Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Hip and Laidback District of Pai in Thailand

What To Do In Pai Thailand

I was revving up the scooter as we were approaching a steep slope. We’re chasing waterfalls and exploring the chill area of Pai in Northern Thailand. As I reached the maximum speed, I noticed that we’re getting nowhere but downward. We quickly got off the motorbike and pushed it upwards instead. After sweating bucketsful, we arrived safely on top of the slope and laughed so hard on this obstacle.

Pai is one of those impulse side trips that we didn’t originally include in our two-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason. What supposed to be just a side trip turned out to be one of our most memorable trips ever.

Pai Thailand
Inside a local monastery
After surviving the 762 curves from Chiang Mai to Pai (yes, someone counted it), we arrived at the town center feeling dazed and lost. We were then collected by our lovely host, owner of the House of Love at Pai, and were taken to our lovely home for three days.

We rested on the open balcony of our Bungalow house gazing over the rural scene of Northern Thailand. With no plans or whatsoever (which had been the prevalent theme of this trip), we asked for the advice of our host on where-to-go and what-to-do stuff.

Pai Thailand House Of Love
House of Love @ Pai
Kiki suggested for us to hire a scooter from the resort which costs around 100 Baht (US$ 2.82) per day. I hopped on and relearned my motorbike riding skills for a few minutes. Then off we went for a great adventure on our first day in Pai. But first, we filled it up with petrol at 60 Baht (US$ 1.69) for full tank, quite cheap right?

Motorbike Pai Thailand
Meet Scoopy. Our 100-Baht per day scooter in Pai :)
The main road of Pai District was lined with cutesy cafés and fancy shops with miniature windmills and stuff. We ditched those and opted for a nature exploration. The inclined slopes posed as a threat to my driving skills though. With my buddy (and his heavy camera gear) as my backride, this was a problem. Let me tell you that no fees were collected on all our stops, perfect for our diminishing moolah, as if we’ve got loads.

Pai Thailand Walking Street

As suggested by Kiki, we headed first at Pai Canyon (Kong Lan). The sun was starting to bid its last farewell as we climbed up the steps to the canyon. I never expected anything at this point as I’ve never been to a canyon before. The moment I saw the mountainous part of Thailand from my standpoint, I wanted to scream to the world but was hindered by the group of hikers who seemed to be elated with the 30 to 50-meter vertical drops around the hill.

I walked further and saw how steep the hill was. There was even a narrow path leading to the other hill. I was slowly pacing toward the other end and afterwards, decided to just stay there and not to go further.

Pai Canyon Thailand
I wouldn't dare!
Pai Canyon Thailand

Pai Canyon Thailand

Pai Canyon Thailand

There’s this lady who was staring blankly on nothingness, a guy who almost slipped while doing his balancing act on one of the edge, a biker who literally biked his way up and down the crazy narrow paths and a guy who positioned himself on one of the pathways and started playing a steel hand drum that motioned everyone to stop what they’re doing and just focus. The hum from the drum soothed everyone as we all waited for the sun to retire that day. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at that exact moment.

Pai Canyon Thailand

Pai Canyon Thailand
Perfect spot for sunset
Pai Canyon Thailand
With soothing acoustics as background
We wanted to explore some more but decided to linger that cherished moment. We biked our way to the famed Pai Walking Street (Rungsiyanon Road) for an exciting night.

Located at the town center, the Pai Walking Street is famed for its artsy cafés, street bazaars, guesthouses (check here) and cheap yummy food that lined the street. It took us one hour to walk down the road, not that it was lengthy, but we had so much fun checking out the real cool shops around that we spent so much time.

Pai Walking Street Thailand

Pai Walking Street Thailand

Pai Walking Street Thailand
Local artistry
The next day was the battle day. Me and my buddy woke up early as planned to explore more of what Pai has to offer. So after a hefty brekkie meal at the resort, we went on with our adventure.

I kept on reminding myself to stay on the left side of the road as I drove on the steep slopes of Pai. Kiki, our host, suggested on catching the sunrise on a Chinese village somewhere. She drew a map that will lead us to the interesting sights to see and we ardently followed it.

We’re too late for the intended sunrise-watching. The Santichon Yunnan Village houses almost 2,000 Chinese residents from the Yunnan province who settled in Thailand during Mao’s Communist reign. A Chinese arch greeted us as we parked our scooter on a vacant lot. The steep road leading to the village was lined with gift shops and eateries that seemed to be closed during our visit. It was summertime in Thailand and tourists seemed to be in beaches rather than the boondocks.

Pai Chinese Village Thailand
Chinese Village
Pai Chinese Village Thailand

We walked further and entered the village. At first, I thought that the houses that dotted the vast grassland were legit ones. I was kinda disappointed when I realized that those were, again, shops that offer Chinese knickknacks. It was more of a theme park rather than an authentic village.

Pai Chinese Village Thailand
Human-powered ferris wheel
Pai Chinese Village Thailand

Pai Chinese Village Thailand
They use clay as building material
Moving on, we followed that same road leading to the Chinese Village to check out the Mo Paeng Waterfalls. This three-tiered waterfall is one of the famed natural spots in Pai.

We were traversing the almost deserted road when we reached a very steep slope. I was revving up until I couldn’t do so. After which, I realized that we’re not going any further but downward. I shrieked and asked my buddy to get off the scooter so we could carry it on our way up. We almost fell but still managed to move the scooter on top of the slope. We laughed about it and regrouped right there and then.

We got to the end of the road and noticed that we’re the only ones who were there at that time. The downward trek was an easy one, until it started to drizzle. We carried on and reached the waterfall that seemed to be not in its magnificent state. The dry summer brought nothing but trickles of water. We wanted to swim but the shallow water hampered us to do so. We should come back here when we could slide down the waterfall cliff, I kept on telling my buddy.

Mo Paeng Waterfalls Pai Thailand
Mo Paeng Falls
At the hottest hour of a summer day, we drove to our next destination. I was keeping a manageable speed when I felt that something was wrong with our scooter. And then I noticed that our rear tire was flat; like we’re running flat for 10 minutes already.

I left my buddy and asked him to check me out on the nearest motor workshop where I could get some air to fill up the tire. I hastily drove and asked the people on the houses I passed by if there’s a workshop on that isolated area. All of them pointed me to the Chinese Village, around 3 kilometers from where I was. I moved fast, but then someone honked at me and then I realized that I was on the right side of the road. If it wasn’t for that person, I would’ve crashed with a fast car on a blind curve. Whew.

Pai Thailand
Took a break on this spot from our butt-numbing ride around Pai
To cut it short, the guys at the workshop replaced the tire interior with a new one and asked me for 100 Baht (US$ 2.82) for everything. My buddy also reached the place after the work was done. We both laughed, again, as this trip was starting to be all about our motorbike mishaps.

Motorbike Pai Thailand
Our motorbike adventures could fill up one entire blog post. Haha
With our new and improved tire, we traveled to the road leading to Pam Bok Falls. Halfway to the waterfall, we passed by the Pai Land Split where a steep upward trek brought us to the top of the hill where we spotted the land split. There were no earthquakes or heavy downpour that caused this unusual phenomenon, they just woke up one morning and realized that the land divided just like that. And it happened again and again. Kinda interesting spot but surely you could disregard this spot on your visit.

Pai Land Split Thailand
Pai Land Split
Land Split Pai Thailand
Chilling on a native hut
After around 20-minute drive, we went on and trekked downward on the way to the 40-meter cascade of Pam Bok Falls. The waterfall was sandwiched between two cliffs making it look like a cave. I could imagine how amazing this would look like during wet season.

Pam Bok Falls Pai Thailand

Pam Bok Waterfalls Pai Thailand
Pam Bok Falls
We then went to Pai Walking Street and looked out for a decent place to have lunch. Afterwards, we drove 10 kilometers to reach our next stop.

Pai Memorial Bridge or Pai’s World War II Memorial Bridge is a steel truss bridge that became one of the famous sights in Pai. I parked the scooter and walked our way to the bridge. After crossing it, we realized that we could actually go down the bridge to check out Pai River. We chilled on the native hut cabanas on the shallow water with sodas in tow.

Pai Memorial Bridge Thailand
Made in U.S.A.
Pai Memorial Bridge Thailand
Well hello there, Jack Sparrow!
Pai Memorial Bridge Thailand

We walked further and reached an area wherein a young man was doing an afternoon fishing. I sat on a boulder while my buddy was capturing that perfect moment. I gazed back on the bridge (the new one) and saw four elephants with riders crossing. I was astounded and heartbroken at the same time. It was my first time to actually see some free-roaming giants. It was displeasing to see the riders lashing them with whips. I could feel the pain every time they did it. And I hate it.

With heavy hearts, we went to our last stop for the day.

Pai River Thailand

Pai Thailand Elephant
 I'm truly upset about this
Me and my buddy loved our sunset at Pai Canyon the day before and decided to go back there. The place was quite deserted as we parked our scooter. We trekked uphill and were both mesmerized, again, on the hilltop view. We tried exploring the wide paths on the way to the next hill and noticed that the sky was turning gray, and furious. Light showers started to trickle so we ran to a hut while the other tourists chose to leave the canyon.

The rain persisted, but we waited. I was starting to feel upset when me and my buddy exchanged looks and then smiled.

It was still drizzling as we ran toward the cliff and took endless photos of the amazing double rainbow beaming above Pai. I smiled and sat on a bench somewhere. The sense of serenity I felt was in glaring similarity to the idyllic setting of trees, rainbows, and hills. This is the life; the very essence of its simplicity. That perfect moment with my buddy was one of the best experiences we had during the trip. Patience is a virtue, indeed.

Pai Canyon Thailand
There's a pot of gold somewhere :)
Pai Canyon Thailand

Pai Canyon Thailand
Amazing sunset
This is one of those impulse sidetrips that we didn’t originally include in our two-month backpacking trip. No regrets though. I love Pai and its chill, hip, and undoubtably laidback vibe. How 'bout you? Have you been to Pai?


  1. I'm not an artist but I have this obsession with cute artsy stuffs. I would love to roam around Pai Walking Street. I've been wanting to go to this town in Thailand since I found out this artsy place through the stories of other travelers. Thanks for sharing the experience of Pai. It will serve as an inspiration. :)