Pai was never on my original list of places to visit in Thailand, but after chatting to other travelers who highly recommended it, I thought I’d make the trek. It’s a very long and winding 3.5 hour drive from from Chiang Mai to Pai, but if you pop enough anti-nausea medicine you should be okay. Pai is located in Northern Thailand and is known for it’s beautiful, mountainous landscape and laid back vibe. Many hippies who travel here end up staying, as it has great vegan restaurants, a vibrant art scene and yoga studios. While Pai has a few bars, it’s not so famous for its nightlife so this is a good place to come if you’re looking to recover from a few wild nights in Bangkok.
WHAT TO DO
Rent a scooter: One of the best days we had in Pai was when we rented scooters and drove around the countryside. If you’ve never ridden one before, this is the best place to learn. Once you navigate how to get outside the small town, you have miles of open road to cruise around. Take your backpack off for a day and drive to Puripai Villa. This luxurious resort is located on a lush hillside amidst garden landscapes and has the most stunning, panoramic views of the countryside. Grab a gourmet burger at their open air restaurant, then pull up a bean bag chair poolside and enjoy the view.
Explore the night market: The main walking street in Pai is located on Rungsiyanon Road. Every evening when the sun sets, the town sets up a night market where you can find a range of souvenirs, unique handicrafts and authentic street food. Try a fresh fruit crepe, bbq squid or a homemade chai latte.
Visit the Big Buddha: Climb the (353) stairs to Temple on the Hill to visit the Big Buddha. While the statue itself is nothing spectacular, the view of the city below is worth the trek. The best time to go is in the late afternoon when the sun has started to fall. Make sure you bring lots of water and a hat!
Soak in the hot springs: The visitor's fee for foreigners is a bit expensive (300 bat), but if you’re willing to shell it out, then this is a good place to come for a relaxing afternoon. Jump in the 80 degree Celsius natural hot springs and enjoy the surrounding forests, which are teeming with teak woods and local wild animals.
Ride to Pai Canyon: Located just 8 km outside the city, this is a great spot to drive to on your scooter. The steep 50 meter drop on either side of the path is daunting (and there are no railings), so if you’re scared of heights don’t venture too far. The best time to visit is during sunset when the mountains are illuminated in the distance.
WHERE TO STAY
Pai Village Boutique Resort & Farm: This place is about as far away from backpacker life as you can get. After months on the road, we were in need of some R&R so we splurged on a tranquil villa at Pai Village Boutique Resort. This wonderful oasis is right in the heart of town but the large property makes it feel as if you’ve been transported to the countryside. All the staff here are so friendly and the service is incredible.
WHAT TO EAT
The Steak House: This place is pricier than most restaurants in Pai, but if you’re feeling like a good steak than I suggest you splurge. After selecting your cut of meat, you can refill on pasta salad, potatoes and organic veggies at the buffet. Dine alfresco with hanging colored lanterns and red checkered tablecloths, while a live band plays in the background.
Mama Falafel: This place looks a little run down from the outside, but it serves up pretty great Israel food. Try the falafel and hummus.
Good Life Cafe: This little spot was located right across the street from our villa so we ended up going here twice. The atmosphere is very chill and full of backpackers who look like they haven’t showered in a few weeks. You eat at beautifully carved old wooden tables, sitting cross legged on fluffy pillows. Try the pad thai, spicy curry or pumpkin soup!