We survived the 762 corners from Chiang Mai to Pai, though it didn’t come easily. Earbuds in, music on and managing to get yourself into a sort of trance-like state helped ease the corners and block the chucking-up happening in the row ahead from your senses as best you could.
I’m so glad I was finding my travel mojo again because Pai was truly something special. A quirky town in Northern Thailand, Pai is known for its hippie-centric and laid back vibe.
We stayed in a modest hut at the chilled out and cheap KK Hut Guesthouse about 10 minutes walk from the town, right across a dirt road from the Circus School! Just the basics - a simple concrete bathroom (complete with resident frog), mattress on the floor, mosquito net and a fan we didn't even need to use. No need for air-conditioning in Pai - its fresh in the mornings, warm during the day and cool at night.
Before we get started on your schedule of activities in Pai, first things first. In Pai, a scooter is essential. There is little to see in the town itself and, beyond generally chilling out, the whole reason for going to Pai is to get out into nature and explore the countryside! Your accommodation will be able to provide you with a map, so its hard to get lost.
Be careful if this is your first time on a scooter, as the roads are not always forgiving and in just our three days there saw a handful of people have minor accidents. That said, all the scooters up for rent in Pai are so beaten up that they will probably never know if you add a few more scrapes to the paint job…but still, take care!
Okay, so you have your scooter, map in hand - now what? Here’s what I recommend you get up to in Pai!
1. The Land Split
Hands down my favourite attraction in Pai. To understand this place, you need to know the story behind it. Essentially, this used to be farming land when one day back in 2008, without warning a giant crack appeared in the land, essentially destroying its use for farming crops and the hope of future income. The entrepreneurial farmer then decided if he couldn’t continue to farm on his land, he would turn the giant crack into a tourist attraction.
We took a look at the split - and yeah, basically its just what you expect, a crack through some land, fairly impressive though not overly exciting. However, the crack is not what makes this place great!
What makes the Land Split the most wonderful place is that when you arrive there you are greeted with genuine smiles and ushered to a relaxed little seating area, where you are quickly served copious amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables grown right on this very land. They also grow roselle flowers (a type of Hibiscus) and you’ll be served a sweet roselle juice, followed by a small bottle of roselle wine!
There is no entry fee, you simply donate what you like before you leave - they trust you will pay what you feel it is worth. After paying our gratitude to the friendly staff, we were sent on our way with a bag full of fresh passionfruit that we devoured over the next few days!
Nearby is the Pam Bok waterfall which is pretty, and worth a look while you’re in the vicinity. Some were brave enough to enter the freezing water, dipping my toes in was enough for me!
2. Pai Canyon
Pai Canyon was ten times more awesome than I was expecting it to be, and had we not had just a couple of days to cram everything we wanted to do in, I would have loved to spend much longer wandering around.
There are some rather narrow ridges where you don’t really want to look down the 20+ metre drop either side of you as you cross - its not for the faint of heart! I’d recommend wearing some sturdy shoes for this one.
3. Chinese Village (Ban Santichon) Viewpoint
Perhaps equally my favourite activity in Pai…I loved this one too. Drive through the Chinese Village and head right up to the top of the hill.
On arrival you pay a mere 20 baht and are served a gorgeous pot of chinese tea to sip as you enjoy the beautiful vista. Naturally, we bought a 10 baht mantou to nibble on with our tea, basically a donut served with condensed milk for dipping - yum! The perfect stop for morning tea with a sweeping view. So peaceful.
4. Love Pai Strawberry Cafe
The strawberry cafe is extremely popular, so its not a place you visit for peace - BUT - it is super delicious, so go! They offer strawberry everything at this cafe, and its a place you can wander around for a while sampling goodies and exploring the gardens, then cool back down with a refreshing strawberry smoothie.
Fresh strawberries are few and far between in Southeast Asia, most areas are too hot to grow them other than highland regions - which is where you will find them in abundance (remember we ate tonnes of strawberries in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands?). So make the most of them while they are available!
5. Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill)
Get your cultural fix by visiting the Temple on the Hill and the Big Buddha (still in construction!) that resides at the summit. Peaceful, picturesque and colourful, this is the perfect temple complex to stroll around for an hour or two and recharge your spirit.
6. WWII Memorial Bridge
Originally built by the Japanese as part of the route from Burma through Thailand during World War II. There has since been a new bridge for traffic built directly parallel, however you can still park up your motorbike and take five minutes to walk across this steel bridge - which isn't particularly pretty but offers lovely views over the river along with some historical value.
7. Walking Street at night
Back in Pai town itself, every evening the main road fills up with food vendors and artists selling their wares. Unlike so many of the mass produced souvenirs you find in tourist markets across Southeast Asia, as a community full of artists Pai offers a unique approach to keepsakes - many are handmade and sold by the very maker themselves at the night market. Its a great place to pick up a few treasures and gifts that are true handicrafts and represent Pai's quirky nature.
8. Eat Cake at The Witching Well
Initially I was only going to write seven must-dos in Pai - but then I looked back at my photos and was reminded of the most lip-smacking carrot cake I ate at The Witching Well on our final night in Pai. The food was tasty - I ordered a brown rice, cauliflower and chickpea dish, balanced out with a splurge on a glass of red wine, but the star of the show was definitely the cake. So good! And by that I mean just like a carrot cake you would buy from a cafe back home. THAT good.
I thought about buying another piece to eat the next morning, but reconsidered after I realised we had to lurch the 762 corners back to Chiang Mai - perhaps that mightn't be the best combo.
These eight activities, amongst a fair amount of driving around, getting a little lost, and stopping for many a photo, is how we spent our two days and three nights in Pai. Enough time for me to realise I love Pai, but not nearly enough to honour that love. Yet another place I simply have to go back to! That's the problem with travel - its all just a delicate balance between going back to places you love, and falling in love with new ones.
However, time was ticking - we had a chain of bus trips ahead of us to reach Sukhothai where I'd be reunited with my brother for a dose of temple exploring!
Do it yourself
A shuttle between Chiang Mai and Pai costs 150 baht one-way. The journey takes about three hours with a 15 minute stop around the halfway point. If you get easily queasy, try and get the front seat in the shuttle bus if you can - it helps!
Have you visited Pai? Does it sound like the kind of place you would enjoy?