Pai Maehongsorn

Pai Maehongsorn

Pai Maehongsorn

Any visitor to the North of Thailand who has time to spend more than a few days in the area,
would do well to head out of Chiangmai and explore the gorgeous countryside. One of the most
appealing destinations nearby is charming Pai (pronounced ‘Bpye’) a small town of 3000 people
nestled in a gorgeous valley on Route 1095 between Chiangmai and Mae Hong Sorn.

Pai was once a quiet market village inhabited by Shan people but nowadays, primarily thrives on
tourism and is well-known among Farang backpackers as a travellers mecca with a relaxed atmosphere,
a reputation for great live music and other forms of art and plenty of hippie culture, yoga, reiki, shiatsu, acupuncture and a myriad other forms of new age mysticism. Since 2006, when the town was featured
in two, popular Thai-made romantic movies, Thai tourists make up the vast majority of visitors -It’s this great blend of foreign and Thai holiday makers, all out to have fun, mixing it that, gives Pai
such a great vibe.

The area of modern-day Pai has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years. The recorded history of
the area starts about 800 years ago with the establishment of a settlement today known
as Baan Wiang Nuea about 3kms north of modern-day Pai.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Royal House encouraged Northern Thai’s from provinces
like Payao, Lamphun and Nan to migrate to the area in an effort to consolidate Siam’s influence and authority in the northern border region. Conflict erupted between the newly arriving Lanna Thai and
the Local Shan residents _ the last battle in Baan Wiang Nuea took place in 1869, when Lanna soldiers finally defeated their Shan opponents in a battle that ended with the total destruction of the village.
The entire village was burnt to the ground. All structures standing in Baan Wieng Nuea today are the result of the subsequent rebuilding efforts of the villagers.

south of the village of Baan Wiang Nuea. This settlement was known as Baan Wiang Tai, which over the years developed into the modern town we know as Pai.

Pai’s more recent history is one of waves of migration. Karen immigrants arrived in the 18th century,
Lisu and Lahu people from areas of southern China arrived in the early 20th century, Muslim families
from Chiangmai began arriving to establish trade businesses starting around 1950, a group of
Kuomintang fleeing Mao Zedong established a community in Pai in the early 1960s, and finally
a new wave of refugees from the Shan State of Burma have arrived in the last few decades,
fleeing the turmoil to work as labourers in Thailand.

This multi-cultural society adds to the flavour and spice of Pai. In downtown, there are several
Thai Buddhist Temples with ringing bells and drumming, a Christian Church built by local ethnic
minorities with Gospel services every Sunday and a Mosque whose speakers fill the town with
the call to prayer several times a day.

Staying and Eating
Pai is full of cheap guest-houses, souvenir and local craft shops and restaurants. If you’re coming to
enjoy the quiet, idyllic countryside or plan to stay a while, head either out of town to stay at one of
the ‘off-map’ and ‘un-listed’ in the Lonely Planet spots. If you feel the need to be close to the action,
I recommend staying in one of the bamboo huts on the Northwest Baank of the river. Just cross the bamboo bridge near Golden Hut and you will find several family run resorts. While budget places are still
the mainstay of Pai accommodation, more and more places are moving upscale,so it definitely pays to
look around. As for food _ Pai is paradise! The range of eating options reflects the diversity of the residents and visitors. There are a number of great bakeries, excellent Indian, Italian (one restaurant having been voted the best Italian in Thailand), Middle-Eastern, Mexican, French and Thai restaurants
and delicious street food to suit all tastes along with the ubiquitous 7/11’s to fulfil those late night munchies.

Pai Maehongsorn

Pai Maehongsorn

To Do
Pai has plenty to offer in terms of natural and touristic attractions. There are several waterfalls some accessible by road and some by long, beautiful jungle hikes. There are also a number of natural hot springs varying in temperature from 80 to 200 degrees Celsius. Some resorts tap the hot springs and
feed hot water into private bungalows and public pools. You can go floating down the Pai river in an
inner tube, white water rafting, elephant riding, hiking in a canyon or take a motorbike ride or multi-day
trek to remote hill tribe villages of the Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu (most of which are much less commercial than the common treks available outside Chiangmai).

Another notable attraction is the town’s excellent Wednesday Market which brings large and
colourful crowds of local villagers and tribal people from all around the Pai Valley.

Tha Pai Hot Springs

Tha Pai Hot Springs (entrance 200 Baht for foreigners) is a wonderful natural hot spring (not to be confused with the privately-run Tha Pai Spa Camping or Tha Pai Spa Exotic Home) about 8km south
of Pai where a cold river and boiling hot source meet in 10′-16′ deep pools. Get there early in the morning and sit and relax as the rays of the just-appearing sun shoot through the steam rising around you. Surrounded by jungle, everywhere you look there are trees and nature and amazingly for Thailand,
not a blob of concrete in site. Camping is available and there is a restaurant and restroom facilities.

Mae Yen Waterfall (น้ำตกแม่เย็น)

Mae Yen Waterfall located about 7 kms from the center of town and is the most beautiful waterfall in Pai. The waterfall is located deep in the jungle and the path follows a stream up through bamboo and teak forests to the fall with countless crossings of the stream so I suggest wearing sandals.
It takes about 3-5 hours round-trip and is highly recommended. To get there, head over the concrete bridge towards Tha Pai Hot Springs. After a kilometre or so, you will see a small signpost on your left.
Turn up the lane which quickly becomes a dirt track that follows an irrigation canal and the trail head is about another kilometre.

Mor Paeng Waterfall (น้ำตกหมอแปง)

Mor Paeng Waterfall, located about 9 kms from town is impressive, but being accessible by car or motorbike, is much busier than Mae Yen. On the drive there you will pass through Shan, Lisu, Haw
Chinese and Lahu villages making it an amazingly easy way to see some of the local Hill-tribe culture.

Pai Maehongsorn

Pai Maehongsorn

Lisu Homestay (พักแรมชาวเขา)

If you are a traveller who desires to go beyond the standard tourist attractions and engage yourself in local culture and lifestyle then the Lisu village of Nohng Tong (45 kilometers from Pai) has an excellent home-stay programme where you can experience hill-tribe life first hand.
(email or call 089-998-4886)

Getting there
Route 1095, which connects Pai with Mae Hong Sorn and Chiangmai (135kms), is a very scenic route through the mountains which takes several hours. It’s a steep and windy drive, with lots of curves and if you’re a little adventurous, rent a motorcycle in Chiangmai and make the ride up to Pai. You can stop at the waterfalls and small towns along the way, and you’ll really enjoy the ride, as opposed to being motion sick in a bus for hours, and being forced to stop at the driver’s friends restaurants. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and being on a bike makes you feel like part of the mountains.

Alternatively Buses and minibuses go to Chiangmai (Arcade) and Mae Hong Sorn. Regular public buses take around 4 hours and charge about 80 baht; minibuses take around 3 hours and tickets cost about 160 baht. Pai now also has daily flights from Chiangmai. SGA departs daily from Chiangmai at 10:55am and arrives in Pai at 11:30am. Return flights are at 11:45am arriving at Chiangmai at 12:20pm.

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