Pai

Pai (ปาย) is a small town (pop. 3,000) in Mae Hong Son Province, Northern Thailand. It is a major stop on the Mae Hong Son Loop, which takes Rte 1095 from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, then Rte 108 back to Chiang Mai. The city is named after the Pai River.

Understand

Pai street

Set in a large picturesque valley north of Chiang Mai, Pai is tourism-oriented, offering a relaxed atmosphere with a vibrant tourist and backpacker scene. The town's permanent residents are a seemingly harmonious mix of common Thai folk, with an admixture of Western hippies and Thai rastas thrown in, which gives the place a unique vibe which may be appealing to some and off-putting to others. Pai is now sometimes referred to as the "Khao San Road of the North".

A sudden boom in guest house and bar construction from 2006 onwards has resulted in a great deal of spare capacity in the off-season. There has been a large increase in Thai people visiting after Pai was featured in a romantic Thai film, Pai in Love. It can be hard to find a room during the busy season (Oct-Feb). There are now around 350 guesthouses and hotels in Pai, and the city centre has transformed into a tourist warren of Western-style restaurants, souvenir shops, live music venues, tattoo parlours, and bars that cater largely to the now significant influx of tourists and package tours. Recently, there has been a large influx of mainland Chinese tourists and they now sometimes outnumber the western backpackers in Pai.

While the growth of Pai has been rapid and more or less every farm in the valley seems to rent bungalows, development so far has been largely tasteful and the town remains relatively serene during low season. That said, be prepared for large crowds of tourists and even traffic jams during the higher seasons.

Get in

By road

Rte 1095 which connects Pai with Mae Hong Son (50 km as the crow flies, but approximately 110 km by road) and Chiang Mai (135 km) is a very scenic route through the mountains which takes several hours. It's a steep and winding drive, with lots of curves, so take a plastic bag and some motion sickness pills if you need them. Police report that an average of two accidents a day happen on the Chiang Mai-Pai road, and more in the rainy season.

By motorcycle

Rte 1095 isn't as bad as people make it out to be. There isn't much traffic and you can hear the cars and trucks coming. The downside is the road is crappy, but not uniformly so. But because you never know what lies around the next bend, you're forced to drive conservatively. If you're a little adventurous, rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai and make the ride up to Pai. You can stop at the waterfalls and small towns along the way, and you'll really enjoy the trip, as opposed to being motion sick in a bus for hours, and being forced to stop at the driver's friends restaurants. Make sure to take some warmer clothing on your bike, as it tends to get a bit chilly in the higher portions of the ride. As a novice rider, expect the trip to take around 5 or 6 hours, including stops at sites and restaurants along the way. aYa Service offers one way rentals from Chiang Mai to Pai (or vice versa) with free luggage delivery for 120-200 baht depending on the motorbike. They will keep your passport and send it along with any baggage to aYa in Pai.

By bus

From Chiang Mai: Local bus from Chiang Mai to Pai leaves the Arcade Bus Station every hour from 06:30 to 17:30. The trip takes some 3 hours and there is a comfort stop at the small half-way village of Mae Sae (food, water, toilets [3 baht]). The local bus trip costs 72 baht. There are frequent private minibuses for 150 baht from Arcade bus terminal and from the train station (leave the station, pass the took-tooks and look for "aYa Service" sign), if you prefer a more comfy ride.

Minibuses and small passenger trucks (songthaews) carrying a dozen people leave from the bus station as soon as there are sufficient paying passengers. The cost of a private hire is approximately 1,200 baht. With a group, each will pay approximately 150 baht each). The rear seats approximately 10 people and is open-air. The view and wind in your face is pleasant, but not the occasional exhaust fumes.

By plane

Get around

Pai town centre is compact and best explored on foot. but the greater Pai area is sprawling. For exploring further afield, bicycles (40-100 baht/day) and motorbikes (from as little as 100 baht/day) can be rented from many agents along the main street. As the roads around Pai are steep and obtaining a decent mountain bike with fully functioning gears is surprisingly difficult, a motorbike is definitely the better option if you can ride one. aYa Service in the town centre rents motorbikes for 100 baht and a 100 baht helmet deposit, plus 40 baht for damage insurance, 40 baht for theft insurance (passport taken as deposit). You'll want a motorbike if you're planning on staying in some of the outlying bungalows in the valley around the town.

Motorbike and 4WD taxis are also readily available.

Suggestions in guidebooks that Ban Santhichon and Lisu Village might be reached on foot are optimistic.

See

The town itself has no special sights; most people come simply for the relaxed atmosphere. Nearby attractions include hot springs and waterfalls, villages and a hilltop temple.

View of rice farms in Pai

Events

Poi Sang Long is a famous Buddhist ordination of children festival, especially in Mae Hong Son. Thai Yai cultural dance show can be seen at the temple fair in the evening.

Waterfalls

Do

Renting a bicycle or motorbike and riding around the countryside seems to be the most popular activity. You can easily create an itinerary to include visits to the nearby waterfalls and hill tribe villages. Potential day trips include the Tham Lod Bat Cave 55 km away in Pangmapha, best visited when the bats emerge just before sunset.

Pai is also a major starting point for organized trekking tours which are offered by every guest house and travel agent.

Go off-road through the mountains of Pai on an off-road motorbike tour. Here there are better off-road possibilities and better prices than in Chiang Mai. Ask your guest house where to book.

Buy

Pai's burgeoning tourist industry has resulted in a range of cutesy hippie-influenced souvenirs sold in shops throughout the village.

Some of the hill tribe members sell handicrafts in the local market, although what's on offer here pales in comparison to the range available in Chiang Mai.

Pai has an abundance of bookshops, some of which carry harder to find titles. Many are along the bus stop road, past aYa Services.

Eat

For such a small town, there are an astonishing number of restaurants, most of them catering for needs/tastes of foreign travellers but also including a wide range of Thai regional cuisine. In the evenings, various stalls open at the main street with different offerings at different days.

Vegetarian

Drink

There are many bars selling beer and cocktails, especially along the main street that leads to the Chiang Mai bus stop. There's a wide choice of live music, typically involving Thai bands playing their way through reggae classics. There are also many tea and coffee shops, including herbal brews. Late night venues are found clustered on the fringes of town, across the bridge on the eastern fringe and on the road to Chiang Mai on the west

Sleep

There's an abundance of guest houses in Pai, most of them in the budget range (a bungalow goes for around 100-500 baht depending on amenities included). Mid-range options are available and there are now even luxury hotels.

At the bus station there is a map of Pai. Get this as it will show you the location of most of the guest houses (>100 places). There is also a discount for motorbike rental.

If your accommodation is far away from the two main streets of bars, be careful if walking alone of the packs of dogs that roam the empty streets at night. They do get territorial and intimidating, so if you come across them then remember to keep a safe distance away and make noise to scare them away.

For accommodation with lots of character try out a bamboo hut on the river. Head east from the bus station and either take the first left or continue straight. Either way you'll reach a bamboo bridge. Across the bridge you'll find plenty of cheap accommodation (about 100-400 baht per night).

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget less than 500 baht
Mid-range 500-1,500 baht
Splurge over 1,500 baht

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Pai has several Internet cafés, most on Ratchadamnoen Rd and Rangthiyanon Rd. They are a uniform 30 baht/hour for ADSL. There are some places with free Internet for customers of food and drink. There is also one place that accepts donations for use of a wireless connection.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, February 23, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.