A Trip to Pai
800 S-curves up the road from Chiang Mai, the tiny town of Pai awaits. It’s name is thrown about by almost every backpacker, leaving a first-timer with a vague curiosity about Pai. What, exactly, makes it so great? It could be the crystal-clear hot springs hidden in the mountains, or the crusted edge of Pai canyon that overlooks the valley. It might have something to do with the romantic theme that links all the businesses together across the village, from the “Coffee in Love” signs to the strawberry fields filled with heart-shaped seats perfect for a lunch date.
If you can stomach the slightly terrifying ride up, Pai will leave you with a lingering charm, probably similar to the way Chiang Mai used to be, before becoming over-commercialized. The hostels in town range from a bustling party-hostels filled with “lads on tour” to hammock-laden bungalows with accompanying free-spirited travelers.
While there certainly are areas that have been completely over-run with Western tourists, I found quiet mornings and rejuvenating afternoons enjoying unspoiled nature. A little bit of strategic avoidance is all it takes to craft your own weekend of recharge in Pai. And what’s better? Spending less than $30 for a weekend of fun!
I’m not sure which is more terrifying: driving a motor scooter up the road to Pai alongside wayward minibus drivers, or being a passenger in one of the minivans. After a bit of deliberation, I chose to be inside of the protective metal layer of the bus as the driver wove through the mountains, daring anything in his way with the threat of obliteration. The 3 hour ride will keep you awake as you race up the winding road, but at least you have a little more safety being inside the bus rather than exposed to its’ volatile movements on your own.
A mini-bus to Pai will set you back around 150 Baht ($4 USD), although you can purchase a ride from most hostels or hotels for just a bit more. I spent 180 Baht for curbside pickup from my hostel! The buses leave hourly from the Arcade Bus Station, which is about 15 minutes outside of the inner circle in Chiang Mai.
If you do choose to rent a scooter and drive up, most companies offer baggage delivery service. I know for a fact Aya Rental services offers free baggage service for multi-day scooter rental. Just let them know where you are going!
Things to Do in Pai
There are quite a few free things to enjoy in Pai, particularly the canyon, walking streets and waterfalls. Outside of the “free” realm are cute love-themed cafes, hot springs, and a plethora of bars and hang-out spots. Pai has a little of everything for any sort of traveler; from the traveler looking for a borderline-illegal (okay, very illegal) night imbibing in a magic milkshake to those looking for a quiet space away from the city, Pai’s got what you need. (It’s called the Sunset Bar, psychedelic lovers)
Make sure you check out:
- Pai Canyon: Thailands’ answer to the famous Grand Canyon, this canyon is covered in fine yellow dust. Be careful not to slip down the 50′ sheer walls!
- Pai’s Mountain Hot Spring: Rather than dropping over 300 Baht/person on the hot spring in town, head up 20 minutes north of the city for a little-known hot spring in the mountains, (20 Baht/person!)
- Coffee In Love Cafe: This cafe has a wonderful view overlooking the mountains, and the Temple-in-the-hills. Their latte’s aren’t half bad, either!
- Pam Bok & Mo Paeng Waterfalls: Head out for a dip in the pond below Pam Bok, or test your nerves sliding down the rocks at Mo Paeng waterfalls!
Where to Stay in Pai
Lucky for you, there many cheap hostels in Pai! Some, like the Purple Monkey Backpackers, are the epitome of party hostels. If you don’t mind a creaky bed and a room that vaguely smells like a bar floor, you can keep rocking all night here! Others are full of mosquito-netted hammocks in the common area, and seem to emanate a hippie-vibe, like the Bannanmo Bungalows. Most hostels are about $5-7 for a dorm room (175 Baht) Here are a few recommendations:
- Buzza’s Backpack Resort
- Spicy Pai Hostel
- Common Grounds Pai
Pai Budget Breakdown
- Round Trip Bus Tickets: 300 Baht
- Hostels (2 nights): 400 Baht *average*
- Meal Budget: (50 baht/meal) 400 baht
- Bike Rental: (100 Baht/Day) 200
- Mountain Hot Spring: 20 Baht
- Canyon/ Waterfalls: Free
Total Budget: 1320 Baht/ $35.50 USD
Welp, that’s all folks! I hope you find Pai as magical as I did! What did you enjoy in Pai? Anything I missed? Spill!