Once in Bangkok, while I was chatting with fellow hostel guests—talking about travel stories as we often do—one girl lost her shit when she brought up Pai as a must-do thing near Chiang Mai. “You have to go to Pai,” she said with her Spanish accent. She didn’t really explained why just saying: “Just go. Trust me.”
Once I arrived to Chiang Mai, the expletives for Pai got louder and more frequent. The number one topic of conversation everyday in the hostel was: “I’m going to Pai” and “I loved Pai. You have to go to Pai.” So I decided that since not one person I met spoke negatively about Pai, and everyone literally used the word “love” when talking about Pai, I just had to go.
From the bus station in Chiang Mai, you take a 10-seater van that for 150 Baht (~$4.80 USD) will take you through about 762 curves to the mountain village of Pai. Many brave souls swear that going there in a motorcycle is the way to go. Many do, but the majority stick to the van with a sick bag near by. I took a motion sickness pill and slept the entire trip!
It is very difficult to explain why I, like everyone that goes there, loved Pai. Like the old saying goes: you just have to be there to get it. Upon arrival, it doesn’t take long to start liking Pai. For me, it was literally during the 3 minute walk from the bus station to the hostel. The vibe in the town is just different from any place I’ve been to. It’s just so chill. People walk slow, not because they’re lazy but because what’s the rush man!? There aren’t that many cars around, so everyone walks in the middle of the road. Everyone in town just operates at a different wavelength, and you acclimate to it immediately because it just feels good.
During the day, there’s plenty of attractions to keep yourself busy. There are multiple sites for waterfalls and hot springs. A few temples scattered around town with the most beautiful—in my opinion— being the white Buddha. There’s also Pai Canyon with great views for sunsets (that I regretfully missed) and the ever popular Lod Caves. For animal lovers there’s plenty of elephant sanctuaries around; be careful to choose wisely one that doesn’t offer riding the elephant as that’s accomplished through abuse of the animal. While there are one-day tours that will take you to most of those destinations, my advice—if you have the time—is to rent a bike and ride to all of those locations. You will see many people bruised up from accidents on bikes, but they’re like that because they were stupid and drove under the influence. I found the roads to be in great condition and the few cars on the roads to be extremely respectful of idiots on scooters. As an example, I drove for two hours in the rain from the caves and back to Pai without any issue, and actually, it was a lot of fun.
Boat taken inside the caves
Now at night…it can get really wild. There’s plenty of bars with different themes. Although most of the bars close at midnight, as is common in all of Thailand, there are some establishments that circumvent the laws and remain open, serving alcohol past midnight. They do this by getting a license as a restaurant, which can be open for 24 hours. A restaurant that just happens to serve alcohol. However not all bars serve just alcohol…
It is the ‘shroom shake that brings all the boys and girls to the yard
Sunset Bar is by far the most popular bar and the one that becomes a bullet point in many people’s itineraries that want to try their specialty shake. The bar is just outside the center of town and its front faces west so if you’re there in the late afternoon, you get a clear view of the sunset with lots of trees and greenery. However, that’s not why people come here. The bar offers alcohol like any bar, serving beer and simple cocktails. The property is big, compared to other bars in Pai, and if you go around the corner and up the hill behind the bar, there’s an area with cushions and hammocks for you to chill. It is in this area, where many enjoy some time with Mary Jane. Although this is a major reason why people come to this bar, it is the ‘shroom shake that brings all the boys and girls to the yard. For 500 Bhat (~$15.98 USD), you can get your very own mushroom shake, flavored with kiwi syrup and chill out for the next three hours in the beds available overlooking the sunset.
Sunset would be to the right and hours earlier
All the bars provide a really safe atmosphere for tourists, and all have set prices on all items on sale. The vibe in the bars is just as alluring as it is in the street just walking around. Everyone is just there to have fun with each other, and there’s no judgment on who is doing what and no pressure to get people to do things they don’t want to do. It is really a very welcoming and accepting vibe.
After 5pm everyday, Walking Street starts filling up with street food vendors that offer great food and great prices. There’s your local Thai fare of things on a stick, Pad Thai, their own Pai dish of deep fried sandwiches and plenty of western food including pizza, bruschetta, and lasagna. There’s also plenty of fresh fruit shakes to water down whatever you stuffed into your face and ice cream, donuts, and cake if you want to finish with something sweet. At first I was annoyed that there was so much western food available, but a lot of proper restaurants (not street stands) offer Thai food. So I can’t really blame street food stands offering western food if tourists want to consume pizza after coming out drunk from the bar.
I thought they were going to swallow each other whole like famished anacondas
After midnight, when bars start closing, is when shit really gets crazy. While at Sunset Bar (technically a restaurant), we had a conversation with the manager well into the morning. At around 3am, a couple shows up looking for a ‘shroom shake, but at this point, the manager had already let go of the staff for the day since we had stopped ordering a while back. The couple started a conversation with us for a few minutes and next thing you know they’re making out in front of us. I thought they were going to swallow each other whole like famished anacondas. After about 5 minutes of the group staring at them, they apologized but then proceeded to lay down in the bed next to me and continue with their tonsil joust. Except now that they were horizontal, dry humping of course ensued. This went on for so long that we started playing music for them, trying to get them to go all the way. However, eventually the guy accepted that the deed would not happen with spectators staring, and they decided to take it somewhere else. Damn it.
On a different evening, my top bunkmate’s bed started making “sounds” in the middle of the night. You know: ee-eh-ee-eh-ee-eh, and the next morning two people came down from the top bed. Why did I have to have bottom bed. Damn it!
From the nature sights and activities around town, the great cheap food available, the ability to rent a bike for 100 Bhat (~$3.20 USD) per day and go wherever you want safely. For the daring, theres the easily accessible alcohol, marijuana and mushrooms shakes. But it is the vibe that stands out and makes Pai really special. You feel transported to a different place where everything and everyone just belongs. Everyone is there to simply enjoy life. I loved Pai. You have to go to Pai.