Pai, once the sleepy playground of hippies and hardcore travellers, is now firmly on the tourist route in Thailand. A 4.5-hour drive north of Chiang Mai (be warned, the winding mountain roads, though extremely scenic, mean travel sickness is common), near the Myanmar (Burma) border, this small town still retains much of its Bohemian charm.
Here are seven reasons why this mountain valley town is definitely worth a visit, according to travelling sisters Clara and Suzannah Ramsdale:
1. The vibe
Pai, in short, is laid-back. Whether you choose to spend your days cruising around the twisting jungle-fringed lanes on a moped, tubing down Pai River or watching the world go by in one of the many quirky cafés (The Witching Well and It’s a Good Life are two which deserve high praise), it’s impossible to feel anything but relaxed.
2. The location
Being higher up in the mountains than Chiang Mai means Pai provides easy access to jungle treks (anything ranging from a few hours to more extreme trips lasting five days), elephant sanctuaries and hill tribe villages. There are three tribes living around Pai: the Karen, the Lahu and the Lisu. It’s important to research which hill tribe village you visit carefully, as the ones closest to Pai town have become too touristy. The untouched settlements are often an arduous trek away but worth it for the chance to gain a fascinating insight into tribal culture.
3. There are so many things to do…
As relaxed as Pai is, there is still plenty to keep the more active visitor on his or her toes. The Tha Pai Hot Springs are five miles south of the town in the Mae Hong Son province and make a pretty spot to have a nice, warm bath, particularly during a tranquil sunrise.
The Pai Canyon (Kong Lan as it’s known in Thai) is also worth a visit and, as an added bonus, entry is free. A walk through the canyon is not for the faint-hearted though, with steep 30-metre drops on either side of narrow paths, but the panoramic peak-filled views are completely worth it.
Lod Cave is spectacular. A bamboo raft trip into the 1,666-metre-long cavern by the light of head torch (100 baht cave entrance, 400 baht for raft hire) is a highlight. Watch out for the bats!
On top of this, you’ll find all the usual Thai activities in Pai, like Muay Thai boxing classes, cooking courses and affordable spa treatments.
4. Perfect for view junkies
‘Temple on the Hill’ (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) is an hour-long walk from town and is reached by climbing 350 steps. Once at the top, lovely Pai and the surrounding valley stretches out before you. Best viewed at sunset.
5. Great after dark
While not a party town, there is still enough to tempt you out after dark for a Chang beer or three. Whether you fancy watching live music from the comfort of your own hammock at Edible Jazz down by the river, or chilling by the fire pit and listening to reggae at Bob Marley-themed bar Don’t Cry, there’s sure to be something that tickles your fancy.
6. You can keep cool
Temperatures in northern Thailand rarely drop below 30°C and, although few guesthouses have swimming pools, there are still plenty of ways to cool down. The sum of 60 baht (roughly £1.20) will get you entrance to Fluid Pool, where the summer tunes are pumping and the cocktails are refreshing. Just a ten-minute scooter ride away is the Mor Paeng Waterfall where, if you’re feeling brave, the rocks provide a natural water slide. And there’s always the classic Southeast Asian experience: tubing.
7. You’ll want to stay
Many come to Pai with a two-night stay in mind but find themselves still languishing in this gem of a town weeks, even months, later. Make sure you have the time to spare…