Our third stop: the backpacker filled village of Pai. Originally, we were headed to Chiang Rai after Chiang Mai but after Instagram-stalking what Pai had to offer, I convinced Freddie we needed to go. The only issue; forums described the journey to Pai as ‘hell’ and ‘awful’, with 762 curves during the 3 hour journey. Thankfully, we prepared for the worst, stocked up on motion sickness tablets and braved the journey – which was definitely not as bad as I had imagined it to be!
We stayed in Baan Katisod, which was about 1.5km outside of Pai centre, near the White Buddha. After a rocky start with not the best room, we were moved to another, bigger room which was a great base for us during our 4 days here. For anyone coming to Pai, I would however recommend staying in the centre (there are tons of great hostels and hotels) as it will make your life a lot easier.
Things to do (and see!)
Something to note: most of Pai’s attractions and landscapes are quite a bit out of the actual centre. For this reason, you’ll see most tourists using motorbikes to get around in Pai. After some research, we quickly found the highly rated ‘Vespai’ rentals; motorbike rental is slightly more expensive but the owner offers great lessons for beginners and points out places to go (and avoid). Our rental for the day with lesson cost us 350 Baht (about £8). I also got a lesson but couldn’t brave actually driving on a real road.
- Pai Canyon
This was easily the best thing we saw in Pai. About 8 km out of the centre, Pai Canyon is a beautiful place to stop and have a stretch after a drive along the long, winding 1095 road. The view is spectacular, but the trails can be slippy so don’t venture too far off the beaten track. People say the best time to visit is for sunset and although I’m sure the view is amazing, we opted to go a little earlier to beat the crowds (we were not disappointed with our view).
2. The White Buddha
After 353 steps uphill in our regulation elephant pants and t-shirt (legs and shoulders have to be covered before entering religious sites e.g. temples), we were absolutely pooped and exceptionally sweaty. Even still, seeing this huge Buddha up close was worth the walk!
3. Strawberry in Love
A must-see in Pai – a cafe filled to the brim with all things strawberry – giant strawberry statues, strawberry decorations and strawberry-themed food and drink. Although the food and drink are definitely overpriced, we grabbed a strawberry smoothie to share (70 baht) and enjoyed the gorgeous views overlooking the mountains and fields.
4. Mo Paeng Waterfall
I’m a sucker for a good waterfall and these two did not disappoint. When the water is flowing slowly, it is possible to slide down the waterfalls, although when we visited there was not a chance of being able to do that safely. The drive out is quite long (about 5.1km) and difficult, especially for beginners, but there are lots of nice cafes and restaurants near by for a coffee (or in Freddie’s case a beer).
5. The Land Split
After an earthquake in 2008, a Pai hillside split in two, leaving a deep, gaping split in the earth. The owner of the land has now turned an unfortunate geological event into a popular tourist destination with no charge. Donations are welcome and the owner will offer to sell you his own produce, including fruit, roselle juice and tamarind.
To get here, follow the 1095 from Pai until you see the ‘Land Split’ sign. Turn right and follow the road around for about 2km. There is parking across the road from the Land Split entrance.
Eat Up, Drink Up
- Earth Tone
Pai is a vegan and vegetarian’s dream and Earth Tone is a very popular example of this. Both Freddie and I are meat eaters, but we absolutely loved Earth Tone’s veggie lunches and vegan sweet treats. We visited Earth Tone every day of our 3 day trip and I wish we could have stayed for longer, so I could have worked through their entire menu!
Try the vegan banana bread- with a dollop of vegan ice cream. It was up there with some of the best banana bread I’ve had…and I’ve had a lot.
2. Duong Thai
An unassuming little restaurant just off the main strip, Dong Thai has great food at even better prices. We came for dinner with our two friends and had 5 main courses with rice, 2 smoothies, 3 waters at a grand total of 320 baht (about £8). We came again the next night just us two because we were so impressed. Service does tend to let it down a bit, but if you’re prepared to wait, you will eat like a king for next to nothing.
3. Om Garden Cafe
On every forum or article about Pai, I saw something about Om Garden Cafe so of course we had to try it out. When I saw that they served actual breakfast tea I nearly jumped out of my seat. The porridge was great and every meal I saw leaving the kitchen looked to die for.
4. Walking Street Market
The walking street market in Pai had a great atmosphere and was a great place to stuff your face with food at a tiny price. After being to quite a few walking markets, I can easily say Pai’s market has the widest variety of food that I have seen. There was everything from traditional Thai delicacies, to Mexican food, LOTS of vegan food and even ‘Sausage Pancakes’ (yes, sweet pancakes, with frankfurter sausages). The market is on every night from 5-11pm so try it out!
5. Charlie and Lek’s
For a quick, healthy bite to eat, Charlie and Lek’s was perfect. Both of our meals had tons of fresh vegetables in them and it just tasted like eating goodness.
Pai was unlike any other place we visited in our Northern Thailand Trip (Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai) and I would go back in a heart beat. Even after we exhausted all the ‘to-do’s in this town, we loved sipping coffee in a cute cafe, or swinging on a hammock reading a book. It was the perfect place to unwind after a long stint of travelling and some crazy, busy cities.