The longer we spent travelling around South East Asia the more we heard of this little mysterious place in the very north of Thailand with a funny old name: Pai! Everyone who had been was raving about this hippy hideaway in the hills that feels miles away from normal life, where you can explore by day and chill by night and often never want to leave! We rented a bike and headed off from Chiang Mai through the 762 turns not really knowing what would await! Would it turn out to be all its cracked up to be or just an annoying over done and ruined hipster hangout! What we found couldn’t have been more authentic, peaceful and amazing! Here’s is our things to do in Pai!
Ride up here through the 762 turns on a bike!
There is only one way up to Pai and that involves negotiating the twisting and turning 762 bends on the 5-6 hour journey up through the mountainside. Many people decided to take one of the little minivans, and as a result you see a least one every few moments pulling over with haste as at least one of their passengers looses their lunch at the side of the road! The vomit inducing trip isn’t ideal if you suffer from travel sickness and can be a tough ride! However the absolute best way to experience what is possibly one of the best roads in the world is on 2 wheels, after riding through Vietnam for 7 weeks we couldn’t wait to get back on a bike and this is not a spot to be missed!
Rates are cheap and for a small additional extra can include insurance, we rented a bike for a week from Chiang Mai, rode up to Pai and back again a week later all for a very reasonable and backpacker freindly price.
But be careful! In and around Pai you are guaranteed to see plenty of people sporting bandages, for most this will be their first time on a bike. Pai is best done on a bike whether you ride up here or not. But do get some practice in before hand, rent a bike you can handle, take your time and always wear a helmet!
Take in the unforgettable sunset from Pai Canyon
A must do in Pai is to head over to the impressive canyon, it is somewhere would could spend hours exploring, hiking down in to the canyon below or tackling the many steep, dusty and worn away pinnacles of rock that stand above the trees. The area allows some stunning views over the mountainside that surround Pai and offers a peaceful and relaxing place to sit with a cold beer and watch the sunset over this most wonderful place. Sure, you might not be alone, but those who you do share this incredible and magical experience with will be sure to be like minded souls with a desire to enjoy the simple beauty of nature.
Explore the strange Pai Landsplit!
Another weird and wonderful attraction that seems to sum up Pai wonderfully! The landsplit itself is a huge chasm that formed in the garden of a local farmer as a result of several earth quakes in the region and has grown ever since. After his land was effectively ruined by the creation of this unbelievable formation he took to inviting tourists to wander through its valleys. The journey from this small garden and around the landsplit is one of the loveliest things to do in Pai, the owner is a freindly man who allows you access for a donation of your choice and even offers you to try some of his fruit (which you can’t refuse). It’s a great little place to stop and enjoy a unique feature of geology before cooling off with a fruit smoothy in his little cafe!
Visit the strange and fascinating roadside attractions and cafes
One of the most fun and unique things about Pai is the random attractions along the main road into town, this includes things like an old English country house, an entire area covered with giant strawberries, an old school bus to explore, British phone boxes, a container cafe where you can swing on floating chairs whilst taking in the view, transformer style sculptures, a upside down house and of course Freddie Flintstone…why? Just Pai is why! This place is crazy, insane, doolally, but absolutely amazing. At times it feels like you are in some kind of real life theme park, but everyone is so relaxed, chilled out, and everything is real! You could spend days discovering new places and most are dotted along the highway on your way back to or from Chiang Mai and the canyon!
Once you are in town the craziness continues, there are many more theme cafes ranging from the strange to the down right surreal. But the best part is that these cafes serve the best food and the most chilled vibes. Here you can get your fix of avocado and feta for half the price of your hipster hangout at home! Pai pretty much has everything and in the most amazing way possible! This is one of the most fun items on our things to do in Pai guide!
Indulge in the best street food in the world on walking street
Walking street on the surface might just seem like any other open food and produce market in South East Asia, but in fact in offers some of the most diverse products I have ever come across. The shops are where you can get kitted out in all your appropriate hippy attire in order to adjust your mindset accordingly for the chilled out pace of life in Pai. You can get your dreadlocks made and your tie dye t-shirt sorted, or just buy some cool and unique souvenirs hand made here in Pai.
If exploring the shops has worked you up an appetite then continue along to the end of the street and its time to indulge in some of the worlds best street food. Anything and everything is available here so you might just end up coming back for a second or third helping! You can go down the more traditional Thai route with options like Pad Thai, red and green curry and spring rolls on offer, or you can traverse the world in flavours from Mexican burritos to Indian samosas, Italian Lasagna all the way to English fish and chips. Then there are the sushi stands, the endless cupcakes, vegetarian specialities, avocado lovers dreams and the vegan chocolate stall…you can get everything and anything here and for us veggies it is even more of a utopia and a great thing to experience on our things to do in Pai list!
Spend the day relaxing at the Hot Springs
Ok, so Pai might already be pretty hot but the Hot springs around 7km from the town have to be one of the highlights of our time here. The small and unassuming spot in the middle of the woods, accesses by again another hair raising bike ride through the countryside is worth the effort! The crystal clear waters here provide the perfect spot to lie back and soak in the natural healing properties of the springs whilst surrounded by nature. If the sheer beautify of the place doesn’t attract you then maybe if you head to Pai in the relatively cooler months of winter then the warm waters might. Even on the hottest day a dip here is refreshing and it makes it feel actually quite cold once you step out of the stream! Besides, there are also pockets of cooler water just a little further down the way if you want to take a more refreshing dip in this wonderful lagoon!
Take a stroll through the paddies on the bamboo Bridge
Another pretty random sounding attraction on our things to do in Pai list from the outside but this little bridge in the rice paddies around Pai is a wonderful little place to take in some local culture and of course the beautiful landscape. You can mingle with the local buffalo, chill out and enjoy some authentic Thai cuisine, watch the kids playing in the river and take a walk through the fields. The bridge was originally built for the monks who live at the temple just over the fields, it was a way for the locals to give them a shorter route over to the village when they are collecting alms or just going about their daily duties, but today it is one of the must see attractions of Pai!
Head through more turns up to Lod Caves
Some 35km outside of town through another series of amazing turns and curves that makes you feel like you are on a go kart track, the Lod caves are a must! This area in the very north of Thailand is home to some of the biggest caves in the world, formed over millions of years inside of the huge limestone peaks of this region. The journey up here itself is one to remember along the amazing roads that cut through some incredible little villages where local life has remained the same for many years. Up here you have to take a guide, which despite being a little annoying does mean that you get to learn quite a lot about the “spirit” caves of Mae hong Son.
Exploring only by and old fashioned oil burning lamp that pierces the pitch black insides of these huge caves you need to make sure to keep up with your guide! He will point out to you some of the most interesting features, including most humorously one that looks like a “boobie!”. However there are some more serious and sombre features of the cave including some ancient cave paintings and some of the oldest coffins on earth! The highlight however has to be taking a small bamboo raft through the river that cuts through the enormous cafe, lit again only by oil lamp your movements attract swarms of blind fish to gather around the craft and you slowly paddle through this awe inspiring place! Despite not actually being in Pai it has to be on of the top things to do in Pai!!!
Just chill out, relax and enjoy the vibe (probably from some form of hammock!)
But what is Pai if it isn’t laying back in a hammock and whiling the day away in the warm sun with great company, beers and food! Coming up to Pai you will feel the vibe change, the sense of urgency drop and the chilled out spirit enter you and threaten never to leave! Buzzing around the town on your bike is a must, but lazing away and watching the world go by is such a wonderful way to pass the time up here in Pai. It was John Lennon, a hero of ours, who wrote “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted” , this is a must do on our list of things to do in Pai!
Have you ever fallen in love with Pai, what are your top things to do in Pai?
Read about Chiang Mai here: A guide to amazing Chiang Mai
Book your accommodation here
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!