One of the first travel tips I received about Asia happened in the first month of me arriving in Melbourne. My new backpacker friend told me about a ‘secret’, hidden gem in the northern mountains of Thailand. He urged me to visit before it became too commercial.
Pretty much ever since that advice was given to me, every person I met that has been to Thailand uttered the same advice: “Go to Pai…”. I’m not one to ignore the advice of many trustworthy sources, so naturally Pai zoomed to the top of the hit list of my Thailand trip.
Fast forward 762 bends in the road; a torturous, hungover journey from Chiang Mai to Pai in the world’s smallest mini van – with a driver keen to kill – we arrived in Pai. That secret place everyone talked about. They were right.It is absolutely beautiful. But the streets were already flooded with many other backpackers, blonde dreads in tie-dyes and overpriced vegan fad food options. My friend in Melbourne’s prediction had already come true. Pai is in no means a secret. In fact there’s probably more western tourists there than locals.
But don’t let the fact that it’s not as off the beaten track as people may have you believe as some did with me. It’s stunning. Think lush, green mountain backdrops parted by narrow, windy country roads. As for nightlife there are heaps of cool reggae bars, live music and bargained drink prices. The locals are awesome. Whilst Pai ain’t no secret, Pai is pretty. Pai is cool.
And this was the first place I braved riding a moped. For anyone wanting to give it a go but a little anxious – do so in Pai. Head to Walking Street (main st in Pai) and rent a moped for as little as 200 thb / £5 a day from Aya Services. These guys insure you incl that price – recommend you take that option if you’re a beginner – and will even take you for a test ride until you build confidence. They won’t let you ride if you feel or look unsafe.
Once you’ve got that moped nailed, you can grab a map and hit the main sights such as:
- Hot springs – 300 tbh entry
- Secret hot springs – 40 tbh entry
- Two waterfalls – we only went to one and paid 40 tbh
Alternatively, if you don’t want to ride and there’s a few of you, you can get a taxi to drive you around for the day. From memory we paid around 300tbh.
Where to stay?
There’s a cool tree house style hostel called Spicy Pai that we checked into. It’s pretty nifty – with its own bar and restaurant. The dorms are also pretty cool. As for the vibe, it’s fairly chill – not too much partying but people will play music, cards and have a few bevs under the stars. If you’re wanting to party hard, I hear Circus is the place.
Where to eat?
Well, we failed at this one. There is so much tempting street food around – all delicious, varied and cheap. But, all three of us got very sick – with one of us ending up on a drip in the hospital. We were told to be aware that many street stalls do not have fridges for the food – and most are cooking in the day and don’t get custom until nighttime. Be warned. You might be better off spending a little more in the quirky restaurants around the area to avoid getting sick.
Before the vom.
Also I have to shout out to Monkey Magic tattoo parlour in Pai. I longed for my next tattoo for ages. Once in Thailand and after my meditation course in Chiang Mai (post to come) I finally knew what I wanted. These guys did a fantastic job in 20 minutes, as well as giving me great aftercare. Could not recommend enough.
Bumpy as this was taken straight after
Anyway, that’s a little slice of Pai for you. I wouldn’t miss it out if you’re seeing N.Thailand. Other than getting sick, I thought it was an incredibly, cool little place.