Thursday, 7 April 2016

pai, thailand: hippie town, pretty countryside

A water buffalo grazing in the countryside surrounding Pai.

Pai, the controversial town. Some people love it. Some people love to hate it. Some people are asking the question, "is Pai worth visiting?" But when we decided to spend an entire month in North Thailand, we knew that Pai would be part of our itinerary. I had my sights set on doing the Mae Hong Son loop, and, love it or hate it, Pai was going to be our first stop. Easy decision!

The friendly owner of our guesthouse in Chiang Mai found a couple of spare seats on a minivan to Pai for us, and with that, we were off. The road to Pai is well-known for its queasy 762 turns, and right off the bat, our driver offered every single one of us a plastic bag. Just in case.

And then we were on that remarkably twisty road. Actually, it started off innocuously enough, but then we were down to the serious business, and Simon would glance at the map on his tablet and (helpfully?) inform me when a particularly squiggly section was coming up. Fortunately, none of us had to make use of our plastic bags, but it was certainly worth hanging on to them for the duration of the ride!

Now, about Pai. Yes, it is very much a tourist town these days. Expect to see hippies with dreadlocks and bongo drums, and groups of Chinese tourists from mainland China. And if you want to go all New Age, this is the place to get your reiki and kombucha.

It's also a place where you can check out waterfalls, hot springs, and a canyon. We didn't check out the waterfalls or the hot springs, but we did check out Pai Canyon. It was pretty cool.

Pai Canyon.

You can explore as much of the canyon as you wish, depending on how bold you are. Some parts are quite precarious, so I would caution against being too much of a daredevil. Stay safe! We didn't venture into dangerous territory, but still managed to observe some pretty impressive views.

Pai Canyon views.

Later that evening, we popped by Pai's walking street market. Grilled bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms beckoned to us, and we went for it - a nice salty fix for 10 baht per piece.

Grilled bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms.

I also tried this grilled banana dessert - I think it was 5 baht per stick. After you select your sticks, you dip the banana coins into a sweet coconut sauce, and have at it. Not bad.

Grilled banana pieces on a stick.

After having a few snacks each at the night market, we decided it was time to have a proper dinner. We found our way to Charlie and Lek restaurant. Here, I enjoyed a plate of pad thai - but this was no ordinary pad thai. Instead of rice noodles, they use thin strips of green papaya here, and it is truly superb, with a glorious smoky flavour. If you ever visit Pai, try this.

Green papaya pad thai at Charlie and Lek's.

The next morning, we made our way to the Chinese village called Santichon (or Shandicun, if you go by pinyin spelling). The main purpose of this excursion was to check out the Yun Lai viewpoint. "Yun Lai" literally means "Clouds Come", and upon reaching our destination, we could see how it earned this name.

Making our way to the Yun Lai viewpoint.

We sipped on a cup of tea at the open-air cafe and took in the views. Though, to be honest, before long, we met this cat, and the scenery took a backstage role for us.

The gargoyle cat.

As we left the viewpoint, we spied another cat on the rooftops. Super adorable.

A cat on a roof.

I should also mention now that we fell in love with a Mexican cafe called Cafecito during our stay in Pai - I will go into further detail about it in my next post. The cafe owner, Dustin, is an awesome dude, and he gave us recommendations on what we could do for our last full day in Pai. We took some of the routes that he suggested, and had a wonderful time cruising around the Pai countryside.

The pretty Pai countryside.

There was no particular destination. It was all about the fresh air and the simple things in life.

Nice rural scenery.

When we still had about an hour of daylight, we figured we might as well investigate a lake that was on our map. We had been curious about it, and Dustin had also circled it as a potential landmark that we could visit.

So we zoomed off to find Huay Dee Mee Lake, and that turned out to be quite a feat. It took longer than we expected - we weren't sure if we would get there by sunset, and we considered turning back, because it would be no fun getting lost in the middle of nowhere in the dark. Still, we persisted. Towards the end, the path that we ended up on was so tiny and in such poor condition that I was amazed that it showed up on Google Maps at all.

We were glad that we persevered.

Huay Dee Mee Lake (alternative spelling: Huai DiMi Lake).

Aside from a few locals fishing by the banks, we had the lake to ourselves. We missed out on the sunset, but there was a hint of light left in what some call the "blue hour". I took many pictures.

Huay Dee Mee Lake at twilight.

And then we were on our way to get back to Pai town.

As usual, we went to the night market that evening, where I was again tempted by interesting morsels. This purple pancake thing intrigued me, so I purchased one. The man deftly grilled the slab over hot coals until it was warm and puffy, then cut it into bite-sized pieces before placing them back onto the banana leaf, sprinkling condensed milk, crushed peanuts and palm sugar over, and offering it up with a toothpick. It was delicious! I suspect the purple slice is made with black glutinous rice flour, and the delightful end result reminded me of a snack I grew up eating in Malaysia called "muah chee". If anyone knows what this Thai dessert is called, please tell me!

This mysterious purple slab is magically transformed into a scrumptious street snack by a skillful vendor.

There were vendors selling hot and iced tea in reusable bamboo tubes for 30 baht, and you can get refills for 10 baht. I opted for an aromatic and refreshing iced bael fruit tea. At the end of the night, when Simon and I had enough, we returned the bamboo tube to the vendor, since we were leaving the next day and had no more use for it.

Iced herbal tea in a reusable bamboo tube.

Later that night, we went to Edible Jazz, where I had a lovely dinner while Simon enjoyed a couple of cocktails. There was live music. And cats. In the morning, we had an excellent brunch at 661 Foods and Crafts. I will elaborate on these two places - as well as the aforementioned Cafecito - very soon!

Oh, and in case you were wondering - we liked Pai. If we had more than a month in North Thailand, we would have been happy to linger a few extra days. Yes, it can be quite touristy in parts, but no, that's not a deal-breaker for us. We're not the wild partying types and we didn't find it difficult to avoid those who are. It's fun to get off the beaten track to tranquil spaces, but it's also fun to be somewhere that's a bit more urban and dynamic. With the use of a hired scooter, we were able to access the best of both worlds while staying in Pai. And that certainly made it worth our while.


  1. Both the grilled bananas dipped in coconut sauce and the mystery purple thing drizzled with condensed milk sound like things I'd love!

    1. They were both good, but the mystery purple thing was a revelation! I had no idea what to expect, and it turned out to be so tasty!

  2. What beautiful pics and the food looks gorgeous. I've travelled to quite a few Asian countries but not Thailand yet. On the list for sure. PS: I'm crazy in to cats (have 2 rescue kitties) so think I'm going to love your blog lol.

    1. Thailand is a great travel destination, hope you make it there sometime! And it's always wonderful to know another cat-lover! :D

  3. Gargoyle cat! Beautiful landscapes.


  4. Your photos! So lovely. It sounds like a fun, if touristy, town. I've read people did this sort of thing back in the 70s, travelling to Thailand and India to find themselves.

    And I like the kitty spotting :)

    1. Thank you! I think there are still people who travel to find themselves. Not me, though, I just do it because it's fun. :D

  5. Huay Dee Mee Lake is really dangerous at hot season. I had near death experience there in the boggy mud. SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS!


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