Travel, Teach, Live in Thailand
Pai has become very popular recently. The small northern Thai town has a population of about 4,000, but is usually bustling with almost as many tourists, both Thai and western, who are attracted by tales of quiet patio lounging and beautiful natural surroundings. Kick back here and take it slow for a few days before getting caught back up in the Asia travel whirlwind.
The approximately 132km from Chiang Mai to Pai take about three and a half hours to traverse, due to harrowing curves pasted onto tiny mountainside roads.
There is now a flight from Chiang Mai to Pai, but the prettiest way to get to Pai is in a mini-bus, easily booked at any of the travel agents scattered about the square that falls within the ancient wall in Chiang Mai. Mini-busses can accommodate about ten travelers and are a bit more expensive than the government bus. In turn though, they are somewhat faster and more comfortable, making them a great option for kids with queasy stomachs. On the way, take in views of dense thickets, interrupted by the occasional farm plot, and layers of shadowy hills.
Most people who are backpacking Thailand come to Pai for the atmosphere: riverside huts engulfed in flowers, and rice paddies visible in the distance, not a bad view for travelers wanting to catch up on some reading. Pai attracts the free-spirited, artistic types, thus there is no shortage of live music here. Bee Bop and Edible Jazz are easily the most popular live music venues, but informal street jams (often accompanied by fire-dancing) are common too.
In the main tourist area, whose two main streets form a large plus sign, you can find everything edible from roasted corn to roti pancakes with a choice of thirty or so toppings, dried squid, a full Indian meal, or sushi, and thatâ€™s just the street vendors. The narrow lanes are lined with restaurants and shops selling handmade tribal crafts, clothing, and more. People hang out on the street to smoke, drink, chat, eat, and generally arenâ€™t in a hurry.
If you choose, stay on an organic farm about 5 km outside of town where guests can work in the fields, and eat communal dinners cooked in a traditional Thai kitchen. Furniture, tools and most of the bungalows are constructed from materials found in the area, giving it a very rustic and friendly feel.
Despite its reputation as a chill-haven, there is much more to do in Pai than simply eat, drink, and be merry. The various hot-springs and waterfalls near the town are best explored by motorbike, rentals of which are ubiquitous, inexpensive, and relatively hassle-free. However, for an intrepid cyclist, this is a great place for a long hard ride. While some of the hot springs have entry fees which seem high by Thai standards (200 baht or a whole six bucks) most of the waterfalls are free. Maps are available at the police information box and thereâ€™s a map posted on the main road as well.
Lounge at Fluid, the pristine man-made pool and spa with great food and drinks, a sunny knoll of grass, and shade huts. (60 baht per day).
Treks can be booked similar to those found in Chiang Mai, which involve rafting, riding elephants, and visiting a local herb farm. Just look for a tour agency and speak to one of the friendly staff for options and prices. Also, many establishments offer yoga classes; the Good Life restaurant and herb bar offers a free guided meditation class once a week.
If you stay for a night or for a week, Pai is a great place to enjoy the cooler mountain air and the slower pace of life, and makes for a relaxing Thai vacation.