Pai: backpacker's paradise
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It's 2:30 pm on February 22nd and we're in a hostel in Chiang Mai. We are waiting for the minibus to pick us up to go and visit a village not far from here. This is Pai, apparently very well known among backpackers and not only, where there seems to be a sort of attraction according to which you arrive to stay there a couple of days and at the end, it stops even months!
Pai is located about 150km from Chiang Mai on the 1095 highway connecting Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son and can be reached in several ways:
- with private minivans from Chiang Mai: you can book them directly in your accommodation in such a way that they take care of everything. The cost will be 180 baht for three hours of travel between 762 curves.
- with public buses for 90 baht but generally not recommended because old, slow and without air conditioning.
- by plane: 25 minutes flight with Kan Airlines from Chiang Mai (clearly more expensive).
The most convenient option for the quality/price ratio, therefore, remains the private minivan, a solution for which we also opt.
The town of Pai, located in northern Thailand, has become one of the most popular destinations in the country for backpackers looking for a little adventure.
It has become an increasing tourist destination since 2006 when the Thai film "Pai in love" was filmed, with a major increase since 2014 after the shooting of the Chinese film "Lost in Thailand" which therefore attracted many groups of Chinese tourists.
Pai is considered an ideal village for the meeting of the hippies, or at least it was in the past because, in our opinion, today there are very few "original" hippies.
Despite everything, if you move a little from the center you can breathe a very calm and relaxing atmosphere. We stay at the "Shut Eye Party hostel" paying 100 Baths per night - € 2.50 - in a mixed dorm. We are located 10 minutes’ walk from the "walking street", where the night market takes place, and next to the bar "Do not cry" that comes alive generally after midnight. Hostel therefore with excellent location and decent services considering the cost.
As already mentioned, from 6 pm to 10 pm the evening market takes place in the center. Here you can find typical Thai food, oriental food, desserts, typical local clothes and many bars. The prices of food are quite contained: we ate Pad Thai (rice noodles with tofu, eggs and chicken) for 35 Baths or less than one euro. Obviously if we talk about Western food such as Bruschette, hamburgers, crepes, waffles, etc. prices start to rise.
If you enter the inner streets, then there are several nightclubs with live concerts also performed by tourists who try to play or sing. Among our favorites we mention the Mojo and the Yellow Sun bar. Several music festivals are also organized during the year, such as the Electro valley, an electronic music festival organized in the jungle near Pai.
To explore the surroundings of the village, you should hire a scooter. Costs range from 100 to 200 baths per day.
Major points of tourist interest:
- the waterfalls: Pam Bok, Mae Yen and Mor Paeng. They are about half an hour from the center, so easily reachable by scooter. We are in the dry season so we are not particularly affected.
- the hotsprings or the thermal pools:
Sai Ngam hotsprings which are located 40 min from the center. We read on the internet that the entry price is 20 Baths but when we arrive there we find that from February 1 2018 you have to pay a fee of 200 Baths for the national park in addition to 20 Baths for entry to the spa and 20 more Baths to park the scooter. Tha Pai hotsprings: admission price 300 Baths. It is located 7km from the center. Costs in our opinion too high to enter small natural pools. So let's continue ...
- The bridge of memory: it might seem like an iron bridge like many others but it has its historical importance. It was built in 1942 by the Japanese to transport weapons to Myanmar during the Second World War.
- Pai Canyon: sure you do not expect the Grand Canyon, but a visit deserves it anyway, also because it is very close to Pai and admission is free. The best time to go is at sunset because the reddish soil takes on more vivid colors and the temperature is milder than the fire during the day.
- Tham Lod caves: located about 50km from Pai. These impressive caves of stalactites and stalagmites can be visited only if accompanied by a local guide who will guide you inside by illuminating the path with a gas lamp. The passage at the bottom is then carried out on long bamboo canoes from which, if you want to buy food before entering, you can feed the carp and the fish cats as well as admire the thousands of bats hanging from the ceiling. The cost of the tour, which lasts about 1 hour and a half, is 450 baht per group composed of a maximum of 3 people as each canoe can carry up to three passengers plus the guide.
We reached the caves in scooters with a group of American, British and Polish guys known locally: Andrè, Terry, Maggie, Tom e Zubin. The ride by scooter is about an hour and a half one way, but it is a path full of curves and not easy for those who are not practical with the scooter. Nevertheless, the landscapes we cross are really beautiful and the company is perfect.
We spent 3 days in Pai, exactly as expected. So we were not kidnapped by the "curse" that seems to rule among many backpackers around here. Maybe because we are not hippies or because it is no longer an authentic village as it once was? Well you'll still have to try and believe it.
In fact, many have described Pai as a village completely changed in recent months, much more tourist and commercial. The local people, in fact, try to adapt to the demands of an increasingly mass tourism, which unfortunately is changing for the worse this place. They also tell us that, until recently, it was here to meditate and to seek an open and honest exchange of opinions, ideas and thoughts. Unfortunately, now rare contexts to be met, at least during this high season.
However, you can still breathe a relaxing atmosphere thanks to several hostels with swimming pools, hammocks and background music with a view of the mountains at sunset (as in the case of SpicyPai hostel).
You should, therefore, hurry to visit it before tourism transforms it completely!