Thailand’s small hippie commune in the north has become a legendary stopover for backpackers. You can’t even bring up going to Chiangmai without someone immediately butting in and saying “dude, you have to go Pai!” Everyone who has been to Pai speaks so fondly of their time there, but what was the big deal?
What was it about this tiny town tucked away in the mountains that attracts wayward wanderers from all sorts of backgrounds?
I was just at the beginning of my South East Asia trip and I was in full go mode. Make all the friends! See all the things! A day spent relaxing was basically a day wasted.
By the time I left Pai, I was in full chill mode.
Pai has a vibe that I don’t feel like I can accurately describe. It is a chill place, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a lot to see and do, but you don’t really have to do any of it if you don’t want to. You’re in a new place, but at the same time, it has the comfort of a place you’ve called home for a while. There’s something about Pai…
Renting a scooter and taking Pai at your own pace is a huge part of what makes this town such a popular destination. You aren’t at the mercy of tour times and restrictions. If you want to wake up in the late afternoon before scootering off to Pai Canyon to catch a sunset, you can. If the furthest your scooter makes it is into town for the night market, then that’s fine also.
After a full day of activities led by a hyper-proactive guy I met in Chiangmai, I quickly realized that my Danish friend and I were not on the same page. That wasn’t a problem of course, because as solo travelers, you get to do whatever the h*ck you want. Our last night in Pai, we had planned to go watch the sunset at Pai Canyon since some people suggested that. We met up with some other friends lounging around a pool overlooking the valley and the mountains, and I decided that sunset was going to be good enough for me. Good people, good vibes, and good times, ya feel? My friend eventually decided to go off by himself, and I ended up having one of the more fun nights of my trip.
Do what you vibe with. Some people go to Pai for the sights. Some go to do drugs and chill. That’s fine, you do you. That’s what Pai is about. Weird stuff happens all the time, but hey, you’re just going to have to accept that while you’re in Pai.
Watching a strange electronic DJ play interesting jungle jams in front of a small fire by the pool, I overheard a girl say “I can’t tell if this is extra or not.”
I responded, “if everything is extra, nothing is extra.”
It made sense at the time, and I still think it is possibly the only way to describe Pai. Weird stuff happens all the time, but I think that’s why a lot of lost souls go to Pai. You can be as weird as you want and no one bats an eye. You can come from any background, lugging along your demons and skeletons and whatever emotional baggage you might have, and for a brief time, none of that really matters. Pai is a bit of an escape from the realities of your world, and I haven’t really encountered another place quite like it. Going to Pai helps you feel like you belong, no matter who you are or where you’re from or what walk of life you follow.
It’s hard not to have fun in this little town, and it becomes apparent why everyone always stays a bit longer than planned.
Pai was undoubtedly beautiful. It was a lush, green getaway from the cities of Thailand, and offering something different than the iconic limestone karsts that have made Thailand’s islands a destination of dreams. However, I will be honest, having trekked through South America and done a national parks trip throughout North America, I was a bit underwhelmed by the amazing nature and landscapes that people spoke so highly of. Basically, for anyone who’s made their way around, going to Pai strictly for some #views would be a bit silly.
I’m not dissing Pai, but there really wasn’t anything scenery-wise that set it miles apart from the rest of northern Thailand’s lush hills and forests. There are some waterfalls, a canyon, a cool land split caused by an earthquake, but aside from that, Pai’s beauty is more ubiquitous as opposed to having specific must-see sights.
You go to Pai to vibe, to chill, to have fun, to eat good food, and to meet some of the best people you will ever stumble upon while traveling. The option to see some cool nature is just an added bonus. The road from Chiangmai to Pai is renowned for its beauty and the challenge it poses for adventurous thrill seekers. The winding path has an astounding 762 curves, with numerous inclines and declines as you work your way through the mountain’s slopes.
I woke up hungover on the morning that I was planning on slowly scootering my way down to Chiangmai, and my friend and I mutually agreed that taking the “safer” minivan was going to have to do. I feared for my safety the entire way down. Those drivers are crazy, man.
I wasn’t able to really reflect on my time in Pai at the time since I was hopping from city to city almost every other day, but looking back, it was one of the most fun times I’ve had on this trip. Like I mentioned in my post ~reflecting~ on my time in Thailand, there’s something about slowing your pace and taking it easy that makes a place much more fun. I never felt like I had to actually do anything in Pai, and in the end that was probably why it was so enjoyable. Fun is a lot more fun when it isn’t forced.
Have you been to Pai? What was your experience like? Leave your thoughts on this strange little town in the comments below.