Northern Thailand is such a beautiful place with lots of mountains, trees and fresh air. I fell in love with the little hippie town known as Pai. It’s pronounced like “pie,” unless you’re speaking to a Thai person then it is pronounced like “bye” because they pronounce their P’s like Americans pronounce our B’s.
Although it’s a 14 hour trip from Bangkok to Pai, it was a surprisingly easy and cheap journey. My friend Cass and I took an 11 hour overnight bus from the Bangkok Bus Terminal (Chatuchak) to Chiang Mai for only 500 baht. The currency exchange rate is about 36 baht to 1 US dollar, so basically that only cost us a little under $14. A friendly tip if you ever take a bus like this: ask for the front row so that you have extra leg room and can fall asleep easier. You’ll also get a more scenic view once the sun comes up, which is a nice bonus also.
Once you arrive in Chiang Mai, the next step is to buy a ticket for a shuttle bus to Pai which was 150 baht, or $4. The shuttle takes you through the mountain roads, otherwise known as the 720-turn road, for the next 3 hours until you arrive in the cute little town that is in a valley, surrounded by majestic mountain scenery. If you handle motion sickness well, then the 720-turn road is an extremely gorgeous drive with mountains and trees as far as the eyes can see. If you’re not so lucky, there are motion sickness pills sold at the market in the Chiang Mai bus terminal and also some puke bags available in the shuttle. Hopefully you don’t have to ask for the bag and get to enjoy the turns, but someone on my trip back wasn’t so lucky. So it’s best to be prepared!
Oh my, Pai. Once you arrive in this town, you’ll be awestruck with its scenery (Especially if you’re like me and have been spending a lot of time in Bangkok). From wandering around the cliffs in Pai Canyon, to the windy roads leading to the hotsprings and waterfalls, to the big White Buddha located on the side of the hill, this place seems to have it all!
Day 1 was spent driving past a natural swimming pool to the Pam Bok Waterfall, then stopping by a shack “restaurant” that was donation-based and gives you an array of different delicious and nutritious healthy snacks, then grabbing a Chang beer and heading to Pai Canyon to watch the sunset. As if our first couple of hours weren’t spectacular enough, Cass and I met some really cool people along the way who we met up with to enjoy some nightlife in the fun and funky little town.
Day 2 was spent with the friends we met the day before, growing our scooter gang from two to seven people. We hopped on our scooters and began our adventure with a long drive north through the mountain roads. We wound up missing our turn for the hotspring, which turned out to be a good mistake because we got to the top of the mountain and stopped at a viewpoint to remember.
After hanging out at the view point for a bit, we turned back around at went to the hotspring, which only costs 30 baht per person -less than $1! Here we met many other travelers and even some locals. We were told about the natural facials we could give ourselves so, of course, I grabbed some mud and embraced the experience.
After relaxing and enjoying the hotspring, we hopped back on our scooters and went to Pai Canyon for another stunning sunset view. We ended our night by grabbing some dinner at a local restaurant, which had some really delicious and cheap Pad Thai, and then hanging out at our hostel with fellow backpackers.
Pai is a backpacker’s heaven because there are endless options for daytime and nighttime activities. Walking Street is the more touristy area of Pai and it has numerous different bars to suit your style of night. If you want a more party night, I might suggest Why Not Bar or Yellow Sun Bar as good places to go dance the night away. If you’re looking for a more relaxed night spent listening to live bands, I would suggest the Easy Garden Bar or the Irie Bar as your scene. There are many more options than what I have recommended and a quick stroll around Walking Street will definitely lead you to what kind of bar you might want to find to suit your feelings that night.
Not only does Walking Street have bars, but you will find endless shops and booths with souvenirs, tons of delicious street food carts and also the occasional kids singing songs to raise money for some kind of fund. Walking Street keeps your head turning constantly as you try to look at everything there is to offer.
During the day, Walking Street is full of shops, restaurants and places for you to rent scooters or bikes. If I could recommend something for everywhere you travel in Thailand, it would be to rent scooters. They’re a super cheap and convenient way for you to maximize your experience in the places that you visit. Depending on the scooter that you choose, the prices range from 140-250 baht per day ($4-7) and gas is about 80 baht ($2) for a full tank. A tank will usually last you an entire day or two depending on how much driving you do. The math is pretty simple, about $10 per day for freedom to roam the streets compared to telling taxis an exact destination for as much as a scooter costs to rent for a day.
Warning, driving in Thailand is unlike anything I have seen in America! You must be cautious at all times. Even if you are a good driver, sometimes you have to be more cautious about the people driving around you. Some scooter places in Pai offer insurance – BUY IT. It only costs 40 baht (less than $1) which is nothing compared to the cost if you damage the bike.
Even though I recommend you rent a scooter, I do feel the need to warn you about what happened to me and many others while in Pai.
Pai’s roads are not the most maintained that I have driven on thus far. You’ll find many ditches and loose gravel as you drive around, which is a good reason why you’ll also see many people with white bandages on their arms and legs; it’s most likely from a scooter accident.
Everyone – including me – likes to think that an accident won’t happen to them. Unfortunately, that illusion was broken while on my adventure in Pai. After two amazing days of driving around everywhere on scooters, I got in my first (and hopefully last) scooter accident, thanks to a guy cutting me off before a steep hill. Four stitches later, I’ve officially joined the hospital crew and the scooter wipe-out crew.
I am very thankful that my accident wasn’t worse because I wasn’t even wearing a helmet. When you’re on vacation and exploring, you don’t really think of safety all of the time. I wanted to feel the wind on my face and blowing threw my hair – and, lets be honest, not look like a “nerd” who wears a helmet. Well, I’ll tell you what, I’m definitely going to be that safety-cautious person who wears the helmet from now on. I honestly recommend it to everyone else as well. You never know when the day will come that you may get into an accident. You never want to be in the situation saying, “I wish I would have.”
As sucky as it was to get hurt, I’m honestly somewhat happy that I got injured in Pai because the hospital was super efficient and rather inexpensive. It only cost 881 baht ($25) to get stitches and antibiotics and each day after that, it was only 140 baht ($4) to get it cleaned. I wound up extending my stay because of the injury but then went south to Chiang Mai for a day where the hospital visit was 863 baht ($23) for the cleaning/doctor check up and then to Bangkok where the first cleaning/doctor check up was 1,021 baht ($28).
Obviously those two hospitals were much bigger and nicer than the one in Pai, but I’m sure happy that the accident didn’t break my bank account.
All in all, I’m in love with the beautiful town of Pai – even if it did leave me with some war wounds. I’ll just never be able to forget this trip even if, for some crazy reason, I wanted to. From all of the vegetarian/vegan restaurants, to the mountain scenery, gorgeous temples, and charming people, Pai left me wanting to come back even before I officially say goodbye. I will definitely be visiting this magical place again during my time here – especially with how cheap it was to travel to and from this wonderland!
Tiffany Geer is earning a bachelor’s degree in communication at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Thailand for the 2016 spring semester.