Pai, located four hours northeast from Chiang Mai, is a small haven surrounded by mountains with a huge hippie vibe, perfect for relaxing for a few days.
Few people traveling to Thailand know about Pai, a village of around 3,000 people located in the mountains and around a 4-hour drive from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, except for hippies and reggae fans (a big reggae festival takes place every year). But there is so much to discover in Pai! I went to Pai for a few days, after an already great start of my holidays in Chiang Mai. There I discovered a very peaceful village, and many activities to do!
The first afternoon, after checking in at the hotel, my friends and I decided to have a first look around the village, to feel the atmosphere, find nice spots to eat and drink, and get information on which activities to do for the next few days. Just like any touristic places, you can there are many tour agencies offering the same activities.
We decided to drop by one of them called “Backtrax”, where we were welcomed by Mr Dae, one of the agency’s guides. We booked cheap activities with him for the next day: tubbing on the Pai River, followed by elephant riding!
At night, we walked through the few streets of Pai, enjoying the night market, eating street food for 1 euro or less, and starting the souvenir shopping for the family and friends without forgetting to treat ourselves as well!
The following day, we were brought by Mr Dae himself to the river, a few kilometers away from the village, for our first activity: Tubbing!
For those who don’t know what it is, the aim of tubbing is to sit (or lie) on a big tube and float slowly down the river for two hours, enjoying the landscapes while drinking (or not) a bottle of beer. This was just super fun and we laughed a lot! Since it was January, the river was very low (sometimes too low actually), which enabled us to go slowly, and enjoy only very small rapids. We watched the daily Thai life go by, as Thai farmers, or Burmese refugees worked in their fields or in the river. As we approached Pai, many tourists relaxing in their bungalows by the river were amazed by what we were doing.
Just the time to dry off a little bit and we were already gone for the elephant riding. That very touristic activity was also very fun! We rode for about an hour in the forest, three ladies on one elephant, two of us on the seats, and one directly sitting on the elephant, behind its ears. We had the best experience ever. Our seat was actually badly tied, so my friend and I were always sliding off the chair each time the elephant was walking down a hill, and we had to really cling hard to the chair in order to not fall from the animal. At some point we couldn’t take it anymore and we had to stop in order for our guide to better tie the seat. So we had to climb down the elephant, and best, climb up the animal again after 15 minutes, without any ladder! Of course, we had a hard time doing that, but all in all, we managed and finished the ride without a problem. After that, we finished with a bath in a nearby hot springs, and it felt great!
The following day, Mr Dae drove us to lod caves, located 1.5 hours from Pai, where we did some bamboo rafting. On the way, we stopped at a viewpoint from where we could see Burmese mountains at the horizon. Beautiful.
We visited the huge caves, it was very interesting, and Mr Dae was a charming, funny guide, which made the visit even better.
There is so much more that you can do in Pai: treks, cooking classes, massage courses, and sessions, and one nice way to enjoy your time is also to rent a motorbike for a day (100 to 150 baht a day which is 3 or 4 euros) and ride around Pai, in the valleys and mountains. There you can visit waterfalls, hot springs, a Chinese village or other tribal villages, various temples, and you can have a coffee at the famous “Coffee in Love” and enjoy the view. Apart from day activities, Pai also has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife! Many chill out bars with various music and atmosphere, and some clubs just outside the village center with electro, reggae, and 80s music…There is something for all tastes!
Here are my favorite places in Pai:
Backtrax: The guys from the agency, and especially Mr Dae, were super nice and helpful with us, and the prices are not higher than in any other agency, so I recommend this agency for any activity you want to book.
Cafés & Restaurants:
Green Restaurant (in front of Backtrax, near the bus station): an excellent Thai restaurant where you eat on very low seats and tables.
The Witching Well: a small café where you can enjoy delicious western breakfast and lunch.
The Fusion: Pai has many nice hangout places, but The Fusion was definitely my favorite! The place itself with many sofas and mattresses, the cute waiter and DJ looking like Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbeans, the good music, the offered blankets on cold nights, the fireplace at the entrance, and the nice staff! Also, it is a restaurant, and you should definitely try the Pad Thai there, the best I ever had of the many many Pad Thais I ate in Thailand!
After four days in Pai, it was time to continue our trip that would take us to Koh Phi Phi islands for some intense tanning and swimming sessions, but we were truly sad to leave Pai, which stayed in our heart as our best spot in Thailand. Pai, watch out, because we’ll be back!