Pai Travel Guide
Introduction in Pai
Located three hours and 762 curves from the city of Chiang Mai, visitors to Pai may be a little road weary by the time they pull in, but the charms of this cute town and the surrounding valley will quickly make you forget how many times you reached for your barf bag on the way.
While the town hosts a famed Walking Street market, most of what makes this part of Thailand special requires hiring a motorbike. As long as you take care on this area’s under-trafficked roads, you’ll get the hang of your machine fast, allowing you to find things we won’t have the space to mention in this guide.
Cultural Attractions in Pai
Start your time in Pai by riding up to the Temple on the Hill. Also known as Wat Phra That Mae Yen in Thai, this Buddhist place of worship is best known for its comprehensive views of the Pai Valley.
However, you will also find a sizable White Buddha statue on the grounds of this temple, as well as various other reliefs and monks, many of whom are eager to speak with foreigners.
Life in Pai hasn’t always been as tranquil as it is now. The construction of the Pai Memorial Bridge stems from the bad old days of the Second World War when the Japanese assumed de facto control of Thailand.
While the original bridge was wooden and was burned by the Japanese before the end of the war, the one currently standing there represents the brutality of the forced labour used to construct what was once part of a supply line to Myanmar.
Don’t mind the throngs of selfie-stick-wielding tourists – move past them and think for a moment what it was like being compelled to aid the enemy in an area infested with malarial mosquitoes (at the time), and you will have a more powerful experience than most of the people who drop in for a quick visit.
Next, hop back on your motorbike and drive on over to the Santichon Village. A settlement created by residents of Yunnan who were loyal to the Kuomintang after their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, it is effectively a living history village.
Instead of actors/actresses, though, the residents are authentic, going about their daily lives in much the same way they have since the founding of their community. Some of the trappings of this attraction can come off as tacky, as the people here have gone to added lengths to attract tourists here. However, the traditional clay houses, tasty Yunnan cuisine, and colourful pagodas make this corner of the Pai Valley worth a look.
While there is much to see in the area, make it back to the town centre in time to clean up and get ready for the Pai Walking Street. A nightly market which sets up along one of the major streets downtown, it is filled with food vendors, local artisans selling their wares, and entertainers playing traditional and contemporary music.
Be sure to hit up the stalls managed by local hill tribes, as the quality of their crafts surpasses the Chinese imports which can be found in abundance on the Pai Walking Street.
Other Attractions in Pai
Of all the natural attractions in Pai, the Pai Canyon stands out among them. While not a canyon in the traditional sense, this area of eroded sandstone and rusty ridge tops is an excellent place to go for a hike.
Just be sure to watch your step as you walk along these formations, as the walkways are often little more than two foot widths wide in spots, and some of the vertical drops can exceed 50 feet. Even if you aren’t as daring as some visitors (wear good shoes if you plan on doing the walk), the viewpoints and towers here grant excellent views at sunset.
Hurting after a couple intense weeks of travel? Treat yourself by paying a visit to Pai Hot Springs National Park. While it’s probably not a place you’ll want to visit in the middle of a 38-degree day in April, it is a delightful spot to visit in the morning, on a cooler day during the dry season, or when it is raining.
After paying the entrance fee, you’ll come across a series of springs: the first one is almost boiling hot – used traditionally to boil eggs (don’t do this), it is not suitable for swimming. The ones lower down are – with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s Celsius, these pools will help you to relax amidst some of the best nature Pai has to offer.
Learn the story of a geological oddity by paying a visit to the Pai Land Split. One day back in 2008, an earthquake caused a fault line to make its presence known by cracking a farmer’s land into two pieces. At first, the farmer thought he was ruined, but after several fevered days of thinking, he opted to turn it into a tourist attraction.
Together with extensive fields of hibiscus, this donation-based attraction is defined by the amazing hospitality offered by your hosts – if you want to meet some of the friendliest people in Thailand, include this stop in your tour of Pai.
Finally, there are a number of spectacular waterfalls that can be viewed in the Pai Valley. Mor Paeng is the most accessible of them all – as a result, it is the most visited during the peak tourist season. With natural water slides flowing over the rocks here, it is not hard to see why this place is so popular.
While it may be a bit harder to get to, those who persevere in their quest to see Pam Bok Waterfall will be rewarded for their efforts. The trek to get here may require good shoes, but once you see this tall cataract and its cool gorge, you’ll be stripping them off to go for a well-deserved dip.