A Complete Travel Guide to Pai, Thailand

Pai is a charming village in Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand

The city is named after the Pai River.

There is a story that, in 1477, around the reign of King Tilokaraj, who was the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom, one of his elephants fled. 

He ordered the people to find it and discovered that it to be swimming in a river. This river was named Pai River, and Pai in local language means Male Elephant. It became a popular tourist destination after a famous romantic Thai filmPai in Love.

Let’s visit the Male Elephant.

Pai’s first-time guests might wonder if they’ve walked into a northern version of a Thai retreat, only without the seashores. Guesthouses appear to outnumber separate residences in the ‘downtown’ area. A restaurant or travel agency is never more than a blink away and the night’s buzz with partying and the sound of music.

But Pai’s reputation has yet to decline considering its nearly picturesque setting in a hill valley that offers natural experiences aplenty. The town’s temples and fun evening market are a reminder that Pai has not forgotten its global status as a town with origins in Myanmar’s Shan State or junctions for the ethnic minorities who live in the neighboring hills. There’s heaps of quiet accommodation tucked away, lots of activities to keep travellers occupied, and a comfortable vibe that prevents some guests from leaving.

Places to Visit in Pai

Nam Tok Mo Paeng: The most famous waterfall in the vicinity of Pai, Nam Tok Mo Paeng, has pools that are fit for swimming. The waterfall is about 8km from Pai along the path that also leads to Wat Nam Hoo – it’s a lengthy walk, but it’s a challenging yet fun cycle ride or quick motorcycle trip.

Wat Phra That Mae Yen: This temple sits atop a mountain and has tremendous views facing the valley. To get here, walk 1km east from the main junction in town to get to the stairs that lead to the roof in 353 steps. 

Ban Santichon: The dreaded photo in classical Chinese clothing, tea tastings, piped-in music, tacky recreation of the Great Wall of China, pony rides, and hilltop viewpoint can make Ban Santichon seem like a Chinese version of Disneyland. Located about 4km west of Pai, you can expect Eastern Experience at it’s very best. 

Tha Pai Hot Springs: Across Mae Nam Pai and 7km southeast of the city via a concrete road is this well-kept local park. Through it runs a scenic stream, which mixes with the hot springs to make fun bathing areas. The water is also veered to a couple of neighboring spas.

Pai Canyon: Pai Canyon is situated 8km from Pai along the road to Chiang Mai. A concrete stairway here ends in an elevated tower over high rock cliffs and the Pai valley. It is best soared in the early morning when it’s not too sunny, or at sunset for spectacular views.

Things to do in Pai:

  1. Rent a cycle or a bike to ride around the countryside. Go off-road through the hills of Pai on an off-road motorbike trip. 
  2. Elephant Trek. For many years now, visitors have enjoyed riding an elephant and closing the trip with a Pai River romp. For this experience, take as little as possible. You’ll be happily wet as the elephant is urged to shower you.
  3. Trek. Pai is a significant starting point for organized trekking tours offered by every travel agent and guesthouse. Pai is unquestionably one of the best-hiking destinations in not just Thailand but in all of southeast Asia. Proximity to enormous jungle-clad hilly terrain, some of the world’s most comprehensive cave systems, and diverse and intriguing fauna and flora are offered in this trek. 

What to Eat in Pai?

For such a remote village, there’s an extraordinary number of cafes and restaurants, most of them catering to the tastes and needs of foreign travelers, including an extensive range of Thai local cuisines.

Warning: There have been cases of food poisoning in Pai, most likely due to nasty ingredients and poor food hygiene. Avoid roadside food joints at any cost. 

A plate of rice, great chai tea, cookies and cakes are abundant in Pai. 

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