To be honest, I was not a big fan of Thailand. Until I ended up in Pai, a small tourist town in the mountains of northern Thailand. Nearby city Chiang Mai and close to the border of Myanmar. Although Pai became touristic and commercial during the last years, the town still has space available for the rest seeker like me. Soon, I fell in love with the nature of Pai and a guesthouse…
From Chiang Mai, we took the bus to the promising town in the mountains. While the driver drove recklessly through hairpin turns, I enjoyed the green tropical mountain landscape. A trip to Pai is not for the one with a weak stomach. Sometimes I am wondering how I am still alive after traveling in Asia.
Tony’s Guesthouse is located 1.5 kilometers from Pai’s downtown. A safe distance from the touristic crowdedness. The owner of the hostel Tony welcomed us when we arrived at night. A Thai hippie with dancing dreadlocks and a friendly smile. We did not eat anything yet, so Tony jumped into his cooking apron to prepare us an evening breakfast. Omelets served with tomatoes and a loving leap of pesto on top.
Just the day after when the sun peaked into our small cabin, I realized how beautiful Pai is. We looked out over the green mountain hills where morning dawn slowly disappeared and made space for a sunny day. Again, omelets with tomato and pesto were served for us while Tony played his reggae music in the background. I inhaled the peace and tranquility. How could we leave this place?
What to do in Pai?
Go explore by scooter
The best way to discover the surroundings of Pai is while driving a scooter. Hiring a scooter in Pai is affordable and prevents you from losing money to expensive tours. But be sure that you are able the drive a scooter or you will end at Pai’s injured backpacker club. Together with our pretty pink scooter (apparently no others available), we drove through rice fields, crossed ramshackle bamboo bridges and drove without a purpose searching for beauty.
Food, food, and food.
Pai is the food Walhalla. Every day when the sun goes down, the night market opens and offers a generous variety of food. From tropical fruits to pancakes with chocolate, roasted meat and sticky rice with mango. Sick of Thai food? Or a really bad need for cheese? Don’t worry, Pai has good pizza places, sandwich stalls or burgers with fries. Furthermore, breakfast all day is a thing in Pai. So you never have to worry that you are late for breakfast. Eggs, pancakes, yogurt and muesli and sandwiches. For the broke backpacker: Thai food is always the cheapest option.
Pai knows several hot springs. My favorite was the Sai Ngam hot spring. Enjoying the warm water stroking my skin or reading a book at the shore. Come in the morning if you want to have the pool for yourself. But even in the afternoons, it is not too crowded. The price to enter the area cost you 20 baht, and the ticket for the hot spring pool will cost you another 20 baht.
What not to do: riding elephants
Do not listen to the advertisements and tourists who say riding an elephant was: “the best experience of my life”. No, riding an elephant is harmful to the creatures. And why? Because the body of an elephant is not made for tourists. Moreover, in most known cases the elephants captured in the tourist industry are being tortured since a young age. Still, want to get in touch with elephants? Rather choose the elephant hugging option, where you bath and feed the elephants instead of riding them. Want to know more about the elephant industry? Read this article.
From Chiang Mai to Pai and back
There is only one road through Pai which gives you two options: south to Chiang Mai or further north to Mae Hong Son. If you want to go to Bangkok, Myanmar or Laos, you need to go back to Chiang Mai’s Arcade bus. A list of vehicle options to Pai:
The minibus is the most comfortable and easiest option, it takes around 3 hours. The bus to Pai leaves from Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai. Do not bother to buy a bus ticket in advance since it will be overpriced and the bus leaves every hour. Ticket price: between 150 and 200 baht. Busses back to Chiang Mai leave every hour from Pai’s bus station located in downtown.
A songthaew is a small red car which you will recognize all over Pai. The name literally means ‘two benches’ and has space up to 8 people. Taking a songthaew to Pai is less comfortable in comparison with the minivan but considerably cheaper: 80 baht. The ride takes around 4 hours.
Many backpackers choose to go to Pai by scooter. Scooter rentals are everywhere in Chiang Mai for a good price and it is no problem to rent a scooter for a couple of days. The road is of good quality but dangerous if you are not an experienced driver.
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