Everyone who has made the trek from southern Thailand (Koh Tao) to northern Thailand (Pai) will agree that it’s quite an epic journey with many modes of transportation at all hours of the day.
I had to be up at 5 a.m. to go diving at Sail Rock with the gang of French Kiss Divers in Koh Tao, then I took a 3-hour boat ride to Chumphon, followed by a night train to Bangkok. Finally, at almost 2 p.m. the next day, I hopped on another train to Chiang Mai! And it was not over yet! My final destination was to be Pai… another 3 hours from Chiang Mai.
But Pai is as good as it sounds and well worth the trip. This idyllic spot is the northern version of Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi, the famous beach from the movie The Beach (starring the handsome Leo DiCaprio). Very few tourists go to Pai, and there you can find a happy mix of hippies, Thai rastas and backpackers. The eclectic company is what gives Pai its unmistakable charm. I guarantee you will never want to leave this small northern Thailand village nestled in a valley between the mountains.
Travellers will often stop in Chiang Mai, but for only 150 baht extra (around $5 CAD or €3.50), you can get to Pai by minivan. Pai is hands down a destination you don’t want to miss!
MY ONLY REGRET IS THAT I DIDN’T STAY THERE LONGER …
The 7 Wonders of Pai
1. Pai Chan
In the low season, for 500 baht (approximately $17.25 CAD or €12.25), you can rent a twin bungalow for two or 300 baht (roughly $10.50 CAD or €7.25) for a single bungalow, Pai Chan is a godsend for those who want a little piece of tranquillity only five minutes from the city. It’s easy to forget about the weather and laze around the pool for the day.
Above all, do not miss the wonderful restaurant! I recommend their reinvented shakes for a nutritional boost in the morning or their toasties for a small snack in the afternoon. Otherwise, the whole menu is fantastic, and the prices are better than good!
Book now at Pai Chan Cottage & Kitchen on Agoda for the best prices guaranteed!
2. The lady of lasagna
Everyone’s talking about the food, and you shouldn’t miss it. Gigi offers three choices of lasagna: beef, vegetarian and spinach. For a yummy curry and pad thai break, this is THE place to go. She has a small dining area next to her kiosk where you can sit down and devour her lasagna. It was by far the best comfort food I have eaten in Thailand, all for less than $5 CAD (€3.50). Plus, Gigi is so sweet, and her portions are VERY generous!
3. The Canyon
It costs less than 150 baht ($5 CAD or €3.50) to rent a scooter for the day and get to Pai Canyon. If you’re not prone to vertigo, you can walk on the ridge for a breathtaking view of the valley and the mountains. I recommend keeping your celebrations light the night before because in some places the path is very narrow with steep cliffs on either side. It can be slightly scary if you become dizzy.
4. Almost Famous
We try to stay at the Almost Famous bar for only a drink, but we get sucked into staying there all evening every single time. Pete and Bazi serve the best caipirinhas and mojitos in town, and they are so cheap! If you sit at the bar outside, you can people watch to your heart’s content! Personally, this is where I find the best music in town… a good playlist of deep house, just the way I like it.
5. Maya Burger Queen
One of our Instagram followers urged us to try the chicken burger after proclaiming that it is the best he has ever eaten. We tried the chicken and cheeseburger and the vegetarian one, and WOW! If you’re looking for another little Thai food break, Maya Burger Queen is the number one stop on my list.
6. Space Tattoo
As soon as we stepped into Space Tattoo, we were struck by the quality of their designs and the shop’s atmosphere. The two owner brothers do spectacular work using bamboo stems. It’s impressive to see them at work. And they know how to set you at ease, even if you’re experiencing the worst pain in the world (OK, my pain tolerance is very low…). Not even five minutes into our chat, and they already had a custom design for me. Getting my tattoo here is my best memory from Thailand!
7. The 762 curves to get there
To get from Chiang Mai to Pai, it takes about 3 hours by minivan. If you know yourself to get car sickness, you’ll want to take a Gravol for the road; otherwise, it will be a very long and painful journey.
For the more adventurous, it is essential to rent a scooter or a motorbike. The road is a playground for lovers of two-wheelers (but please BE CAREFUL on the road)! In this case, you should allow 5 to 6 hours of driving. I checked with Émilie, and her favourite part of Thailand was riding as a passenger on the back of a scooter for the drive. As the road between Chiang Mai and Pai is rather busy, I highly recommend scooting or biking down the route between Pai and Mae Hong Son.
Have you visited Pai? Did I miss any gems?
To learn more about Thailand, get the Lonely Planet Thailand guide!
This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.