Thick clouds surrounded the mountain peaks in the distance. They wrapped around the tips like a fluffy blanket, covering them completely. The mountains were green, and rolled along the horizon, up and down, up and down, smooth and beautiful, as we drove along the mountain road.
The van winded up and down the narrow road, getting questionably close to the edge of the cliff. I closed my eyes as we drove along, praying that the driver knew exactly what he was doing.
As we pulled into the narrow streets of Pai, a smile exploded on my face. Tiny outdoor shops and cafes lined the street. Lanterns were strung above the road, giving an extra burst of color to the already vibrant town. Street vendors selling pad Thai, fruit shakes, and meat on sticks were every few feet, eying their competitors, a smile plastered onto their face. Mountains surrounded the entire town as if it were a hidden village, only known to backpackers and travelers alike.
I got off of the bus and immediately fell in love. Young backpackers walked to and fro, dodging between skilled motorbike drivers, holding Chang beers as they day drank and enjoyed the relaxed nature of Pai.
Hula-hoops lined shops that stood next to book stores selling used books with tattered edges. People sat outside eating fresh fruit smoothies and curry. Everything was so relaxed. I immediately felt every ounce of stress leave my body, and felt light and happy.
Within ten minutes of arriving at my hostel, I jumped onto a motorbike with a group of friends I met immediately upon arrival. We rode to Pai Canyon and watched the sunset amongst graying mountains that slowly faded into the sky in the west, as the mountains turned blue in the east.
I sat smiling at the view, amazed at how relaxed I felt. It was then that I decided I was going to stay in Pai for a long time and enjoy the town and the surrounding nature for as long as possible.
Pai has quickly and easily become one of my favorite towns in the entire world. There’s just something so enchanting about this place that really gets to you. All of your worries are sucked right out of you, and it’s a place where you can truly enjoy yourself and take a break from backpacking for just a little while.
If you love a relaxed atmosphere, nature activities, and good company, then add Pai to your list. This small hippy town in northern Thailand is a gem of its own.
I’m warning you now- it’s going to trap you. It sure as hell trapped me.
What To Do in Pai
Rent a Motorbike
The easiest way to get around Pai is to rent a scooter. You’ll be able to visit a lot of the sites, such as waterfalls, canyons, and hot springs remarkably easily (half of the fun is the ride there!). I rent mine from aya, a service located directly on one of the main roads in town. They offer insurance too, which a lot of places in Pai don’t.
Be careful when riding these. Be smart, go slow, don’t drive drunk, and make sure you’re wearing a helmet. There are a lot of winding roads in Pai, so just be careful- but have fun- when riding around.
Watch the Sunset at Pai Canyon
The sunset here is remarkable. It sets behind blue-gray mountains, and you watch it from the top of a canyon. There are little hiking paths you can climb (be careful, they’re near cliff edges!) to get a different perspective of the sunset.
I’ve been here almost every night. It’s one of my favorite spots in Pai.
Visit Mor Paeng Waterfall
The ride to this waterfall itself is unbelievable, and just like many other roads in Pai, is surrounded by mountains (I can’t get over the views here).
You’ll find Thai people jumping and sliding into this waterfall. There’s a large pool at the bottom, and you can climb up the rocks to the top to relax and put your feet in. It’s a calm atmosphere, and you can easily spend the entire day here.
Visit Pembrok Waterfall
The ride to this waterfall is a bit rough. The road is unpaved and bumpy, so just make sure you go slow.
This hike brings you to the bottom of a waterfall that spills out from a cliff face. It falls into a large, cold pool, and you can hang out in the water at the bottom. A small cave sits next to this waterfall too, giving it even more of an exotic feel.
Visit the Hot Springs
There are two hot springs you can visit in Pai, one that costs around 200 baht to get into, another cheaper one that costs 20 baht (plus 20 baht for a motorbike fee). I went to the cheaper hot springs, which are a bit further.
Once you enter the park, it’s a few kilometers to the actual hot spring. Be very careful on this road. I found myself pushing my bike up hills at certain points (that’s what I get for renting a motorbike for $3 a day!) and squeezing the breaks on the downhill portions. The road is very windy and next to cliffs, but worth the adrenaline rush (just go SLOW!).
Besides the constant fear, it was an incredible ride. I felt like I was in the Amazon rain forest with the view. Gray clouds wrapped around the mountains in the distance like ribbons as the sun slowly crept closer and closer towards the horizon.
The hot springs were warm and relaxing. We went at dusk, so it was a bit eery being there when it got dark out, however, definitely added to the experience.
Watch the Sunset at the White Buddha
Another sunset point is the White Buddha. The steps up to this Buddha are tiring, but the views of Pai are worth it!
Visit the Caves
This is a full day trip. It takes a few hours to actually get to the caves, and once you’re there, you hire a guide to take you inside. You ride a boat and spend the day swimming in the caves. Get there early so you don’t have to drive back at night!
Relax at Fluid
For 60 baht, you can spend the day at Fluid, an in ground swimming pool in Pai. It’s located just outside of town, near Sunset bar (all walking distance). Grab a beer, indulge in their delicious nachos, and enjoy the funky beats as you work on your tan. This was one of my favorite spots in Pai.
Hike to Mae Yen Waterfall
This is an ideal, all day hike for the adventurous nature lovers. Start the hike early, as it takes around 6-8 hours round trip to complete! It’s an absolutely gorgeous hike through the mountains. You’ll be trekking through a river most of the time (wear waterproof shoes, or do what I did and just give up on your sneakers half way through), up a steep mountain with a gorgeous view, and eventually to a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming. The hike is definitely worth it! You can also climb up the rocks to the top of the waterfall and swim underneath the falls and in a deep pool.
Where to Stay
Common Grounds Hostel
There is no other hostel I could ever think about staying in when in Pai. Everyone hangs out in the communal area, there’s a bar, a fun “Shot for your Country” drinking game, and the vibes are just so positive and happy, that I never want to leave (which is why I’m not…). The location is perfect too, it’s right in the center of Pai (but about 100 meters down the main road, so it’s still quiet).
Dorm rooms are 220 baht a night, and you get A/C, a towel, free water, tea, and coffee, and soap. This hostel is fairly new too, so all of the dorms and beds are in great condition.
Where to Eat
Almost every food stand in Pai has incredible food. I’ve even had some of the best pad Thai of my life at a random stand outside of Sunset Bar, a late night bar in town. There’s also a really good stand on the main road that sells lasagna, and another one that sells garlic bread.
They have really cheap muesli, yogurt, and fruit at this restaurant (which has been my breakfast of choice for the past few weeks). They also have delicious and cheap curry and pad Thai.
Café de Pai
This restaurant is a bit fancier, but they have anything from sandwiches, beans, eggs, fruit shakes, pizzas, etc. It’s very delicious and right in the center of town (I had the BEST muesli here the other day!).
Top 5 Cafe
I had the most amazing breakfast sandwich at this cafe: two eggs, avocado, tomatoes, on toast, for only 80 baht. Need I say more? Their food is cheap and delicious (like many places in Pai!).
Most of the bars in Pai close around midnight, which is why Sunset Bar is such a hotspot. It’s a bit out of town, but close enough that it’s walking distance. This bar stays open late, has good drinks and a great atmosphere.
This bar has a great staff and cheap drinks. Hang out outside in the warm weather and sip on a cocktail as you meet fellow travelers and enjoy the night out.
Don’t Cry Bar
This bar is on the way to Sunset Bar, and has great vibes and beautiful artwork. There’s also a fire pit to sit and chat around, and it’s right next to a really good food stand.
Pai is an incredible place to take a break from traveling, and more importantly, from reality. You may never want to leave.
Follow me on Snapchat to see more of my adventures! @globetrottica.