I’d never heard of Pai until right before our trip, but once I mentioned that we were going to Thailand people would exclaim “you have to go to Pai!” I’d then ask why and often the reply I’d get was “it’s just awesome” or “it has such a great vibe”. If I were to be asked I’d say; go because it is just beautiful.
The main downside is the road to Pai. We took a mini bus from Chiang Mai, and the first thing the driver does is point to some sick bags and state the fee for getting vomit on the vehicle. This is because there are over 700 bends in the 135km stretch of road. On the journey there, I initially held out fine but we were in a bus with some Chinese families and all their kids. Once one child was sick, this set another off and like dominos falling, we were all throwing up. The smell in the bus was horrendous. On the journey back, despite feeling nauseous for hours, thankfully no one vomited. Perhaps I was becoming more of a hardened traveller? (Probably wishful thinking)
The main reason to visit Pai, is to explore the stunning surrounding scenery by moped (scooter). It wasn’t entirely clear what the law was regarding this but, as they were willing to show us how to ride a moped, it was clear that we weren’t expected to have a license in order to rent one. This was something my mum absolutely insisted I wouldn’t do, and all the injured travellers we had encountered along the way had put us off riding mopeds up until this point. But Pai is probably the best place to learn as riding on quiet country roads is a hell of a lot safer than risking life and limb riding around a bustling Thai or Vietnamese city. I made Matt ride around the block a couple of times before I would hop on the back. It turns out that he is a natural, whereas neither of us trusted me to drive – I gave it a quick go on an empty road but this only reaffirmed that view.
We had a fantastic time. Matt was a sensible and cautious driver so I could relax and enjoy the breeze whilst taking in our beautiful surroundings. We visited waterfalls, hot springs, a canyon, and a strawberry farm, riding past elephants and rice paddies…. Having our own mode of transportation felt liberating. The food in Pai might have been pricier and of a lesser standard than the rest of Thailand, but the moped rental and cost of petrol was cheap.
Our hostel was simple but wonderful and I’d highly recommend it. Just across the river from the centre of town (over a precarious bamboo bridge), it was technically a collection of little huts rather than a hostel. Most of the guests were couples or families and each of the huts came with a double bed, mosquito net, fan and bathroom. Set in a pretty garden, facing the river, it was like luxury camping. On the afternoon we fancied a swim, we simply went to one of the larger resorts and paid a couple of pounds to use theirs for a day.
I have mixed feeling about these kind of towns that so dominantly consist of tourists. They can be great fun but they are also often places where ‘gap yah’ or hippy westerners go to rub shoulders with other ‘gap yah’ and hippy westerners, somewhere they feel that the normal rules don’t apply. The result is often idiotic young westerners getting drunk, being culturally insensitive and killing themselves on mopeds. In such places where local culture does exist, it often comes in a bastardized form, commoditised for tourists who are primarily there to party hard (by the way I’m not saying don’t get drunk or have fun, just be aware of acting appropriately in a foreign culture). Pai does have a large number of these people, but the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside draws all types of travellers. More luxury hotel resorts are popping up, and the town is now increasingly popular with Chinese and Thai tourists. I should’ve taken the opportunity to practice more of my mandarin, but I get embarrassed.