Tucked away in the northwest of Thailand, Pai is a major backpacker destination. At some point, the ratio of backpackers to locals in a location can be high enough to completely ruin the cultural experience. In all likelihood, Pai has reached this point. Everywhere you look there are backpacker bros and elephant-pants girls. It’s similar to Vang Vieng in Laos, where many ex-pats have comfortably settled into the chill life. Luckily, the laid back atmosphere, surrounding nature, and street food make up for it.
The whole town is a handful of blocks surrounded by green mountains on all sides. One main street, stretching half a mile before it meets a tiny wooden bridge that crosses a river, holds nearly all of the activity. Despite its small size, the streets are alive with tourists and locals zipping around on motorbikes. Most people use the town as a home-base for making day trips to various natural attractions in the area. There are so many hot springs, water falls, treks, and temples a short ride from Pai , it’s actually difficult to see them all.
A few miles outside of town, Pai Canyon puzzles the mind and provides a nice hike at the same time. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, but the canyons actually make sense there. You can visualize where the water has eroded the land. At Pai Canyon, these seeming random and narrow walkways jut out above the forest. I don’t understand how they were formed…at all. Please let me know.
Pai Walking Street
The main street in Pai doesn’t look like much during the day. Cafes, restaurants, and shops take up most of the real estate on either side of the road. But at night, the street vendors come out. You can browse paintings, jewelry, and most importantly, food. For such a small area, the variety and amount of food that is available is shockingly delightful. I found everything from local favorites like pad see yoo and khao soi to falafel and ice cream. My favorite part of Pai was strolling the walking street and eating 3-4 small meals from different vendors.
Temple on the Hill (Wat Phra That Mae Yen)
The temple on the hill houses a white buddha statue with a great view of the surrounding valley. The statue itself isn’t any different from many of the other buddha sites throughout the region, but the panoramic view of the area is pretty cool.
Nightlife and Bars
Even after a night of flooding, the night life in Pai the bars were alive with drinks and dancing when the sun went back down. It’s easy to see that bar hopping is one of the most popular reasons people come to the area, as well as a reason some people stick around for a bit too long. The two popular bars I stopped at were Boom Bar and Yellow Sun Bar – both were packed late into the night.
I wish I could have seen a few more of the waterfalls and hot springs in the area, but even without doing it all, Pai lived up to expectations. It is definitely the backpacker haven people make it out to be. Please comment below if you have more info or stories from your time in Pai!
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If you want to read more about the Mae Hong Song motorbike loop, which leads to Pai, check out my post detailing my trip.