In my first 2 and a half weeks of traveling, the main thing I heard was, “Go to Pai!”
“Pai? What’s in Pai? What makes it so great?”
Half the time people stared at me dumbfounded and said giddily, “I don’t know… the atmosphere…the nature… I just can’t explain it!”
So I took their word for it and headed out from Chiang Rai to Pai with my travel buddy, Kole.
How to Get to Pai from Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai
Unfortunately, to get to Pai from Chiang Rai, you have no choice but to go through Chiang Mai, which is a 3 hour bus ride.
From Chiang Mai, it is another 3 hour mini bus ride through the most windy, slightly sketchy road I have ever been on. If you get carsick, like me, huh, well, good luck! Try some dramamine because that road really is treacherous for those of us with weak stomachs.
However the windy road is SO worth it because once you get into Pai, everyone’s ravings make complete and total sense.
Arriving in Pai, I immediately began to feel the laid back hippie vibe of this small, yet happening town. I felt right at home and in my kind of atmosphere.
We walked from our bus station to our hostel, The Purple Monkey, which I might add, was the only bad experience I have had with a hostel in Asia yet. The beds were like rock and people came in blundering drunk at 4 in the morning waking everyone up. However, on the upside, I did meet some pretty awesome people here who we hung out with over the course of the 3 days we were there.
A definite must do to enjoy the time fully in Pai, is to rent motorbikes for roughly 200 baht/6USD per day to get around town and to nearby places like waterfalls or Pai canyon, both of which we did and really enjoyed.
There are several places to go and see waterfalls, but the one we went on our motorbikes to see was the Pam Bok waterfall. It was a long, stunning ride to the top, but one to be careful on as I saw a few people wipe out on their bikes near the parking area at the top.
Once parked, we hiked a short trail and crossed a bridge to the waterfall. We climbed over slippery rocks (I got a few bruises from misplaced footing) and came up as close as we could to the falls. Trying to swim towards it was such a fun challenge as its pure power pushed you back away from it.
We were so fortunate to be in Pai when we were, because the weather was absolutely perfect. We were at the end of the rainy season, but you never know when random rains will come pouring down your way.
The views from the canyon would be spectacular on any day, but the day we came had huge billowing clouds, with the sun peaking out from behind. I am all for a beautiful sky and I’ll go chasing clouds and sunsets over most beauty to be seen.
The canyon is quite popular and famous, so there were many tourists there, which at first had me worried, but not everyone actually hikes in the canyon, and it is so large, you rarely see other people, which I definitely appreciated.
The trail in the canyon itself was a thin trail with drop offs on both sides, so if heights are your enemy, this’ll be quite the challenge, and if not, quite the exhilaration.
Bar scene in Pai
Since being away from my husband, I haven’t found the drinking, night life quite as enjoyable, so generally I don’t partake, however Pai is pretty known for it’s mushroom shakes and party life. There are a ton of regular bars to choose from, and plenty of places to get drunk with your newly made foreign friends, all around the same area and bar strip.
The main and most popular one would be Don’t Cry Bar, which is a bar, but almost has a club kind of feel, as you can get your face painted, bullshit with buddies, or dance the night away.
I opted for all three occasionally. You can get glow and the dark face paint from a couple of guys who charge about 40 baht (or for free if you’re a pretty girl).
Elephant sanctuary we found motorbiking around Pai
For my night of fun and face paint, I assumed it would end at about 1 or so, as everyone told me that’s when the bars closed. As 2 am rolled around, I started getting antsy and agitated. I wanted to go back to my uncomfortable bed and drunk skype my husband was that too much to ask? No one was ready to leave to I decided to walk back to my hostel by myself. At 2 in the morning. With zero sense of direction. Not exactly my brightest idea yet. I walked around for about 15 minutes then realized I had no clue where I was going, so I tried making my way back to the bar I had left to find my friends, when a Thai woman pulled up on a scooter and asked where I was going. I told her my hostel name and she said, “Sweetie that’s the other way.”
Ahh. Again, horrible sense of direction. She offered to give me a ride and I said no, no, I have no money, assuming it was a motor taxi. She waved it off and gave me a ride back to my hostel. I was blubbering and thankful and kept bowing and saying Kap un kha, thank you, thank you! She smiled and just said of course, Welcome to Thailand! The goodness of people comes in and saves the day yet again. Since that night, I have not gone out drinking again.
The next days it was time to catch a long, windy bus ride back to Chiang Mai for the upcoming lantern festival.