Ah, Pai. Our spur-of-the-moment three night trip that turned into four nights and a lifelong love affair.
The journey to Pai was a great little road trip in itself. It took us just over three hours on a scooter, with one small bag and a little rucksack between Mike and I. The journey is full of hills and dips, providing stunning panoramic views across the surrounding valleys. It’s a long ol’ trip on your behind but there are plenty of places to stop for a breather and a snack if you want.
This was one of the most beautiful rides we did in Thailand. It’s a fairly easy journey to navigate, as there’s only one real road connecting Chiang Mai to Pai. The route is well signposted and only has moderate traffic – just watch yourself on some of the downhill corners as you get closer to Pai as the minivans tend to swing out quite wide… Generally, though, Thailand was one of the easiest places we rode as the drivers are fairly sane compared to the rest of Asia!
We’d booked to stay at KK Hut Guesthouse – the major selling point on this had been that they had lots of cats. I had high hopes, so when we pulled up outside to be greeted by two kittens fast asleep in the footwell of the neighbouring moped, I squealed and jumped off the moped to explore faster than you could say “Here, kitty!” There were over twenty cats and kittens onsite, it was like living out my dreams. Seriously though.
We checked into our lovely hut – it was very basic, with just a mattress and a shared bathroom. Everything was clean and tidy, and we had a nice little terrace on the front of out hut with a hammock for us to chill out in. The hammock was my first port of call after dropping my bag in the room, and I was soon accompanied by two tiny kittens. Oh, sweet sweet heaven.
On our second day, we overheard some boisterous tourists in the next cabin joking around and throwing one of the cats from their balcony. Five seconds later, they threw the same cat off again, with a bit too much vigour for our liking. Not one to stomach animal cruelty, Mike waded in to rescue the poor little puss. We called him Chuck, due to the nature of our meeting, and he adopted us from that moment on. Chuck waited on our balcony every morning until we surfaced, and would follow Mike around until he’d cuddle him! How I wish we could’ve taken him with us.
I loved the atmosphere in Pai from the minute we first went walking around the town. It was lively without being overbearing, fun without being party-central, and laid back in a way I hadn’t experienced in a while. It was a tiny place with a couple of main streets, set in beautiful scenery in the middle of nowhere.
Tired and hungry after our challenging, but amazing, three-hour ride from Chiang Mai, we headed for some lunch at a restaurant which would quickly become one of our favourites. Duang Restaurant is a family-run place with hearty, homely food at budget-friendly prices. Their noodle and rice dishes kept us coming back for comfort food again and again.
The next place on our list was the Sunset Bar – the reputation of this place is that it’s a real hippy bar and it didn’t disappoint. Now, I’ll be honest, these types of places aren’t really my scene (I’m as straight-laced as they come and hate the smell of weed!), but the view of the sunset is truly spectacular, the drinks are cheap and the cushions are comfy.
Another lovely evening activity is Pai’s Walking Street. Every evening, the night market sets up with hundreds of stalls selling food, clothing and souvenirs. The crepes are amazing (Nutella and banana, of course), but all of the street food stalls are surprisingly cheap and delicious. There are also some really lovely, original jewellery stalls. Out of all of the places we’ve visited in the past six months, this walking street was one of my favourites.
Our only indulgence while in Pai was spending an entire day at Fluid, a swimming pool on the outskirts of town. It cost just 60thb entrance for the whole day, and was the perfect way to relax after our ride from Chiang Mai. The food was absolutely delicious, as were the juices and cocktails. It’s full of tourists, as you’d expect, but we enjoyed it as we weren’t there for a cultural experience!
Pai is surrounded by beautiful scenery and makes the perfect base for a ride around the town. We took our scooter out for a day of exploration and stumbled across some gems:
- Baanmai Konmuang – We stopped for a drink at this lovely guesthouse on the banks of the river. There’s an area for camping on the riverside and some lovely benches on which to relax. It catches the sun almost all day, and on the opposite bank of the river are fields of brightly coloured wildflowers. Well worth a pit-stop and it would also be a lovely place to stay if you’ve got your own wheels.
- Yun Lai Viewpoint – Ok, so one of the main selling points of this place is the amount of dogs you’ll find at the top! Seriously though, the views from this viewpoint are both panoramic and spectacular. It’s cheap to enter and you can buy lovely souvenirs, including something to hang on one of the wishing trees at the top. The family who own the land are lovely and welcoming, and the dogs are a major bonus. We were lucky enough to find ourselves up here in the middle of a storm, which provided us with some pretty stunning and dramatic skies as the backdrop to the view.
- Sai Ngam Hot Springs – Most of the hot springs in Pai have an extortionate “tourist charge” compared to what the locals pay. While this is never really expensive, both Mike and I had really started to object to being ripped off just because we’re foreigners, and we refused to pay these prices on principle. We’d read that you could get into the more expensive hot springs for free if you snuck in at night, so we tried that with a few of our friends. Needless to say, the locals have got wise to this and the place was guarded. Some of our new friends from our guesthouse then recommended Sai Ngam instead. The 15km ride out of town is beautiful and there’s some pretty steep hills to make it up if you want to reach the hot springs – we passed some robust American tourists who’d had to jump off their scooter and push it to the top! To enter the national park where you’ll find these springs, there’s a 20thb charge for the road plus 20thb per person “tourist tax”. Entry to the springs themselves is 20thb per person on top. For two people, that’s a grand total of 100thb instead of the 300thb per person you’d pay for the other hot springs. Bargain. While the springs aren’t anything spectacular, the water is warm, clear and fresh. The river pools are shallow, there’s tourists and locals alike and the forest scenery is beautifully relaxing.
My last two tips for Pai are both food related, surprise, surprise! The relatively new Huan Saran Guesthouse has a lovely restaurant out front, with two lovely dogs too. Ok, that was the original selling point, but the food was so good we went back twice in three days! The breakfasts were cheap, delicious, and so enormous that we couldn’t finish them. That doesn’t happen often.
On our last day, we stumbled across Big’s Little Cafe – not for nothing is this place rated 5* on TripAdvisor! They made the best iced tea I tasted in the entire six month trip, and stocked our home favourite HP Sauce to boot. We got SO excited over the HP Sauce that the owner couldn’t stop laughing at us. Hey, it’d been a while. Their breakfast sandwiches were to die for and kept us at a comfortable level of full for half the day. Not one to be missed.