Some places are great for a day, some places are great for a week. And then there’re these places that just have something about them – they make you want to stay. One of these places is Pai, Thailand. Most visitors spend a short time here, party and then they get bored. It’s a small town after all.
On the other hand, many people keep coming back to Pai, and it takes a while to understand why. Pai one of the slowest places in Thailand, which says a lot about it. At first, you might find the pace annoying, but after a bit, you just go with it. Sweet is the access to the surrounding mountains. Hikes, waterfalls, and hot springs keep up the charm despite the crowds washing over Pai. And after one month of thorough investigation that we did for you, we know all the destinations to get you hooked on Pai life.
What can you do in Pai, Thailand?
The internet tells us there are 51 things to do in Pai, Thailand. That’s quite a lot for a population of 3,000 people if you think about it. And it is also where you can go wrong – over the years Pai has developed into a party mecca and hippie heaven. For a week we just watched the obnoxious drunk kids wander around town. And really, Pai walking street is very westernized now, but that doesn’t take away from its charm. That is if you know where to look. Here’s our guide to the best places in Pai, Thailand:
Wandering around town, there are quite a few bars that hand out fliers to attract tourists and want to lure you in. The problem I found in Pai is that you can’t dance anywhere, but the music is usually too loud to have a proper conversation, too. Not a good mix! The only bar we enjoyed hanging around a lot we dubbed the “smallest bar in the world.” It’s the Blah Blah bar, which you’ll find when you turn right at the end of walking street. A touch of Berlin’s punk rock scene made me feel especially at home. Another fun place was “Edible Jazz,” especially for Open Mic. The stand-up comedy was terrible enough to laugh, but the music and ambient were lovely. Don’t worry, there’s a lot more than only these two, in case you want to party. Most places close around midnight to avoid the fees, though.
Well, this subject leads to quite a bit of discussion. Many travelers find it goes too far if it’s harder to find Thai food than to find Western food. And I have to agree, in Pai, Thailand, you can have it all: pizza, burritos, burgers, and schnitzel. The Thai food wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, either. To me, having a break from the local food from time to time was very welcome, though. Mind: I still love Thai food.
For Western food, my favorites were “Cafe in Pai”, which is a sweet little restaurant nestled at the back of the walking street. They serve legendary fruit shakes and delicious everything – from pita to pizza. The other place we discovered was a little newly opened Pizza place a little further outside. If you follow the walking street eastwards, cross the traffic light – at the corner should be “Madame Ju” – and keep following the street, there will be a funky blow-up figure waving at you. The lady there makes hand-made pasta and fresh pizza. The pizza is a bit pricey at around 300 THB, but it’s well worth it.
For Thai food, I found that the “nameless” restaurants were the best, the little ones with plastic chairs that don’t have an internet presence. The further you get from Walking Street, the better the Thai food gets.
The absolute winner, in my opinion, is, of course, training Muay Thai at Charn Chai gym. But Pai has a lot more to offer than that. We liked elephant riding at Thom’s Elephant Camp but be sure to read our article about elephant riding first. The Chinese village was pretty cute, but not too special. The “secret” Pai hot springs were full of people and not exactly hot. If you can’t confidently ride a scooter, you’ll probably get a Pai tattoo (road rash) on the way there. Another big one is the Pai Canyon, which you should avoid if you’re afraid of heights. It’s gorgeous once you make it there, though. What’s the best part about Pai are the hills, though?
It’s probably the best idea to get a bicycle or scooter and a resort on the outskirts of town. There’s no public transport as Pai is tiny, so you’ll need one to get around. Tip: be wary of the Trinx bikes. The breaks may work at first sight, and once you go downhill, they give up on you.
A personal favorite was the White Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen). After running up there twice a week, it’s a quiet getaway for me. It retains the peaceful atmosphere that is lost in most Thai temples.
Alright, this is a short collection of our favorite destinations in Pai. Of course, you need to place to stay, too. I stayed in Baan Chokdee and got a phenomenal price for one month, but that’s the case with most bungalows. If you stay longer, which you may once you fall in love with the place, you can try and negotiate a better price for an extended stay. I’ve heard some good stories about Breeze of Pai resort, too.
Pai is a wonderful representation for Thailand’s north. Despite the culture hiding behind the travel agencies and bars, it is a great way to see the other side of Thailand. Yes, you have beaches and ladyboys and parties, but there’s also lush jungles and green hills. And something about the place keeps drawing people in. Many many of my fellow trainees keep coming back, not only for training Muay Thai but also for the chilled vibe of Pai.