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Pai: my 10 favorite spots in a relaxed Thai backpackers’ village

by Flitter Fever
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Pai attracts all kinds of people; hippies, backpackers, couples, families, Chinese tourists… and me! I really like this cool village in Northwest Thailand; it has such a relaxed vibe. Definitely worth the 3 hour ride from Chiang Mai! Let me share with you my favorite things to do and see in and near Pai.

The relaxed atmosphere is definitely one thing that makes people come to Pai, of which some even decide to stay for months or years.

In logical order of visiting by location, not necessarily preference.

1: Pai Night Market

The so-called Walking Street is located right in the heart of Pai, actually on the doorstep of our hotel (see below Where to stay). After sunset this street becomes a lively Night Market with lots of different stalls and flavors to choose from. You can eat here every night for weeks to try them all! Besides Thai food, dishes from other global kitchens are offered too, such as Israeli falafel, Mexican burritos, American burgers, Greek gyros, veggie skewers, fresh fruit juice, etc.

Most bars in the center of Pai will allow guests to take and eat their street food inside over a drink (or two). Some places even clearly advertise this at the door, like Paizy Bar, which has happy hour all night (buy 2 get 1 free). It definitely saves money to eat at the Night Market instead of in a seated restaurant, and we never got sick from the street food. There are also a few cute shops and stalls with hand-made jewelry, art, scented soap, etc. This is the center of Pai, from which the distance to all sights mentioned hereafter are calculated.

  • Chai Songkhram Rd, Pai (for location see map below)
  • Open daily 18:00-22:00h
  • Free admission, food cash only

2: Pai Canyon

Visiting Pai Canyon at sunset sounded like such a good idea. But apparently half of Pai thinks the same. An endless row of scooters was already a warning sign of what we were about to ran into upstairs at the view point: a crowd of people. Oh and people who almost fell of the platform in attempt to shoot their Insta selfie, living on the edge, right?

Should you not mind the crowds, at least make sure to get here min 10 minutes before sunset time as the sun sets earlier behind the mountains than for real. Some people arrived too late. Anyways, we decided to come back the next morning. The parking lot and the viewing platform were almost empty, so we could enjoy the view in serenity, that’s the way I like it.

  • 1095 road, 8 km south of Pai (13 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open 24/7
  • Free admission

3: Love Strawberry Pai

If you are around already any way, make a short pit-stop at Pai Canyon’s neighbor, Love Strawberry Pai. Hard to miss.Honestly, I have to admit I liked this place more than I maybe should have, being an adult and all. Love Strawberry Pai, as the name may already give away, is a garden full of strawberries. Huge strawberry statues, real strawberries in a big garden, a shop where you can buy all sorts of things made out of strawberries (such as jam, wine, candy) and non-food strawberry goodies (from jewelry to T-shirts). Besides you can get a frozen strawberry smoothie with our without yoghurt (80 THB), very refreshing! If you are lucky to be there at the right time, you can pick some strawberries yourself.

  • 1095 road, 7.5 km south of Pai (12 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open daily 08:00-18:00h
  • Free admission

4: Land Split

What do you do as a farmer when an earthquake splits up your land, making it unusable to grow veggies or to let cattle graze? Make a tourist attraction out of it! Creative thinking here after an earthquake hit these farmers in 2008, determined not to let themselves be put out of business by a natural disaster. This place is not huge but definitely fun to spend some time; the atmosphere is great and the split is pretty cool to see and wander through. At the entrance friendly man greets you with a big smile, offering home-grown and home-made products like super delicious pumpkin crackers and chilled Roselle juice. There are hammocks to chill and you may run into a monk or two.

  • ± 6.5 km southwest of Pai, exit the 1095 to the right after ± 4km, drive ±2 km further (for location see map below)
  • Open daily 09:00-17:00h
  • Voluntary admission fee (donation box)

5: Pam Bok Waterfall

The Pam Bok waterfall is located right between the Land Split and the Bamboo Bridge. After a 5 minutes’ walk you can already – more or less – see the waterfall from a distance. Waterfalls in Thailand are obviously more spectacular during rainy season than the cooler season, but in this case also more challenging (muddy path). Those determined to jump in, should prepare for a relatively challenging descent down to the water for about 10 meters over slippery rocks.  Probably not the most impressive waterfall you will ever see, but a welcome refreshment on a hot day.

  • ± 9 km southwest of Pai (± 20 min by car), ± 2.5 km further west from Land Split (± 7 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open daily
  • Admission 30 THB (or free when you show your entrance ticket of Sai Ngam hot spring)

Be careful on the curvy road at Pam Bok Waterfall towards Bamboo Bridge. Scooter accidents happen here very day, also with locals.

More waterfalls

There are three more waterfalls near Pai (for location see map below):

  • Hua Chang Waterfall
  • Mo Paeng Waterfall
  • Mae Yen Waterfall (river hike)

6: Bamboo Bridge

Boon Ko Ku So Bamboo Bridge is – as the name already reveals – completely made out of braided bamboo. I would rather describe it as a bouncing path on poles through rice fields than a bridge. When you visit during rainy season (Jul-Nov), the rice blades are lush green. In the middle of December, the workers were just harvesting the yellowed rice plants by cutting the rice blades off, leaving a brown field behind. A bit of a pity, nevertheless the scenery is still worth a visit. I liked watching the field workers gathering and piling up the harvested rice plants.

You can walk around here and spend about 30-60 min, all the way to a small temple. Access for the monks to the temple was actually the initial reason why this bridge was built in the first place. Sun and photography wise I would suggest to visit early morning, before 08:00h. Food and refreshing drinks are available cheaply at the Pambok restaurant next to the parking lot (dishes between 10 and 40 THB). There is a toilet soon after the entrance gate. 

  • ± 11 km southwest of Pai center (25-30 min by car), ± 2 km further west of Pam Bok Waterfall (for location see map below)
  • Open daily
  • Admission 20 THB per person (cash)

If you plan on doing the Mae Hong Son Loop: the Boon Ko Ku So bridge has a baby brother called the Tong Pae Bridge, located 15 km north of Mae Hong Son (see map below).

7: Big White Buddha

Wat Phra That Mae Yen, also known as Chedi Phra That Mae Yen, the Temple on the Hill or White Buddha, is the pride of the Buddhist community of Pai. The 353 steps to the top may get you sweaty however the view is worth it. Since the Buddha faces west this is a popular spot for sunsets.

Like at any temple, please dress appropriatelybefore climbing up the stairs. Stricter enforced towards women (shorts are not OK) than men (shorts are OK), skirts for rent (20 THB). You do not need much time here because once you are on top of the stairs, there is nothing to on the platform other than the statue and the view.

  • ± 2.5 km southeast of Pai center (± 10 min by car, ± 30 min on foot, for location see map below)
  • Open daily 06:00-18:00h
  • Free admission

8: Yun Lai view point

The most popular and famous view point in Pai is called Yun Lai. It is right behind the Chinese Village and several items like the wish tree and Chinese lampoons at the entrance path give the place a Chinese atmosphere. You can buy a token to hang on the wish tree. Yun Lai also includes a camping site. Admission used to be for free and previously you used to get a pot of tea upon entry, but this hospitality belongs to the past.

Yun Lai provides a nice view to the city on the east side of the view point. It is not breathtaking to be honest, and it is not an absolute must but if you are in the area anyway I would suggest to have a look. It may be more spectacular with foggy weather. Photography wise it may be interesting to come here early morning (sunrise) or late afternoon (sunset).

  • ± 6 km west of Pai center (± 17 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open daily
  • Admission 20 THB (cash)

9: Santichon Chinese village

Santichon Chinese Village, also known as Chinese Yunan Cultural Village, was set up by Chinese people who came to Pai and wanted to have their own place with their own cultural aspects. Besides the castle looking temple, the village mainly consists of shops and eateries. It felt commercial, kitschy and sleek. If you have never been to China or any Chinatown around the world, you may find it interesting to visit. Should you ever want to learn archery, this is something you can do here too, besides shopping and eating.  

  • ± 5 km west of Pai center (± 13 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open daily 05:00-18:00h
  • Free admission

10: Karen Long Necks

What many know as Long Necks are actually Kayan people, a subgroup of the Red Karen (Karenni people) ethnic minority from Myanmar (Burma). Due to conflict with the military regime in Myanmar, many Karen tribes fled to the Thai border area in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Being so close to the border area, several foreign and regional tribes like Karen, Hmong and Long Necks found a peaceful existence in Pai, Mae Hong Son and some other places in Northern Thailand. The Long Necks succeeded in attracting tourists, making them self-sufficient and not needing any financial assistance.

Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well-known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that make the neck look longer, giving them the nickname Giraffe Women. Girls start to wear them when they are about 5 years old. Over the years, the coil is replaced by a longer one and more rings are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down but the neck itself is not lengthened; the rings only make their neck illusionary look longer.

Controversial?

Some may perceive visiting the Long Necks as touristy and maybe even controversial, but I felt like I should be meeting these strong, skillful women who so far I only knew from travel books. A tribe who fled persecution and tries to build up and maintain a worthy existence in Thailand and stay close to their own culture and traditions. Whom I can support just a little bit by popping by and buying some of their hand-made articles, which hopefully helps them to make a living? What else should they do? Do we expect them to sit behind a reception desk? Or doing an office admin job? Do we want them to become us? And totally fine if they take off their collar once and awhile. I thought it was interesting to visit them. And we were the only ones there.

  • ± 2.5 km east of Pai center (± 10 min by car, for location see map below)
  • Open daily
  • Admission 50 THB per person (cash)

Map Pai

This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more!! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. You can (un)select categories/areas to customize the map to your needs. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.

More to see/do in/near Pai

Besides the sights mentioned above there are some more sights to see in Pai, such as:

  • Pai Historical Bridge
  • Wat Nam Hu temple
  • Mae Hong Son Provincial House (no photos allowed)

From our guide I know that at least Chinese tourists also like visiting in Pai:

  • Upside Down House
  • Kugn Kang De Pai (windmill)
  • Pai Waan (pink)
  • Pai tree house

(Half) day trips from Pai

What I would highly recommend you to do is to make a (half) day trip from Pai to:

  • Sai Ngam hot spring
  • Doi Kiew Lom view point
  • Tham Lod Cave
  • Ban Cha Bo

For more information please check out my earlier article Lod cave, Sai Ngam hot spring & Ban Cha Bo day trip from Pai, Northern Thailand.

Besides Sai Ngam, there are two more hot springs in Pai:

Another interesting (half) day trip from Pai could be to Huai Nam Dang National Park, 30 km (45 min by car) southeast from Pai. For location see map below.

Activities Pai

Some activities you could do in Pai:

  • Rafting or tubing over the Pai River
  • Zip lining through the jungle
  • Jungle trekking or survival
  • Rent a mountain bike and get sweaty (150 THB p/d)
  • Swim at Fluid Swimming Pool (09:00-18:00h, 60 THB)
  • Massage, manicure and/or pedicure at Pai Body Magic Massage
  • Muay Thai boxing classes

Tubing already starts as cheap as 250 THB including pick up and drop off service by Pai Authentic Travel. They also offer an inexpensive tour to Lod Cave for 200 THB (10:00-15:00h or 15:00-19:00h). Unfortunately not many Pai tourist businesses are present yet on booking platforms like Get Your Guide, Viator, etc. One month of Muay Thai classes in Pai two lessens a day cost around 7000 THB. Please do not visit, feed, bathe and/or ride an elephant in Pai. There is one responsible elephant sanctuary located between Pai and Chiang Mai called Elephant Nature Park that you can visit, see Map below. Avoid Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp in Pai.

Pai Practical stuff

If you are interested to read more about:

  • How to get to Pai from Chiang Mai
  • Preventing car sickness
  • How to get around in Pai
  • Tours in Pai and from Chiang Mai
  • Where to eat and drink in Pai
  • Where to stay in Pai
  • When to visit Pai

… then please check out my additional acticle Pai, Northwest Thailand: a practical guide for first-timers.

Are you planning on going to Pai? I how this article was helpful for you. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below. I really love this place and hope to get back some time soon.

Please check out my other Thailand articles in the Thailand Blog Archive.

This article includes affiliate links to support this website. For more information click here.

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