The small town of Pai (pronounced bye) Thailand is located in the northern province of Mae Hong Son, just a few short hours north of Chiang Mai. After spending a short couple of days checking out Chiang Mai, we decided to take the afternoon/evening bus into Pai. Finding the bus stop in Chiang Mai and navigating which bus to take was quite the challenge. There are so many different counters, since Chiang Mai is one of the major hubs for transportation in Thailand. Buses leave from the city center to just about any other destination in Thailand. We opted for the small “van” that fit about 12 people in 4 rows. What we didn’t know, however was that we were in for one hell of a ride.
We got the “better” seats in the row right behind the driver with more leg room. We started the 3-4 hour trip to Pai as the rain came down and so much water splashed in through the cracked windows. About 15 minutes into the drive, I felt like we had hopped in a roller coaster-
So. Many. Turns. – seemingly endless winding roads around the mountains . if you easily get carsick, take a dramamine.. or multiple. I generally don’t, but in this situation the nausea was out of control (unanimous conclusion). There were “stops” along the route to check the validity of our driver, and to verify who all was in the car. Matthew was chowing down on some nasty smelling jalipeno flavored chips, that were also helping the situation…
We arrived in the small town of Pai on a street in the center of the city full of tourists and music coming from bars and restaurants. the town is surrounded by mountains, hot springs and canyons to explore. we rented a moped before we even checked in at our hotel, and were ready to get exploring.
We spent a few short days in Pai, but they were phenomenal. Pai has a little something for everybody. street and market shopping, delicious street food for cheap (the $1 pad thai was to die for), bars with vibrant live music and local cuisine nightlife. It is tiny, and easy to access completely by foot if moped ain’t ya style.
The place we stayed was located just out of the town center, but it was one of my favorite hotels throughout my time in SE asia. It’s called Paiviengfah Resort, and the views were stunning. It is situated on a gravel road right off of the main road. the view of the mountains and greenery was breathtaking from our balcony. We checked in at night and when we woke up to quite the view! It was also perfectly situated to get out of town and participate in nature activities (which of course, were my fave). We did Pai Canyon, the Hotsprings, and watched the sunset from the big buddha, all of which were easy to access from where we stayed. (I also got a couple of runs in due to the remote area we were in- one of the few times that was possible throughout our entire trip).
Half of the fun of Pai was riding around on the moped, speeding down back roads and exploring. The canyon was super hot and dusty, but it was unlike anything else I saw throughout my time in Asia.
We hiked at Pai Canyon ( or Kong Lan) for about an hour to an hour and a half. it is not a rigorous or a far hike, but the narrow path and dirt that kicks up is not for the weary. The hike is above the trees, so there is no shade, and the heat is unbearable at times.
The canyon itself exists due to an odd geological formation from thousands of years of erosion. There are drop offs around every corner,the ground is not totally level, either so be careful! There are no rails or means of stabilizing ones self- balance is the key?
After the hike, we headed towards the hot springs. They are located in Huai Nam Dang National Park, and at the entrance you pay to park and go in. There are a couple of different sets of hot springs in Pai, but you really can’t go wrong in choosing. We parked the moped in a cleared pavement area, climbed out and walked towards the springs for about 10 minutes. The sign is clearly marked, and it is hard to miss!
The “egg” was confusing for me at first, but as we entered the hot spring area, we quickly figured out that they are pools, increasing in temperature as they go up. The very top, it is hot enough to hard boil an egg. As the pools descend, they get increasingly cooler. That being said- they were all too hot for me! I got in to my waist and that was more than enough (also its about 100 outside..).
We only stayed for about an hour or two before heading back into town for some food and street shopping. On the way home, we passed elephants on the road (chained) , and many of the local houses and stores. Once in town, it is mostly catered to tourists with spas, restaurants, bars and shops.
The night life is filled with people (mostly tourists) walking the streets, shopping, drinking and stopping along at the various food carts that line the streets. One of the favorites that we consistently saw throughout our trip to SE Asia was the fruit smoothies and juices. Mango, pineapple, papaya are readily available and the roadside juices and smoothies are a cheap and delicious pick me up (be careful about the ice, though!).
The highlight of my experience in Pai (other than the remote hotel spot and the gorgeous views) was our quest to find the “big buddha”. We spotted it from our hotel room the first morning when we woke up, and were determined to find our way to it. We passed the entrance quite a few times before realizing that it was actually Wat Phra That Mae, a Buddhist temple. 400 stairs later, we made it to the top just before sunset. I am a sucker for a good sunset, and it was the best place we could have found to watch it over the valley.
We spent 3 nights total in Pai, but it was just the perfect amount of time. Plenty of tourists stay longer, and it is such a relaxed place, it would be an amazing place to retire in. If ya can’t find me in 50 years, you might catch me hanging in Earth Tone with a cup of coffee, or hanging in one of the hammocks in town people watching. Seriously, when I am old and cheap, can $1 Pad Thai really be beat?
Some low quality video clips from our balcony and riding around the outskirts of Pai trying to find the Bhudda: