Travel Destinations

Is Visiting Pai the Right Thing to Do?

Visiting Pai Thailand by Duke Stewart
Written by Duke Stewart

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

Visiting Pai Thailand

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.


Thailand Pai Rice Fields

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.


Double Rainbow over Thailand 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

Thailand Pai Wat Phra That Mae Yen White Buddha

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

Thailand Pai Nas Kitchen Drunken Noodle

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.

Pai Waterfalls

Staring at Thailand Pai Mo Paeng Waterfalls

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.


Thailand Pai Mo Paeng Waterfalls

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

Thailand Pai Pambok Waterfalls

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

Thailand Pai Chan Cottages

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

Thailand Pai Canyon

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?

Duke Stewart reading the Alchemist in Thailand

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:) 

Thailand Pai Ban Santichon Overlook

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.

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About the author

Duke Stewart

I'm a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family's travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


    • Wow, good to know. I keep finding out more and more about Northern Thailand that makes me want to go back. Thanks, Jo, and much appreciated for you stopping by and commenting:)

  • We are visiting Pai in a few days and can’t wait to see how we will like it!! Definitely going to some of the spots you listed. Thanks!

  • We were big fans of Pai too! I couldn’t imagine doing the bus there though, I get too sick! Luckily, Scott got us there via motorbike at our own pace and found the drive to be gorgeous and relaxing. Although we visited in the peak of dry season when the falls were all dried up and nothing but a mere water stain. We loved the slow, laid back, backpacker lifestyle there, not to mention the food! Charlie and Lek’s served up one delicious curry after another for us. We also enjoyed the homemade food and health drinks from places like Fat Cat. Did you guys visit the Land Crack at all? That was one of our highlights as well, not because of the actual crack but the farmer who owns the land and serves up delicious snacks for visitors for free as well as rosella tea!

    • I thought that might be a nice ride and hopefully you didn’t have too much traffic. Not sure how squeamish you are about motorbikes but my wife gets a bit freaked with too many close encounters coming in Korea and elsewhere, lol. We certainly did visit the Land Crack and loved the juice and snacks:) I could’ve spent all day there, honestly. Too bad you didn’t get to enjoy those waterfalls. Hopefully you get to go back someday soon and swim in one or two!

      Thanks for stopping by, Megan. I always enjoy conversing back and forth with you here. Take care and have a wonderful weekend!