That’s what everyone says about it, so we did and it is.
Located up in the mountains 135km from Chiang Mai, Pai is reachable either by a minibus flying round the windy roads complete with free travel sickness, or by scooter. Unsurprisingly we took the latter option.
It seemed pointless taking both of our bikes so we just took mine. This was what I paid extra for the higher spec bike for, it had to prove it’s worth on the steep inclines and the 762 corners
The first part of the route is the frankly horrible Route 107 heading north from Chiang Mai. A packed highway with fumes and dust galore, it wasn’t nice. Luckily it only lasts for around 30km before you turn onto the 1095 which is the mountain road to Pai. Be warned, there are no petrol stations for majority of this road so fill up on the 107 – we did and made it there fine. (We cut out most of the 107 on our return by taking the 3009 which is a lovely rural scenic route – highly recommended)
The first part of the road is nice to ride on but nothing exciting but as you get higher and higher the views become incredible. But there isn’t much time to admire them as there are very steep gradients and huge drops where it feels like your brakes are going to fail.
After several stops and nearly 5 hours later, we made it to Pai, tired but safe. We were staying at a resort out of town so we headed straight there to check in.
When we first ventured into Pai first impressions were not great. First of all we went through the local area, which was fine, like most Thai towns. Then we reached the backpacker area which wasn’t great – plenty of stereotypical wannabe hippies walking round with dreadlocks and worst of all, bare feet. Seriously?
After wandering around for a while though, the town is better than it first appears. There are some genuinely decent restaurants and coffee shops, and the walking street, while touristy, is nice for a stroll. There are also plenty of cool cheap bars to chill in.
Our favourite area was the Wednesday market area – now we weren’t there on a Wednesday so cannot comment on the market but there were a few uber trendy coffee shops around here, our favourite being Cafecito, which also did AMAZING Mexican food.
The real beauty of Pai of course is not in the town, but in the surrounding countryside. Even on the drive between our resort and the town, the views were spectacular.
The best views came from a trip up to, unsurprisingly, a viewpoint. Located near the Chinese village (more on that later) it is a steep ride up even on our powerful bike, but it was worth it. For a small fee to enter, you received free Chinese tea, which we sat drinking looking over the mountains. It was a really awesome moment that made you remember why you went travelling in the first place.
Oh yes, the Chinese village. While there have been ethnic Chinese in the area for many years, the village is anything but traditional. It’s supposed to be built in a traditional style but it ends up looking like a kitsch theme park style attraction. Apparently it is built for Thai tourists mostly who seem to love it. A selection of ‘houses’ all fitted out as gift shops surrounding a small lake. The best bit is still to come though – a not very realistic model of part of the Great Wall.
In fairness the Chinese food was good here, if a bit pricey and coupled with the viewpoint it is worth visiting.
The next day we went to Pai Canyon. Grand Canyon it is not, but it was quite an impressive site with certain death awaiting you if you went over the edge!
It looked as if there was a nice hike around the canyon but as far as we could see you couldn’t make a full circle unless you were feeling very brave as you’d have to leap between narrow rocks. We just did a bit of walking and admired the view.
Now besides the natural beauty, Pai, for whatever reason, is full of wonderfully kitsch sites, one of the most prominent that you cannot miss as you drive towards the town is Love Strawberry.
It’s not entirely obvious what the place actually is at first, apart from full of giant strawberry models. But it turns out it is a cafe and strawberry farm. What gets the punters in though is the stacks of ridiculous things and stupid photo ops. We liked it.
We did plenty of other things in Pai including a temple with a view, a waterfall and the WW2 memorial bridge. We could have stayed a week and not run out of things to do, yet my favourite activity was just cruising around the roads, stopping now and again to remind yourself what a beautiful part of the world you’re in. I get it now.
Where we Stayed
We spent 3 nights at Paicome Hideaway Resort (the first word really is spelled Paicome) which was around 5-10 minutes drive from the town. It was a beautiful resort with an enthusiastic owner Mr Chinn, a unique pool with huge rocks in it and stylishly decorated rooms. If not for the low season it would have been out of out price range but we got it for 725THB (£13.12) per night. Pai is a bargain in low season!