Back in December, on a long weekend, a few of my fellow foreign teacher friends attempted to travel to a small town in the northwest corner of Thailand. This small town is a popular travel destination for many westerners, and we were all intrigued to visit. However, those plans did not happen according to plan. Welcome to the life of a traveling English teacher in a foreign country.
Thankfully, as the school year ended, I knew I’d have a little gap before my friend from America was here for a week visit, and it was the perfect opportunity to take the crazy route from Lampang to the town of Pai. Haven’t heard of Pai? That’s okay. Let me summarize it for you…one word…TURNS.
No, I’m not being a smart ass. That’s truly the best word to describe Pai. Pai is known throughout the backpacking and traveling community for its turns. In fact, on the road from Chiang Mai to Pai (there is only one), there are 762 turns, and that is not an exaggeration.
Side Note: If you can any type of motion sickness, then I HIGHLY advise you to take a lot of medicine. I don’t usually get motion sickness, but I took some anyway because I’ve heard horror stories from other travelers.
Pai is apparently, also known for a few other things among the backpacking community, though I didn’t know much about these factors before I arrived, I learned very quickly what those “things” are.
It has a hippie, laid back vibe with an active nightlife- party scene, that goes into the early morning (if you know the right place to go). It has a history of sucking in travelers who extended their stays, sometimes days others weeks or months. The drug scene, although quiet, is present more than any other place I’ve been to in Thailand, and Pai is home to the “Happy Shake” or “Magic Shake,” and NO, I’m not going to go into details.
In Pai, one thing I learned quickly is that I would NEVER go hungry or thirsty. Countless restaurants, cafes, and food stands throughout the small town covered the streets! Pai’s food scene was definitely on point, especially since the combination of western foods and Thai food make “What do I want to eat?” the hardest decision of the day.
One of the best sandwiches, I think I have had in a VERY, VERY long time was at this amazing little diner place called Cafe de Pai! I mean it was a stuffed grilled cheese, not much could beat that! Their food was SO GOOD, my friends and I went back multiple times. Sandwiches, salads, breakfast, oh my!
I also ate Mexican food, for only about the second time since moving to Thailand and a small place called BaanSuan. It was exactly what I needed. It’d had been months since I indulged in Mexican food. Well worth it!
Smoothies were pretty much a daily occurrence. They were so easy to come across. I could walk down walking street anytime during the day and would have more than my fair share of choices. You do have to be careful, as if you don’t ask, they will put simple syrup into every smoothie. Thankfully, I learned quickly how to order them without sugar. Mai Sai or Mai Wan- helpful phrases!
Okay, enough about food. Let’s get into the fun, adventurous things my friends and I did in Pai, all via Motorscooters.
Driving and exploring by motor scooter is THE thing to do. Many travelers drive scooters from Chiang Mai to Pai, making the 762 turn journey. Two of my friends (who I didn’t know were coming to Pai at the same time) made the journey by scooter with the company AYA, who will take your luggage by van for you, so you don’t have to worry about your bag during the drive. However, if you choose to forgo that option, as I did, there are a variety of options to rent once you arrive in Pai. It’s the best way to see the sights. Plus, renting a scooter in Pai is very budget friendly, many places charge about 140 baht a day. Since my friends both already had their scooters, and I feel more comfortable driving my own bike vs. being a passenger, I went ahead and rented one too! Also, crashing in Pai is a common thing so no way my friends and I were going to put ourselves at risk.
There were several different “Things to See” that were pretty easy to get to with the scooters, and my friends and I didn’t waste anytime exploring these places!
The first place my two friends and I decided to venture too was one of two different hot springs in Pai called Sai Ngam. It’s located about 11 km north from the Pai city center along the main highway and is easily, and I emphasis easily, doable by motorscooter.
The journey took us about an hour and a half and the drive was stunning! My friend Alicia was our leader, and once we turned off the main highway, we follow a very narrow two-lane road until the very end. The hot spring is on national park/forest land, so it did cost 220 baht to enter, and an additional 20 baht but I truly felt it was worth it!
Now, the word HOT might be slightly deceiving, as I wouldn’t necessarily call these Hot Springs, more like Warm Spring, but at this point in Thai weather I didn’t want them “hot,” so “warm” springs were perfect for my friends and me!
In fact, we ended up enjoying the hot spring for nearly two hours. We just sat there and talked the entire time. It was beyond relaxing, and if you like to be surrounded by warm water, I highly recommend a visit to the hot springs.
On our way home from the hot springs, we decided to take a little detour to some overlook I saw a sign for on the side of the road. Not going to lie, it was a great detour! It took us through this really cool little Chinese influenced village, up an extremely steep hill, to a dirt lot with a beautiful view. It was the perfect end to our day.
Next on our Tour de Pai, was this cave we all read about, Lod Cave or Tham Lod. Lod Cave isn’t the only cave in the province, but it’s diffidently the largest, and we knew we wanted to go. We soon found out that it’s quite a trek to get to with over 300 turns, but the drive is extremely peaceful and beautiful! It took us about 2 hours to get there, and even though we didn’t leave until mid-morning, it wasn’t very busy (thank you off-season travel).
Once at the cave, you have to get a tour guide. It was 450 baht for up to 3 people, which in reality is a good price for a tour guide and it was nice that there were only three of us in our group, so we didn’t need to split up. Now, these tour guides don’t necessarily know how to speak English, but luckily, ours knew a few basic words and was able to point out some of the “landmark” rock formations, but don’t worry, there are also several signs throughout the caves too, which have some information on them.
Inside the caves, we followed a set path with our guide in the lead. The path takes you up and down several different “pockets” and includes a bamboo boat ride. You can choose to feed the fish that swim extremely close to the boat, but we passed. Still, the fish are so trained that the boats mean food and they will swim directly next to the boat.
Our cute little tour guide found out we were teachers, so for part of the tour, we counted, in Thai from 1-200. She was making sure we even were getting the right tone. It was a sweet memory from the tour. The whole tour lasts about an hour and a half, maybe slightly longer, but it’s worth a visit, both the drive there and the cave itself. I enjoyed myself on this adventure, and I think my friends did too!
When we returned from the cave, we ended up deciding to go out (a little harder than anticipated) with several of the people I met at Common Grounds (the hostel I stayed at). It was such a fun night out, but because of that it meant our next day was a little less exploration than we originally planned.
Because of our late night partying, another thing Pai is known for, my friend and I (one of my friends ended up getting the 24 flu), just wandered around Pai for the afternoon. We stumbled upon an adorable bunny cafe, got our hair wrapped, and ate a light lunch. We only had one last thing on our “wish list,” and that was sunset at Pai Canyon.
Pai Canyon was a mere 30 minutes (if that), drive from the heart of Pai and absolutely worth it. We were told to arrive early, as this is a popular sunset destination for travelers and backpackers alike, and I’m so glad we did. The sunset was spectacular and a perfect end to my 5-day Pai Adventure.
Overall, I was pleased that I chose Pai as the starting point of my 6-week backpacking/traveling adventure around Southeast Asia. Between the food, the adventures, and the countless amount of new friends I made, this town really had it all: relaxation, adventure, and a social atmosphere, truly a beautiful place!