The Town of Pai – Mae Hong Son , Pai is a small yet very famous town in Mae Hong Son Province; it is well known to campers and other travelers, who enjoy visiting this tourist destination, which is located in a pastoral valley, crowned by mountains and surrounded by rice fields. The city of Chiang Mai is located 140 km away from Pai, and it takes some 3 hours to drive from one location to the other.
In the past, Pai was a rather dull, drowsy town; home to the Shan people, and mostly infamous due to the issue of drugs – as the city was close to opium fields. However, the problem was handled by the Thai government and the town changed its image for the good. In 2005, Pai was hit by floods and mud slides, which severely damaged houses, resorts and infrastructures. However, the damage was soon repaired and so the town recovered quickly.
Pai is home to a diverse population: many foreigners who came to Thailand and married locals from the north have settled there and opened guest houses and Cafes; Thai hippies who escaped the dreadful commercialization of southern locations turned into crowded tourist destinations such as Koh Samui and Phuket, moved to Pai, opened pubs, tattoo parlors and shops there; lots of backpackers from across the world who come to relax and enjoy weeks and month-long vacations; and finally tourists who stop by for a short time throughout their tours in the area.
In short – the local scene has nothing to do with the area or its residents, which grants the place a unique atmosphere. However, if you are looking for the authentic Thai experience – you won’t find it here.
It is no wonder then, that the diverse, colorful population mixture has brought a young and hip wave of organic foods, holistic courses, yoga, massage parlors etc. into the area.
Quite recently, following a famous Chinese movie that was released in 2014 called “Lost in Thailand”, which was filmed in the area, many Chinese tourists began to arrive at Chiang Mai and Pai, particularly in the high season between October – February.
When visiting Pai you should keep in mind that it is a city of tourists, some of them are weird, and most of them are backpackers. Many call it “The Northern Khao San”, and although there are more than a few similarities between the two – Pai is much cleaner, more pleasant and appears far better than the Khao San area.
It’s very easy to travel by foot, with bicycle or mini-bike around town – you can rent the latter for a very low price. All these factors combined, made Pai a popular tourist destination which draws tourists from across the world; it appeals to travelers who seek a low-cost laid back experience.
The town is full of cheap guesthouses but also features some prestigious and expensive resorts. You won’t find here big, exciting attractions, and there isn’t much to do around except lay back and enjoy the pastoral atmosphere of the place.
Seasons of the Year
The best time to visit Pai is between October – February, but keep in mind that this is also the most crowded, expensive season. As I’ve mentioned regarding the entire north – you should refrain from visiting Pai between March – May/June due to the heavy heat, dryness, burnt fields and haze (which may be heavy and even cause lung diseases). This season is also known as ‘the smoky season’.
Arriving to Pai
The vast majority of visitors arrive at Pai by driving there, using route 1095. The distance from Pai to Chiang Mai is some 140 kilometers and the road is beautiful yet full of curves (supposedly 762). It will take you some 3 hours to drive to Pai, which I’ve done many times, both as a driver and as a passenger. I haven’t felt any distress, but if you are prone to be ‘sea sick’ you might want to take a pill and some bags with you, in case of nausea…just to be on the safe side.
On the road from Chiang Mai to Pai, there’s a lovely Café called ‘The Witch’ and its very nice to stop there for some drinks and refreshments. There are also lovely vantage points along the way.
My Opinion: despite its distinct tourists and foreigners’ scene, Pai is a lovely town and I certainly recommend visiting there.
My warm recommendation: after visiting Pai, keep traveling and exploring other regions in Mae Hong Son – which offers the most beautiful nature you can find in the north.
♥ The visit to the town of Pai is included in TipTop Travel private luxury tour plans to northern Thailand.
As I said, there aren’t too many attractions in Pai and around the town, yet its laid-back feel-good atmosphere is pleasant and special. Some attractions are good and worthy but the others – not so much, and some even a complete waste of time.
In my opinion, the best attractions around are: the walking street, canyon and hot springs. In a separate review I will cover them, along with several redundant attractions, so you’ll be well informed of the area.
Click Here : for a detailed review of the local attractions
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