfully made it back in one piece. While many travelers attempt to complete the MHS loop in as little as four days, we’re happy that we extended it to ten and would recommend others to do so if time is not such an issue. If you have any questions or comments about Pai or the MHS loop in general, feel free to hit us up on social media – @gratefulgypsies on Twitter and right here on Facebook.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.