This small town in the northernmost part of Thailand is well known among tourists (mostly backpackers) as a relaxed alternative to the city. In fact, Pai is nothing but a very small village (made of literally 2 streets) but with lots to offer in the surroundings. Here there are countless activities you can choose to do in nature or you can simply ride a motorbike (for 6USD a day) to discover where the road leads you. There’s also a vibrant nightlife in town and a daily night market riddled with cheap, amazing local food places. So Pai can for sure make different kind of travelers happy. There is also a small community of foreigners who have decided to move to this area for good.
When walking in the village I had the feeling of being in a hipster place. From the shops to the homestays or the bars, even the style of lots of businesses, they all brought to mind that kind of scene which has little or nothing to do with the general idea of Thailand.
The main street of Pai is often compared to Khao San road in Bangkok: all you can see are tourists and locals trying to sell you anything possible and beyond. However, there are lots of accommodation options even outside the chaos (I chose to do for myself). It is a beautiful part of Thailand to relax, enjoy some quality air while exploring amazing landscapes.
The following is a list of the places I personally visited which is not as many as I wanted but all I could squeeze in 24hours 🙂
The temple on the hill (Wat Phra That Mae Yen)
Even though (I’ll admit it) this side of the world is all about temples and Buddhas which after some weeks can make you feel a bit tired (like visiting too many churches in Europe, I guess), this temple was worth the climb for the stunning view over Pai. There are about 300 stairs to climb but I was lucky to get a cloudy day, so wasn’t too bad.
The Elephant Camp
This place made me incredibly sad. Even though I found out that elephants are taken good care of (you can also volunteers to help out, it’s not just about selling tours), for me freedom has no price, even for elephants.
The Memorial Bridge (or Japanese Bridge)
It was built during the II World War by the Japanese who wanted to invade Burma and needed a base camp in Thailand. Once the war was over they burned the bridge down, forcing the locals to get back to the boats to cross the river. Everyone understood its importance by then and so it was soon rebuilt by Thai people. Today is still possible to walk it but be careful because some parts have huge holes (and when you walk and take pictures sometimes you don’t realize).
Nothing amazing but still a nice spot with a great view over the river and a good history lesson.
The Mor Paeng waterfall
In Pai, there are two waterfalls but given my short time, I could choose just one and I was recommended by the locals to visit this one. It didn’t disappoint me but honestly, it’s not a kind of spectacular waterfall, either. Go there around 1 or 2 pm to see the crowd of travelers gathering there to escape the tropical afternoon heat. Waters aren’t deep here so I am not sure jumping is a good idea.
The Yun Lai Viewpoint
Considered the perfect place to watch the sunrise, I have to say that even though I got there around one pm, it is still my favorite pick of the area. This viewpoint lies on top of the Chinese village (you need to pay a small fee to enter) but it is well worth the climb and the ticket. You can reach the place with a car or a motorbike (the bicycle is not a good idea unless you are well trained with steep, long roads). Not only you have a great view over the valley from here, but if you’re lucky enough not to meet too many tourists, you’ll enjoy some quietness and a good cup of coffee in the most scenic site of Pai.
More than Yun Lai, driving around the area to see random locals and very small, off beaten track villages, it surely was the best thing.
It moved me at some stage when we got into the very deep countryside and I was feeling like living inside a movie. When you come from a part of the world so different and all at once life slaps on your face this reality, it does make you think. At least, it made me reflect.
All I could think at the end of that day was how lucky I am for being Italian. For my parents who supported me as a kid and as a more grown up when they paid for my studies. Grateful because I started working just when I was 21.
Things we give too much for granted, like drinking water, being clean and healthy or not knowing about child labor, these are not so granted here, not to everyone. These are things that Westerners we call and define under the idea of human rights but when you come to this side of the world (which isn’t even the worst), all starts to become blurred and confused.
I believe would be more useful to talk about this kind of things sometimes, instead of focusing just on how cool is traveling to Thailand. Everyone knows it is a paradise where cocktails are cheap and sunsets still free of charge but from the tiny bits I have been seeing, there is way more to discover if we want to learn something from our travel and not just being visitors.