As much as I love traveling around – I honestly have some difficulties with certain vehicles… boats are for example always a challenge – and so are the minivans in Thailand! Therefor it was quiet a tough journey to reach Pai – this tiny, charming town in northern Thailand. But why did I still fell in love with that place and why is it absolutely worth a visit?
Pai is not that far away from the next bigger city Chiang Mai, where I spend some days before I headed to Pai: the linear distance is just somewhat over 80km, but the way up in the mountains is so winding, that it’s in reality 135km. It takes 3 hours and 762 curves (!) to get there… a real nightmare for every motion sick person. No, actually a nightmare for every person who is life-affirming, because there are multiple situations where you could be facing death… if your driver is overtaking for example in a narrow curve on that in general tight mountain road and can’t see if there is another car approaching while the edge of the road is just centimeters away… I had numerous Ally-McBeal-daydream-moments where I imagined how we roll down that steep abyss, overturning, … but then always got fetched back into reality by my attacks of nausea. They even sell shirts that say “I survived the 762 curves” – fair enough!
Apart from the bumpy and curvy access road it is pretty easy to fall in love with Pai… it’s not only the perfect size of the town and the stunning landscape around it, but most of all the vibe there! In the town center you meet a lot of backpackers, expats or people who came as backpackers and just decided to live in Pai for a longer time. I heard many stories of people who got caught by the relaxed and opened atmosphere and even I, who was traveling on a quiet tight schedule, stayed 7 days instead of 2 like I originally intended. It is really hard to leave this place and if I ever get super stressed or even burned out from working, I know that Pai is a place where I would go to recover and regain energy… I would just use a helicopter to get there!
The town itself is easy to explore by foot. There are plenty of good places to eat – let it be the typical thai streetfood, western-inspired restaurants like the incredible “burger queen” or the stands on the nightmarket where they sell everything you could wish for – every evening. After watching the sun set behind the stunning mountain landscape everyone then goes into the bars in town, where people meet and hang out, drink Chang Beer, sit around a bonfire, listen to live music or play a round of pool.
Pai is probably not the most “thai experience” you can make in Thailand, but it is just wonderful anyhow. Especially the main streets around the nightmarket are owned by backpackers, but the foreigners who go there are not gathering for spectacle, they are just chilling and enjoying life, sometimes meditating and smoking weed, but always being openminded and respectful. It seems to me that Pai is a place that comes closest to the utopia of a perfect world: a beautiful cosmos where everyone is living together in harmony with nature and each other.
The hostel I stayed in is a sight for itself – it is called “Pai Circus School” and offers the most beautiful pool with a incredible view in town. On its property it has a bar, a pool table and a really cool pavillon with hammocks to chill – and if you rather be active, it has a lot of circus toys to practice with. Every day there are circus teachers around who show you for free some tricks or help you train crossing the slackline, improving your juggling or doing some acrobatic moves. It is just awesome! One little warning: it can get really chilly at night (down to around 5 degrees celsius even in summer!) and that the dorms in the “Circus Hostel” are just fragile bamboo houses with a lot of holes in it (even in the floor) doesn’t make that fact a lot better. I used about 5 blankets and were still freezing at night but when you get up with this view it is absolutely rewarding and you forget about the chilly nights pretty easily.
During the day it is nice to discover the area around pai by scooter – if you just started riding a scooter that’s a great place to learn as the streets are quiet good and empty – and there is a lot to see: You have hot springs (a cheap one and a luxury one), waterfalls, big buddha statues in the mountains, the “land split” (I recommend that place for a snack and refreshments after visiting the waterfall there – super interesting and great hospitality!!!), a big canyon, as well as fields and forests all around.
The lush green nature and the chilled atmosphere in Pai makes it easy to forget, that you eventually have to leave again and thereby must go the same, horrible 762 curves back down…