We left Chiang Mai on 27th April 2018 and took the winding road via mini bus to Pai. Apparently to get to Pai there are 762 turns in the road through the mountains so it can be a pretty sickly journey – we ended up finding it alright though and both slept for a chunk of the journey.
We had heard good things about Pai and were looking forward to going. It’s a place to go to relax and drive around seeing beautiful scenery so that sounded right up our street. We had packed a lot into our time in Chiang Mai and, because of the elephant sanctuary visits everyone does (including ourselves), there was always someone who was up at 6am so we needed a bit of time to catch up on sleep. We had picked a hostel called Baan Aomsin Resort which was around 10/15 minutes walk from the main streets in town and there was hardly anyone staying there so we had four or five of us in a fourteen bed dorm whilst we were there. The WiFi was good and the beds were pretty comfy and because of the lack of people we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep and relax a bit!
We arrived at around 4pm so were able to check into our hostel straight away. We had planned on getting out and seeing Pai as soon as we got to the hostel but the rain had different ideas and we had to wait until the evening for it to stop. Pai is very small and consists of a handful of streets so it doesn’t take long to look around town. There is a ‘walking street’ but bikes can still drive down it so it’s a loose definition really. After Chiang Mai we had expected quite a big market but Pai’s walking street is smaller and only has a few stands on it meaning you’re more likely to eat in one of the restaurants that’s on the main street over street stands if you’re wanting Thai food as the street stands mainly served pancakes, waffles or western food like bruschetta, lasagna and wraps. We tried a few cheap things walking down like some very nice curry puffs which were like mini pies but had our main meal at a restaurant. We hadn’t really had any Thai curries since being in Thailand, having lived off pad thai and fried rice whilst we were in the southern islands and so we wanted to try some whilst we were in the north. The restaurant we chose did great curries that were packed with veggies and tofu for me and veggies and chicken for Niall. During our time in Pai we tried the green and the red curry here which were both very tasty!
We stuck to the walking street on our first night and found a little bar that had some live music on where we chilled whilst having a few beers. Pai is big on their live music and we heard loads of different bars having bands on as we walked down the walking street. It was nice to chill whilst listening to the music and we enjoyed our first night in Pai. As it had been raining it was a lot quieter compared to what we had been expecting but our other nights in Pai were more lively.
After sleeping until whenever we wanted, we went into town to hire a scooter for the next couple of days so that we could explore. We had managed to get a bike for only 100 baht (£2.30) per day which was very cheap! It was quite cloudy which wasn’t ideal and this did affect our day driving around seeing as all of the scenery didn’t look as good as we had expected. There were shadowy mountains in the background which did look pretty but blue skies can make a big difference!
Our first stop was to Mo Paeng Waterfall. The drive there was average with the chance of being great had the weather been better and it wasn’t as warm as we would have liked for a trip to a waterfall. As it was a Saturday, the waterfall was busy with local kids messing around. It had a natural rock slide which we saw the kids slide down doing tricks like standing up midway down or doing flips. We chose not to go in the water for a couple of reasons but mainly because there was a lot of them and we would have been the only tourists there but also because the water was brown. This was most likely due to the forest on either side of the waterfall but it just didn’t really invite you to go for a swim!
We decided to have a drive around and head to the other waterfall that we had read about called Pambok Waterfall. On our way here we drove through little villages that had nice views but was still slightly lacking due to the cloudy skies. On our way to the waterfall we bumped into some of the Geordies who we had met at the waterpark in Chiang Mai and so headed up to a viewpoint with them. Before we had made it to the viewpoint we ended up seeing a couple who we got the bus to Pai with who told us there wasn’t anything to see at the view point due to the rice terraces being all dried up and brown which was confirmed by more people coming from the viewpoint saying the same thing. We had also heard the waterfall was all dried up and a bit disappointing and so we ended up not bothering to trek to see that either. It was a shame we had managed to come to Pai when it wasn’t at its best but that can happen anytime so we just had to deal with it and it was still nice to have some time to relax.
Our final stop for the day was to the Land Split which is a farmer’s field that had a large amount of seismic activity occur around in around 2009. There wasn’t an earthquake or anything else to make it clear that this had happened and the farmer only realised when he went to tow the land of his soy bean farm. The crack itself reminded us of a small version of the canyons in the Karinjini in Australia. It’s two meters wide and eleven meters deep and appears to be continuing to widen as we saw a sign that said ‘split 2009’ and ‘split 2011’ in different widths along the valley. We were able to walk into the split, not that there is too much to see but it does help to give you an idea of how big the split actually is. I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I woke up one morning to find my farm and crops destroyed by a giant crack appearing in the ground! The best bit about visiting this place was the farmer who gives out loads of treats to eat once you’ve finished looking at the split. His land was still able to grow crops but not to the same level as before and so he adapted and started serving his produce to tourists who either stopped on their way to the Pambok Waterfall or specifically called in to see the split in the land. He served us a feast of sweet potato, fried banana chips, hibiscus jam, roselle juice (made from hibiscus flowers), hibiscus wine, peanuts, fresh papaya and tamarind. He would serve you until you were full and it was all very tasty. Once you were done he had a donation box and you just paid whatever you had or felt it was worth. It’s a nice system as some will pay a lot and some won’t so it would all even out to be a decent wage and I imagine his living costs are reasonably low when he can grow so much for himself. The man was very friendly and smiley and you could tell he’d managed to make the most of the situation he’d been put in and enjoyed meeting the tourists who passed by.
After a rest we headed out for the evening back to the walking street for more Thai curry. We met up with our new friends from Gateshead as they’d found somewhere to watch the Newcastle vs West Brom football match and so we spent the rest of our night with them. At the end of the walking street there were a few bars and we ended up being out until around 2am dotting from one bar to the next as they started to close. Pai doesn’t have a huge party scene which is why you end up having to move from place to place but it was fun and we had a good night.
On our final day in Pai we woke up to blue skies and sunshine! We wanted to make sure we made the most of it incase it clouded over later (which it did) and so didn’t hang around too long in the hostel that morning. Our first stop was to Wat Phra That Mae Yen (more commonly referred to as the White Buddha or Big Buddha). It’s a climb up 353 steps but it actually wasn’t too bad and from the top gave us good views over Pai and the surrounding countryside. The statue was very tall and brilliantly white and it can actually be seen from all over Pai when it’s clear which is pretty cool and shows how big it actually is!
We were glad to have waited for a clearer day to visit the Buddha and we got to see some more good views throughout the day as we drove around Pai. A lot of what you do in Pai is just driving around town and through the countryside so we didn’t always follow our maps and just drove around stopping when it looked nice to stop or taking a detour when something looked interesting. Because of the time of year the rice fields were dried out and brown which was a shame to not see them the brilliant green we know them to be but there are lots of flowers on the trees and a lot of fruit so it’s not all bad and the scenery was still pretty.We headed to Yun Lai View Point which we passed a sign for on one of our drives so thought we’d take a look. It took you through a Chinese village which, in all honesty, looked like a normal village to me except there was a bit more Chinese food being advertised from restaurants. The viewpoint was up a very steep hill and our little bike didn’t make it to the top with both of us on it to so I had to walk the last bit! It was nice to be able to see so far across the countryside particularly when the day before all the mountains had just been shadows so even though more clouds were coming across we still got good views.
As you’re driving around there will be some places that you’ll only stop off at for less than five minutes just to see before carrying on your drive. Memorial Bridge was one of these stops. During WWII the Japanese army forced prisoners of war to build a number of transport routes to help them get between Thailand and Burma (now known as Myanmar) as Burma was a British colony at the time. One of these was a wooden bridge over the Pai River which used elephants to bring the wood needed to make the bridge from the jungle! In 1944 the Allies were winning and the Japanese burnt down the wooden bridge as they retreated. Once the war ended the locals have rebuilt this bridge twice, first still using wood but then another constructed with steel after a severe flood in 1973 wiped out their wooden bridge. The steel structure today is a decommissioned bridge brought over from Chiang Mai and has been there since 1976.
The bridge links the highway so it’s easy to find as you drive around. We walked across it and it was only on the return journey that I saw how unstable it appeared. The wooden panels are breaking and really need a good repair job being done to them and I have to say I felt happy when we had got off at the other side!Our favourite stop of the day was to the Pai Canyon. We went here twice, once during the day to see the views and explore and then we went back and just caught the last of the sun setting here which was pretty but we had accidentally left it a bit too late. The canyon is just near to the memorial bridge so we were able to couple seeing them both together. It’s reasonably big with good views across the mountains and there are loads of small walkways you can go along to explore and get to different vantage points. Some of the paths were very narrow though and would have led to a bad fall if you slipped so we stuck to the wider ones where we could. Plus it was hot and we didn’t plan on doing anything too strenuous that day – the climb up the stairs to the Buddha was enough for us!
The end of a nice sunset over the Pai Canyon
Our final evening was a chilled one just getting some cheap street food and then having a beer in one of the bars we had been to the night before. It had been nice as Pai is so small that you often bump into people you know again and again and so having social evenings can be quite easy. Saying that, our hostel wasn’t the most social particularly when we first arrived which wasn’t a problem for us but I imagine it would be hard being a solo traveller.
We had one more morning in Pai before we had to start the two buses we would be taking to get to Chiang Rai. Pai hadn’t really been what we had expected and I think it had been hyped up a little too much but we did have a good time here and did enjoy riding around once the weather got nicer. As we were there in the dry season the waterfalls weren’t great but that wasn’t a huge issue as we have seen a lot of waterfalls on our trip and would see loads more in Laos. I’m glad we came but a few nights was enough for us I think!
Next stop: Chiang Rai
Sending love x