If seemingly every traveler you meet urges you to visit a particular place, with a reminiscent glow about them as they drift into memories of it, then you should probably take their advice. We did, and found ourselves in little Pai, 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. On an over-air-conditioned mini bus on roads that probably look like noodles from above, we made our way to the little town. To distract me from windy road queasiness, there vast canyons and numerous immensely lush green mountains. Very fitting for the foothills of the Himalayas.
What I felt in Pai was exactly how I hoped it would be. A perfect size and set in an amazing environment, there was a tea shop selling wheatgrass shots that had swings for seats, a walking market that felt like a community outing, an intimately placed temple that ensures you don’t miss it’s beauty, bars that you actually enjoy chilling in, and shops selling original items you won’t see often in Bangkok.
Humble. Sanctuary. Relaxed. Happy. All these words come to mind, matching it’s positive carefree atmosphere. The perfext way to spend a day here is to rent a poped and enjoy the breathtaking scenery on the way to beautiful waterfalls and caves in the surrounding area.
On one of our excursions we exited from a bridge on the far side of town, hauled along a boardwalk like road and through the jungle, passing farms, elephants in the sun, and endless living countryside. The views were definitely enough to tear your eyes off the road for a concerning amount of time. Eventually this path led back to the highway, where we sped on perfect pavement to Pai Canyon. With a Jurassic look and feel, it offered a generous viewpoint to gaze in awe at the mountainous backdrop while pondering Earth’s aging processes.
Further toward town, we turned onto a narrow road that contrasted the vast highway in quality, but was well worth the bumpy ride. So much so that in our short time in Pai, we traveled twice to one of my favorite waterfalls, Pam Bok, also known as “Jumpy”. Although the places to jump into the refreshing waters aren’t standout, the power of the crashing water and the mesmerizing jungle that encapsulates it made me fall in love with this hidden gem of a place.
Closer to town, we attempted to visit another waterfall, Mae Yen, but after bushwacking and trudging up a river for an hour and a half, we discovered that there was still another hour and a bit to go, and didn’t fancy the idea of coming back through the Thai jungle at night. Still, it made for a worth while walk. There was only one obvious flaw I saw with Pai; it’s not near the ocean. But to compromise, they do have an awesome pool just across the bridge, within walking distance. They play good music, serve delicious food and have a relaxing grassy area where you can bask in the sun, or cool down in the shade of one of their bamboo huts. There’s even a mini gym inside if you feel up to pumping some iron! Our nights ranged from enjoying sizzling street burritos and hoola hooping with the lady who makes them (among dreadlocked expats that made the wise decision to call Pai home), to playing giant drinking games at Spicy Pai (a popular hostel, for good reason), and going out on the town. Or, just as happily, browsing the night market, maybe get a crunchy rice salad in bamboo leaves and retire in the comfort of our awesome guesthouse. The streets felt like our front yard, where we could enjoy the vibe and company of others, and the waterfalls and canyons our playground, where we had liberty to roam as we pleased. It was ultimate freedom. So there you have it. I am now one of those people, speaking of this place with admiration, overflowing with nostalgia as I write this, encouraging you to visit this little oasis if you someday find yourself in the wonderland of northern Thailand.