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Pai, Thailand

Travel Guide, Things to Do, and What to Expect in Pai.

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Pai, Thailand

Bungalows along the river in Pai, Thailand.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Fresh air, green mountains, friendly Lanna people -- no wonder so many hippies decided to settle in the quiet, riverside town of Pai, Thailand. Situated in the mountains just four hours north of Chiang Mai, Pai is an accessible escape when the tourist hordes start clogging the moat around Chiang Mai.

Pai remained one of Thailand's best-kept backpacker secrets until recently when an improved road, new airport, and even a popular Thai movie put it on the map. Today, Pai is busier than ever with a jump in tourism.

Fortunately, the charm hasn't been all lost; use this guide for Pai, Thailand, to get the most out of your visit!

Things to Do in Pai

Aside from relaxing, meeting other travelers, and enjoying the scenic surroundings, Pai has a few simple attractions on offer.

  • Visit Waterfalls: Mo Paeng Waterfall is the most accessible of Pai's waterfalls; locals use a large, smooth rock which serves as a natural slide into a deep pool for swimming. Mae Yen Waterfall, slightly more impressive, is about four miles outside of town.
  • Ride an Elephant: Pai is a popular place to take your first elephant ride; a variety of camps and operations are located around the edges of town. For the best elephant ride, choose an operation that does not use the wooden bench seat and allows tourists to sit directly on the elephant. Most rides end with a splash in the river to cool down.
  • Visit the Hot Springs: A simple trail parallels a bubbling, sulphuric spring through Pai's small national park. Swimming is allowed if you can handle the extreme heat and gagging smell!
  • Enjoy the River: Much more serene than the party-scene tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, both tubing and white water rafting are available between Mae Hong Son and Pai.
  • Try Fishing: An expat-owned bungalow operation just outside of town offers several pay ponds where you can purchase bait and fish by the hour. The staff are friendly, and fishing makes for quite a relaxing day even if little is caught. The ponds are stocked with a large variety of exotic fish including piranha! See http://www.paifarm.com/ for more details.
  • Explore: The refreshing mountains and verdant rice fields surrounding Pai just beg to be explored by either bicycle or motorbike. Rentals for both are available in town. See what you need to know before renting a motorbike in Southeast Asia.

Accommodation in Pai

For its size, Pai has a ridiculous number of accommodation options including many under $10 per night. The wooden bungalows just across the river are cheap and peaceful, yet still close enough to walk nearly everywhere. Many secluded and romantic options can be found on private properties surrounding Pai.

Shopping in Pai

With the new influx of tourists, Pai has sectioned off a pedestrian walking street with a nightly market much like the markets in Chiang Mai. Food, trinkets, and a large variety of handmade goods and souvenirs are available. The resident expat community of artists always has interesting artifacts for sale.

First read about shopping in Asia, then learn how to negotiate prices for the best deals.

Getting to Pai, Thailand

Buses and minibuses run daily from Chiang Mai to Pai, or as an alternative you can make your own way along the scenic Route 1095 through Northern Thailand.

See getting to Pai for directions, schedules, and travel information.

The Police in Pai

Unfortunately, Pai isn't the quiet, hippie paradise on the Banana Pancake Trail that it once was. The police in Pai have garnered a nasty reputation over the past decade for unprovoked harassment of backpackers and travelers. The police have been known to forcefully perform drug checks in bars with their mobile testing platform.

One Canadian tourist was fatally shot and another was wounded by an intoxicated police officer in 2008.

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