Once upon a time, the quaint village of Pai in northern Thailand’s hills was well off the beaten track. Hippie expatriates who had flocked to the ‘land of smiles’, initially settling in the south, later spread to Pai to start a new community of freethinking souls. While most of them have long left, their bohemian spirit still wafts through Pai’s many small streets.
Nowadays, the area is a well-connected hotspot for travellers (though the drive up here from Chiang Mai is a bit of an adventure!) and its gentle hills are just as popular as the ivory beaches of the south. In fact, many travellers make their most memorable experiences here – and there are plenty of reasons why Pai is so popular…
Sure, there is no beach, but Pai has just about everything else. There is, for instance, the lesser-visited Huai Nam Dang National Park, which can be visited on a daytrip. Head here for guidebook-worthy waterfalls, sulphurous hot springs and excellent wildlife watching – the region is home to thick-billed green pigeons, sambar deer and more. But that’s not all. Pai’s most extraordinary natural sight is its famous canyon located just a few kilometres outside the village. A truly exceptional geographical feature, even by Thai standards, the canyon ranks among many visitors’ favourite attractions in the kingdom!
Ask any visitor to Pai about the best food in town and they’ll rave about the daily walking street market. Think you know Thai food? Think again: the country’s northern territories have their very own dishes which tend to be less spicy and more aromatic than those of the south. And unlike walking streets in other cities, Pai’s most popular market even sees a few traders during the day – so you never go hungry. Despite all the delicacies on offer here, our favourite things to buy at Pai’s markets are the many locally made clothes and accessories. Snap up some truly original (and affordable!) pieces here: welcome to jewellery heaven.
As with most villages, Pai is surrounded by a network of other townships. Many of these are within easy walking distance, Mae Yen perhaps being the best example of this (you can basically stumble in Pai and gather yourself in Mae Yen). A leisurely walk around the village will be rewarded with rural scenery, small town bustle and the sight of the Mae Yen’s enormous white Buddha statue! Then there’s Santichon village. Often referred to as Pai’s ‘Chinese Yunnan village’, it is a replica of a former Chinese settlement. Here, visitors can learn all about Yunnan culture and enjoy the marvellous views from Yun Lai viewpoint while sipping on organic green tea grown on the side of the hill!
Plenty of fun
Fun is a bit of a given in a place so rich with natural wonders and Pai certainly does not disappoint. Whoosh down Pai River for some of the best tubing and rafting experiences to be had across Thailand, or simply explore the outlying fields and forests on a mountain bike. Back in town, there is a lively bar scene that still oozes with the hippie vibes of those who put the small town on the tourist trail. Pai isn’t exactly rave central, but there are plenty of fun and friendly joints to down a Chang or two in the evenings, while the locals put on a spontaneous ukulele show. This is rural Thailand at its best!