If you only have the opportunity to see one spot in Northern Thailand, put Pai at the top of the list. A friend had told Kyle and I about Pai before coming over to Thailand, and he was disappointed during his stay that he didn’t leave more time for this place. As such we gave ourselves ample time here, and ended up staying for five days. Many people describe Pai as a destination to just kick back and do nothing, which, if you want, is completely doable. However, after renting a scooter we found every day was packed with exploring waterfalls, walking along the edge of sky-high canyons and floating down a river without a care in the world. From the activities to the numerous fellow Canadians we met in Pai, this spot remains one of the highlights of our trip through Southeast Asia. Below are the details to help make your trip here one to remember.
We booked two nights at Darling View Bungalows followed by another two nights at the Spicy Pai huts. However, after meeting a great group of people at Darling View, we decided just to stay put and enjoy the numerous nights chilling by the campfire, as well as the sunsets seen from the balcony. The staff was a bit slow at times and slightly unorganized, but if you look past that and take in the overall setting of the place, you can’t go wrong. Again, meeting people was not a problem, as there were plenty of travellers playing drinking games in the lobby area or downing a few beers by the fire. If the Spicy Pai huts and Darling View bungalows are full, a lot of people stay at Pai Circus School Resort as a backup.
Where to start? Every day was filled with waterfalls and scooting around outside of Pai. The town itself is quite small (you can see most of it in a couple of hours), so the real draw is going out to the surrounding areas. For waterfalls, don’t miss Mor Phaeng northwest of the town. The water cascades over smooth rocks, forming a natural slide that propels you into the pools below. It may look slightly unnerving at first, but I guarantee the surface is smoother than you think. Just note that you can pick up a lot of speed, so always keep your wits about you. Another great stop is Pembok waterfall southwest of the town. While there aren’t any smooth surfaces to slide down, it’s deep enough for a bit of rock jumping to keep you entertained for an hour or so.
Although it doesn’t come close to the scale of the Grand Canyon, the Pai Canyon still offers a great day trip. The views are impressive, the colouring of the rock formations is note-worthy, and you’ll get your fair share of exercise from scaling along the precarious walkways (decent shoes are recommended). Other stops include the Hot Springs, and Darling View offers a tubing trip down the river for 200 baht, where the owner will provide you with tubes and a ride up to the top of the river. One warning with the tubing: at first the river is quite clean, but halfway through it turns quite brown, so just be prepared to feel slightly dirty by the end of the ride.
Note: if you’re uncomfortable riding a scooter, a man in town offers lessons at 150 baht for one hour located on the first road to your right after crossing the main bridge going into town. After having crashed a scooter in Croatia, we were slightly nervous about renting one so forked over the cash to avoid another near-death experience. While a few people have made fun of us for taking scooter lessons, we haven’t once regretted doing it. Too many travellers wore bandages in Pai from scooter accidents for us to even consider riding one without knowing the basics.
Pai is filled with great restaurants (and amazing fruit shakes). However, one of our favourite activities was to wander through the town in the evening as it turned into a night market. Food options here included burgers, dumplings, meat skewers, BBQ ribs, spring rolls and more, all for a ridiculously low price.
The main bar to go to is located right on the river, called Sunset Bar. Bamboo seating areas jut right out over the river, and travellers chill until late sucking back buckets of booze and beer. Most nights the sky was completely clear, so another pastime involved sitting back and admiring the stars until our drinks needed a refill. There are, of course, other bars in town, but somehow we always ended up at Sunset instead (and don’t regret it for a minute).
In short, any traveler who wants to experience Northern Thailand should put Pai on their to-do list. If you can’t sit in one spot for too long, a few days should be fine, but if you’re someone who loves to kick back and do nothing, Pai is the perfect place for lazy days just watching the world go by.