By Harry Bedford
Connotations of Thailand tend to revolve around beautiful sun-drenched beaches, crystal-clear water and small bays surrounded by protective rocks and palm trees, but head to the mountains of Northern Thailand, near the Burmese border, and you’ll discover the quirky town of Pai.
Ninety miles north of Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, along a road with over 700 bends, Pai is a sleepy town in a valley surrounded by a serene mountain backdrop that is fast becoming a tourist hot stop. It has a very bohemian feel, similar to that of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco and Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and has earned the title of ‘hippy town’ – albeit with a Thai flavour.
The atmosphere in the town caters perfectly for relaxation; only the main ‘walking street’ with its market stalls – to pick up arts and crafts and bars to lose yourself in a cocktail or two – disturb the peace. Despite its chilled-out feel, Pai has much to offer.
The Land Crack, a few miles south of the town centre, is a unique geological feature created by an earthquake in 2008 splitting a farmer’s land in half. The farmer now welcomes nosy tourists onto his land to take a peek at the crack. While you are there, settle down for a fine selection of homemade food and drink, provided by the farmer who asks only for a donation in return.
A few kilometres further down the road you will find the smaller of Pai’s two waterfalls, Pambok Falls. The main waterfall in the area is Mo Paeng Falls, which lies to the east of the town; a long, winding road offering blissful views leads to the raging water. Out of the dry season (March to May) you can jump into the pools and even slide down the waterfall’s natural slide – a welcome break from the searing heat of this tropical land.
Further south lies the fascinatingly beautiful Pai Canyon, almost a miniature version of the world-famous Grand Canyon. This is not for the faint hearted and a walk around the path can be daunting at best, quite dangerous at worse. At points the path becomes as narrow as two-feet wide and the drop on either side exceeding 30 metres. Nevertheless, a stroll around the canyon is extremely rewarding with breath-taking views of the mountains parading around the town.
The centre of Pai is overlooked by the white Buddha statue, seemingly small and residing in the hills. However, take a half-hour walk up to it and you’ll soon discover the enormity of its beauty. Whilst there you can join the Buddha in looking down upon Pai, and realise the stunning beauty of the landscapes that make up the area.
Music plays a prominent role in Pai, with venues offering free live music most nights of the week. The music tends to come from fellow tourists, however the high standard in bars such as Edible Jazz and Spirit keep the drinks flowing all night as more and more people join the party. In addition to the top-quality bars in Pai, you’ll find a wide range of restaurants, everything from homemade Thai specialities to American steak houses. All budgets are catered for as you can get a filling meal from as little as 50 pence.
Accommodation in Pai mostly takes the form of a wooden hut with a swinging hammock outside. The hut-lined dirt tracks just across the river from the centre make you feel as though you are back at camp, with communal eating areas and friendly fellow-travellers to share stories of the previous day. On top of the quaint-style, the accommodation is very cheap with a wooden hut including breakfast costing as little as £2-per-person. Wifi and mountain scenery coming as standard.
There are regular minibuses that shuttle between Pai and Chiang Mai for £3 each way, however the 700-odd bends may make you wish that you had taken the slower – and therefore less headache-inducing – public bus for only £1.60.