Throughout my first two weeks in Thailand, I kept hearing people tell me about a place called Pai (pronounced pie). “Have you been to Pai yet?” “Are you going to Pai?” “Oh, you have to go to Pai!” I learned it’s a small, hippie town with a feeling not unlike the Thai islands. The only difference is it’s located in the Northern mountains surrounded by rice farms. I’m not always one to do what everyone else is doing, but I loved the life on Ko Tao so much I was craving more of the island feel.
I booked a van for the equivalent of $4.50 along the insanely windy 3 hour route between Chiang Mai and Pai. I had no plans once I got there. I figured I’d spend 2 or 3 days just to feel the place out. I'd find out what to do and where to go after I arrived. Being completely open to seeing and doing anything, I ended up staying 7 nights and having an awesome time! In fact, I want to go back. So this is my list of reasons to visit Pai, or go again!.
1. To stay at the Evergreen Guesthouse
I wandered down the main walking street of Pai, looking for a place to stay. The first place was fully booked. The next was 150B a night for a really run-down, uncleanly share. But then I found the Evergreen Guesthouse. Just off the main walking street away from all the nightlife noise, this “government certified” guesthouse is run by a woman from Pai named Nu and her Australian partner, David. For only 200B you get a charming and clean private bungalow-style room with a full bed and fan and your own bathroom with a hot shower. This is an excellent price for the cleanliness and amenities in Thailand.
To top it off, Nu is the sweetest woman ever! She made me feel right at home. In the first hour of my arrival, she pulled out a map and showed me a place to rent a motorbike and things to see in the area. Now I had a plan formulating.
2. To meet the locals
Nu suggested I go somewhere to see the sunset for my first night. I ended up at Sunset Bar which faces the mountains to the West. I could sit and enjoy a Leo beer as I watched the sun fall behind them.
There, I bumped into a Thai guy named Jimmy I had met a couple days before in Chiang Mai. To my surprise, he was working at Sunset Bar. I spent the rest of the week hanging out with him, his Thai friends, and his co-workers. They were all great people who became like a family to me. We shared food and drink and laughed over cultural differences and language barriers. (more in my next post!)
I also randomly met some local farmers while motorbiking on my own around the countryside. I pulled to the side of the road to observe the local rice farmers harvest. A farmer stopped working and walked over to me. He asked in some motions of his hands if he could take a picture of me! I welcomed the role reversal—I’d been sneaking so many pictures of locals on this trip, it only seemed fair.
Another farmer walked up and joined in the fun. He took a photo of us together on my camera after he gave me his scythe and a stalk of rice to hold. It felt hilarious posing with the scythe and the rice and the farmer. I felt like such a tourist, but these guys were having fun, too!
3. To rent a motorbike and explore
Pai is a small town with a very large surrounding area. Therefore, having a mode of transportation other than your feet is vital. I was lucky enough to have Jimmy show me around for most of my time. But the day I rented a motorbike and explored on my own was one of the best days I had in Pai.
Nothing beats picking a side road and driving down it until you can go no more. It’s the perfect way to see all the highlights in the area and some treasures only found by being free to deviate off-the-beaten path.
4. To wander Pai Canyon
One of the highlights outside the main walking streets of Pai is the Pai Canyon. This strange maze of pathways along treacherous ridges can be explored for hours if you allow the time. When I went, I only had an hour to explore before sunset. I would love to go back earlier in the day to see more!
I went before sunset to see a beautiful cast of golden rays shoot across the canyon from over the nearby mountains.
5. To visit the White Buddha for sunset
I'm glad I was in Pai for multiple nights so I could catch the sunset here, too. Probably the most spectacular view in all of Pai is up to the “Temple on the Hill” at Wat Phra That Mae Yen. The White Buddha at the top is a sight worth seeing on its own.
Once I reached the top, I turned around, had a seat on the steps to catch my breath, and watched the rays of light stretch across the mountain valley below. Okay, yes. I've decided. This is the best view in all of Pai.
6. To eat at the Om Garden Café
Out of all the street food and restaurants I tried in Pai, the Om Garden Café stands out above the rest. I love Thai food and I ate A LOT of it during my time in Thailand. But there were a couple of days during my time in Pai when I was craving some Farang (Western) food (particularly after I got sick from eating bugs, but I’ll tell that story in my next post!).
I had some pretty drab Farang food around Thailand. Some places just hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Om Garden Café has western food figured out. More than figured out—if this place existed back in New York, I’d be there at least once a week.
The atmosphere of the place is reminiscent of its name. It's on a shaded patio set back from the street with plants and trees all around—very cool, calm, and relaxing.
7. To swim at Mor Paeng Waterfall
A motorbike drive west out of Pai will bring you to the Mor Paeng waterfall—a multi-tiered waterfall with several swimming holes, rocks to sunbathe on, and cliffs to jump off into the pools below. The ride takes an hour or longer to get there and the location is a bit hard to find without a map or paying careful attention to road signs. But it’s totally worth it once you arrive. I could have spent an entire day there.
I was lucky enough to be there at the same time a local Thai boy was jumping off the rocks in to the water. He put on quite a show! A few tourists attempted the jump, too, but this young boy was a professional. At one point, he even rode a flattened water bottle down the sloping rock into one of the lower pools. He was such a daredevil and he ate up the attention from all the tourists.
There were butterflies everywhere at the waterfall! They landed on the rocks, the surrounding vegetation, and on me!
I also made friends with a friendly stray dog roaming around there. He eagerly ate some of my crackers.
8. To shop along the walking street
There are two main, perpendicular streets in Pai. These streets are open only to motorbikes and foot traffic because they can become filled with people. After dark, street vendors line up outside of shops to sell food and trinkets.
Many of the local hill tribe families make their living selling hand-crafted items.
I especially loved one shop selling some stone, bead, and rope jewelry. I could have bought the entire store!
I became a regular at this woman's cart: She made the best banana pancakes. They were the closest thing to real pancakes from home I ever found in Thailand. And she only charged 40B for 10 silver dollar pieces!
A hilarious guy wearing a viking helmet sold "Amazing Thai Herb tea" in a bamboo mug of your choice every night. He was full of energy and insisted on getting a photo with everyone who bought a tea.
The best thing about the walking street is its consistency. If I passed up one stall one night, I could always find it again the next night.
Now I understand what everyone had been telling me about Pai. The diversity of things to do, the small-town laid back feel, and the friendliness of the people make this the perfect travel destination. I can’t wait to visit again!