I have to start this post by saying how much I loved Pai, and it wasn’t even originally on our list of places to go and the 3.5 hour journey there from Chiang Mai wasn’t the most relaxing we have ever had (constant winding roads with an over-zealous driver make it quite uncomfortable and impossible to sleep). On our journey back two days later, a fellow passenger was throwing up into a plastic bag because of how vigorous it was.
Anyway, we got on our minivan at 9am and arrived in Pai around 12:30 just round the corner from Walking Street. As we knew we wouldn’t have long there we booked our accommodation in advance on booking.com to save time walking around – we went with Canary Guesthouse, which is just across the river and about a 10 minute walk from the drop-off point, and booked one of their cottages with ensure and fan for 400 baht (£8) each night. There are cheaper options, especially if you go in a dormitory, but with two of us sharing it’s not too expensive, and nicer, to do it this way. The resort was just along the river, where I would highly recommend staying – it was stunning.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the lovely little town (which has low, open-front shops where you can see the rural surroundings behind them), stopping by a local bookshop and popping into Siam Bistro for a lemon, ginger and honey tea when the heavens opened (such is Thailand in the low season – clear blue skies and a hot sun one minute, then torrential rain the next). We then ventured to the Mae Yen Temple and Big Buddha at the top of a hill (up some steps), which only took about 30 minutes to walk to – we reached the top, spent about 10 minutes there and then the heavens opened once more so we too shelter inside the temple!
Once those showers had subsided it was 6pm, so we took an early evening walk to the nearby Village Farm before heading back to our cottage to freshen up. The Walking Street has a night market most evenings so we wandered round the market for a while before finding a local restaurant where I had Suki, a delicious Thai style hot pot with glass noodles and heaps of flavour.
On our only full day in Pai we rented a moped again. Almost everyone in Pai gets round by moped; there are far less cars than mopeds on the streets and there weren’t any Tuk Tuks or red taxis in sight (it was actually a welcome relief from the constant harassment of “Tuk Tuk??” “Taxi??” in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. We paid 150 baht for our moped and topped it up with 2 litres of gasoline for 50 baht, which totalled 4 quid for the whole day (and we didn’t use even half of the gasoline) where, starting at 11am and returning around 7pm, we first went north to Santichan Chinese village and the Yun Lai Viewpoint before heading south to Pai Waan resort, Mari Pai Big Tree, Coffee In Love, Land Split, Pembok Waterfall, Love Strawberry Pai, the Memorial Bridge, Pai Treehouse and Pai Canyon. We also rode to the Pai Hot Springs but it was 300 baht each to get in so we turned back. This is pretty much what you do if you pay 500 baht each for the tour with minivan, which would have been 1000 baht for the tour of us – we paid 800 baht less to do it ourselves, go at our own pace and gave the joy of riding round this beautiful place on a moped where you get much more breeze than you would in a stuffy minivan. I should also mention that in Chiang Mai they offer a day tour to Pai for 1000 baht each where you get a 3 hour minivan there, do all these stops with 30 minutes at each, then 3 hours back; between us we paid 800 baht for 2 nights in Pai, 340 baht to get there, 300 baht to get back, and 200 baht for our moped, totalling at 1,640 baht or 820 baht each. That’s less than a one day tour and we got to do and see so much more. It’s a no-brainer.
Anyway, Yun Lai viewpoint was a great way to see over the whole of Pai, but the Big Buddha offers a very similar view, and the Chinese village was nice to ride through but didn’t feel worth stopping for. Pai Wan, Mari Pai and Strawberry in Love are quirky resorts with multiple photo opportunities and ate interesting to see, but we didn’t spend ages here (apart from at Strawberry when another downpour occurred – carry one of those thin, cheap waterproofs with you if riding a moped!) We really liked Coffee in Love, however, which may because I am obsessed with coffee but maybe because it felt less tacky than the others and felt a bit more like “Pai”; beautiful scenery, calm surroundings and good food/drink. I had an amazing latte and we shared a Greentea Tiramasu Cake, which was surprisingly good.
On the way to Pembok Waterfall you pass the entrance to the Land Split on the right (just after the “swimming at your own risk” lake on the left-hand side). There was a land split following an earthquake in 2008 and another split in 2011, and the land owners have opened it to the public for free and even provide you with fresh, produced-on-site Roselle Juice (delicious), papaya, mango, sweet potato, banana chips, roseless jam and Roselle wine. They offer it for free but there is a donation box if you do wish (which we did as the snacks were do tasty and they were so warm and hospitable). The land split itself is also really cool and definitely worth a visit.
Pembok Waterfall takes about 10 minutes to walk to, over a very rickety bridge, once you have parked your moped (after driving for approximately 10 minutes after the land split) and is slightly encased so it feels a bit secret and mysterious and also is kept quite cool. We had a refreshing swim on a muggy day that broke up the riding quite nicely before we headed to the WWll Japanese Memorial Bridge, which was built during the war to transport goods across. It has a really peaceful and still air about it, with a beautiful backdrop and the faint murmur of mopeds going past on the transport bridge beside it, and I found myself feeling quite “stilled” by it.
Finally we made our way over to Pai Canyon. Again it was about a 10 minute walk uphill to the start of the canyon, but then you can walk/climb/clamber/slide up and down the canyon (which we of course did – sorry Mum) for about another 20 minutes until you reach the highest point. It was sweaty and I stretched my body further than it has ever been stretched before, but it was well worth it (and I’ve down THE Grand Canyon in America, and I’d still recommend doing this for the views, the experience and the feeling you get). We started out about 5 and by the time we got back to the original viewing point at 6:15 it was getting busy with people aiming for sunset. We sat it out until around 6:45 but a huge cloud had appeared on the horizon and wasn’t budging, so we decided to head back before it got dark as we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway.
Oh and I should mention that on our trek back to the original viewing point I had myself steadied between the rocks, my hands and feet spread apart in various directions as though I were playing twister with myself, when I lost momentum and my foot slipped – I dropped down slightly and caught myself, but not before my body had shifted and my bum was practically in Jason’s facade (who was just behind me) – I plan on not washing my denim shorts so I continue to have Canyon Bum on my travels.
We spent the evening eating (I had a glorious avocado salad for £2.40) and drinking, first at a Jazz bar where we sampled Sangsom (Thai rum that tastes more like whiskey and was not to my liking) and then at the bar just next to our accommodation where we could lay in a bamboo hut alongside the river, playing Eye Spy together (I can’t explain the choices you make and the things that suddenly appeal to you when travelling. Then again, I played the Number Plate game on the way to the airport in the UK, so…)
Pai – with its warm and peaceful atmosphere, stunning rural surroundings and breath-taking versus quirky activities – is hands down my favourite place in Thailand so far. But for now we venture over to Laos (via Chiang Khong) and will return to Thailand for the south islands later on…