Every time I meet a fellow traveller in Thailand and ask them what the highlight of their trip has been, their response is always ‘Pai’. But why? What does this little town deep within the Northern mountains of Thailand offer for backpackers to place it on such a pedestal? As I sit here swinging in my hammock chair whilst writing this post I overlook nothing but endless fields and mountains. This view and the peace and quiet are easy to fall in love with and what I’m sure draws flocks of backpackers here every year.
It’s day 5 in Pai for me today and whilst I do like it here, there are thing’s I don’t like. I’ve been in Thailand nearly 2 months and visited 10 popular places, I have to say though, Pai doesn’t claim the no.1 spot in my list. There, I said it, against the grain of what everyone else seems to think!
Pai’s good points
The scenery is what makes Pai special. If you take a look at Google Maps you’ll realise just how remotely positioned it is, only national parks and mountains surround it for miles upon miles. If you get away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre the views are breathtaking and you’ll struggle to find anywhere else as quiet in Thailand.
One of our favourite things to do in Pai was to escape the town centre by moped and explore the rolling hills of farmland. Just a few miles out you’ll find the real, thai, Pai, not the one ruined by tourism. It was great to see the Thai farmers tending to their crops and friendly faces of the locals in their gardens as we rode by.
It’s not just scenery you can enjoy, Pai actually has lots of things to do as well. There’s plenty of natural beauty like waterfalls, hot springs and canyons as well as temples, elephant camps and sites like the WWII memorial bridge. One thing I particularly liked was all the novel cafés and restaurants dotted along the main road out of Pai. All of these places have a fun, colourful theme and offer a place to sit back (or swing!) whilst sipping a cold drink and enjoying the peaceful scenery with a book.
Pai’s bad points
I have a feeling that what I see as a negative for Pai is probably a positive to many travellers. This likely comes down to my old age though! For me the central part of Pai is far too busy and touristy. The peace and quiet everyone raves about when they talk about Pai is not found anywhere near here. Instead it’s bursting full of Western backpackers and Chinese tourists on holiday.
Most people, us included (to our regret!), choose to stay in the thick of it though along the busy walking street. There is a nightly market where street food is sold but the fact many of the stalls now focus on pizza, chips and donuts kind of kills the little bit of Thai authenticity left in this town. The restaurants also do their bit to make sure you feel like you’re not in Thailand. The ‘American Breakfast’ is probably the most popular meal to reach the chalkboards that line the streets. Don’t get me wrong, I love a fry up, but when every restaurant focuses on Western food I feel as though as I may as well be at home. You can of course find Thai food on the menus but when one of the most popular restaurants is called ‘burger queen’… you get the picture!
The last negative for me is probably down to my old age. At 28, my ideal night out doesn’t centre around cheap alcohol and making as much noise as I can anymore. Unfortunately, this is the norm for most of the younger travellers in Pai. It can get quite loud at night so if you’re not planning on joining in, you’re best off staying away from the walking street to get some kip. And if you are planning on joining in, please keep it down a bit for us old folk 🙂
To Pai or not to Pai?
So should you still visit this backpacker mecca despite its flaws? My advice would be a big fat yes BUT stay in one of the remote bungalows in the countryside. I don’t think many of these can be booked online beforehand but there are so many options I would just recommend hiring a scooter and enquiring at each one when you get here. I wish we had done this as the views and tranquillity you will find at these resorts are, in my opinion, what Pai is all about. Not the beer pong and burgers you’ll find in town.