It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Is Visiting Pai the Right Thing to Do?
Visiting Pai and describing it as a paradise is beyond cliché but in our case, it fits. After struggling with whether or not Bali was worth the trouble, this new destination is heading in the same direction. Even before the van starts zipping in and around the 760-plus curves that it takes to drive to Pai, the day is filled with uncertainty. Christina and I were picked and shuffled between multiple vans at a bus terminal in Chiang Mai. My assigned seat ends up in the middle of the back row that is exactly where I didn’t want to be for the ride.
Mae Hong Son Loop
By the time the van stops for us to rest at a checkpoint before arriving at Pai, I wonder if it will ever end. Furthermore, almost half of the van has lost to the curves and motion sickness, running for the bathrooms. Everyone gathers their breath for the final leg of the trip. We follow the main road—Route 1095—that runs through Pai, part of the famed Mae Hong Son Loop that many backpackers come to test their mettle on two wheels. After all the corners and curves, I’m happy yet scared that someone else controls our fate.
The van lets us out and underestimating the heat, we try to walk with bags on towards our hotel. The bridge with closer access to our place washed out a few days before and forces us to cross the Pai River via the main rural road. A powerful early-afternoon sunbeam works hard to defeat us but thankfully a nice guy on a scooter stops and offers us rides the rest of the way. We throw those cumbersome bags on the ground and stretch before having a look around our hotel known as Pairadise.
Our porch comes equipped with a hammock and chair, which will be nice for reading and staring at the lovely pond sitting in the center of the hotel grounds. I head into town and book a scooter, taking photos of the ride to prepare for a possible “scratch fee” that’s common in Thailand. As I cross the bridge back towards Pairadise, I see someone walking in the heat just like we were a few hours before and give him a lift to his hotel. Carrying a heavy backpack in the heat is no way to spend a day and hopefully people are still paying it forward on that same bridge today.
Wat Pra That Mae Yen
The scooter helps us pick up the pace as much as one can in Pai, driving out and around to investigate things before dark. We head in the direction of Spicypai Backpackers. We then reach the entrance and to the beginning of a tall set of stairs. 295 steps later and we reach the top and stare at that temple’s beautiful White Buddha there before looking towards the green valley below. Dark blue rainclouds appear and force us to cut things short, retreating to the hotel to wait out the storm. It’s a short burst and afterward, a beautiful double rainbow appears on the horizon and reminds us that this is a very good start.
Food in Pai
A few days pass as if in a daydream and we begin forming a routine that could last until long after we retire in Pai, of course. My ideal day starts with a hearty breakfast and coffee at Big’s Little Café where the best of Pai’s multiple western breakfast options sits. After working that meal off with a ride to somewhere far away, we’d tried to catch a good Thai lunch at Na’s Kitchen before everyone else clogs the place. An afternoon siesta at the hotel precedes a stop at Charlie and Leks for dinner with food so good that one can easily forget it’s healthy.
I wake up from my culinary daydream and realize that we won’t be visiting Pai forever. Even in low season like when we’re there, one has to get out early to beat the crowds. The scooter powers us away from town and top of the list are Pai’s waterfalls where a person could easily spend the whole day. Mo Paeng is by far the easiest to reach and nearly deserted when we arrive early one morning. Christina and I admire a couple that is climbing the rocks to the top and after they succeed, the rushing water comes back to the forefront.
A huge tour group arrives and the noise gets a bit too much for us, which means it’s time to search out harder-to-reach spot. Pambok waterfall is perfect for that, as the walk from the entrance and sharp rocks that lead into it are a diversion enough for those who don’t bring proper footwear. The water is also deep enough to get in and have a swim, which is a wonderful contrast against the sun that’s headed towards the top of the sky. That’s not the only pretty sight, as I can’t get over the beautiful landscapes surrounding our drives around Pai.
More Pai Highlights
It’s all green all the time and a sucker for mountains like myself is falling for this place. Wat Pra That Mae Yen’s White Buddha is a great start when trying to get one’s bearings on one side of Pai but the Ban Santichon Overlook is the best way to do so with a cup of tea at your side. The Pai Land Split is evidence that lemonade can be made out of lemons or in the owner’s case, roselle juice and free snacks that he offers for donations. The kind man also offers visitors a shady relaxation spot that’s adjacent to the unexplainable split that ruined his farm some years ago.
Pai Canyon and Memorial Bridge
We put off the topic of retirement in Pai swap hotels for Pai Chan’s rooms that stand over a beautiful rice field. There’s nothing better than watching these scenes during a passing rainstorm. Finally deciding on a return to normal life that means returning to Chiang Mai and our trip, we wake up from that Pai daze and visit a few more spots. Pai Canyon brings out my fear of heights and is too challenging for me to overcome this time. The Memorial Bridge is a reminder that Imperial Japan once came through and “needed” the area to transport war materials. Among these popular things to do off the main road near Pai, we finally decide to leave.
We had to leave
This visit could’ve gone on forever. Christina and I had to get out of Pai or else we would have just continued moving around and eventually buying land here. We’d likely still be there, having bought land and lying in my own hammock. We’d probably grumble about the high season and grow thankful when it finished. I know Pai hasn’t impressed everyone who’s spent time there but it really jumped out at my wife and me for various reasons. It was special in so many ways and one of the peaks during this trip. Whether it was the food, the scenery, or everything else in between Pai and Northern Thailand’s atmosphere is exactly what we were searching for and haven’t found since.
Is it the right thing to do?
Is visiting Pai the right thing for you? I know it was for us. Let us know what you think in the comments section below:)
Note: I have to admit that it’s bittersweet to say that we are no longer in Northern Thailand and more specifically, Pai. There are times when I wonder if it was possible to just stay forever. It’s likely that we visited at just the right time, not during the high season that many local businesses simultaneously look forward to and cringe at due to the crowds. Our time there was magical and it still feels like we made the right move in visiting Pai. I hope this has shown you why.