“Well that was amazing…”
“… but I couldn’t have taken another day of it.” We laughed in agreement, snuggling into our sleeper bunks on the night train to Chiang Mai. Heather and I were more or less fleeing Bangkok after five hectic days of hanging with an award-winningly rowdy group of guys. As much fun as we had had, I don’t think my body could have handled another night of bars, fast food benders and playing Cards Against Humanity until the sun came up.
It was time for it to be just the girls again.
And we knew the perfect place to recover. In my original plan for this time back in Thailand, I estimated I’d spend about two weeks up in Pai, a place I’d longed to return to since my first hazily blissful visit back in early 2013. But then I fell all kinds of in love with Koh Tao again, and the time I’d allotted for Pai kept whittling down until it was a mere four days.
But that’s okay — I’m confident that Thailand is always going to be a big part of my life, so I’ve got plenty of time to do it all. As soon as our train pulled into Chiang Mai, we hopped in a minibus for the winding four-hour ride to Pai, and before we knew it we were deposited in the much beloved, technicolor hippie enclave in the mountains.
Photo by Heather Holt
Upon arrival, we walked straight to Breeze of Pai, the guesthouse I had fond memories of from my first visit. And in a fun little turn of fate, I was put in exactly the same bungalow. Though Heather pointed out I seemed to have erased the bird-sized mosquitoes plaguing the room from my rose-tinted hindsight, I was still just as charmed as I had been the first time. How can you not love a riverside guesthouse with free water and bananas to boot?
I mean, not bad for $12 each per night, no?
Aside from our one excursion, which I’ll recount coming up this week, our time in Pai could not have been more laid back and relaxed. We basically bounced from river to cafe to bungalow to restaurant to massage chair and back again. We may both be ocean girls, but I think we can all agree a river this scenic is a fair substitute, as far as bodies of water are concerned.
And just to clarify, no, these are not photos of a movie set from a fantasy magical pixie dreamland. These are real photos of an actual place on planet earth. But I mean, I can see why you’d be confused.
A bit of sunning and reading by the river became an integral part of our temporary daily routine.
Photo by Heather Holt
Photo by Heather Holt
Another thing these two artists-at-heart loved? Wandering the streets and admiring the work of the creative community that thrives here. I found myself taking a few shots identical to the ones I’d taken years earlier, midway through releasing the shutter.
We ate ridiculously well in Pai, alternating between street food at the night market and meals at some of my favorite restaurants — most notable Witching Well and Boomalicious. Our Thai meals were really entertaining because they made me realize how in my bubble I am in Koh Tao, knowing exactly what I like to order and each restaurant. Out of that bubble I never know what I’m going to get, and for someone as sensitive to spice as I am that can occasionally end painfully. On our third night in town Heather suggested we get pizza, gently pointing out that I had cried spice-induced tears at dinner the previous two evenings. It was a merciful move.
Photo by Heather Holt
Though Pai has some really enticing nightlife, we only found the energy to partake on one slightly blurry night. Which is too bad — I do love the after dark scene in Pai, which has notes of both hipster and hippie, and a lot more mingling between Thais and travelers than the other parts of Thailand I’ve visited.
The rest of our evenings were spent strolling through the night market before turning in early — after all, we were exhausted from all this champion level relaxing! You don’t get to the chill-lympics by sprinting around town like crazy people, am I right? Luckily, the night market was the perfect low key entertainment option.
Once again, I bought a handmade creation from one of the talented artists that line the streets to gift my Dad upon returning home. I think Pai is one of the best places to buy one of a kind art straight from the artist — none of the mass-produced crap you find at some of the bigger markets around Thailand. Here you can talk to the artist, see their body of work, and even talk them into posing with their piece before they part with it.
Four days wasn’t nearly enough, and saying goodbye again so soon, after waiting so long to return, was a little bittersweet. But I know one thing for sure — one of these days, I will fulfill my dream of a month in an apartment here. Until then, Pai will live on as one of my favorite go-to mental vacations — and it was nice to feel that a place really lived up to the hype I’d given it in my head, upon return. There’s just something about Pai.
Stay tuned — I’ve got one more post coming up this week about my favorite little quirky Northern Thai town!
Oh my, I’m bummed that I missed out on visiting Pai when I was in Thailand last year! Even though your first post on Pai had made me want to visit this place a lot, I only calculated a few nights in Chiang Mai, because I honestly didn’t anticipate that I would love North Thailand as much and I definitely regretted that decision later. Well, guess that just means I need to go back to Thailand! 😉 Pai really does look like paradise – it kind of doesn’t seem real!
I would pick Pai over Chiang Mai anyway, but I can definitely understand why those with shorter itineraries would stick to CM and cut out the eight hour roundtrip windy bus ride!
Ah I’m Considering Pai as a stop en route to Myanmar but haven’t researched the full feasibility of getting there overland. What train did you take to chiang Mai- it looks so different to the overnight sleeper I did a couple years back!
We just booked the standard sleeper, but you are right, WAY nicer than the last one I took two years ago! The one from Chumphon to Bangkok and back was the same old same old… maybe they just upgraded for the Northern Line? It was amazing, plugs at each seat and everything!
Pai looks really appealing! I see notes of Luang Prabang, Hsipaw in Myanmar AND Sagada, Philippines. I love a SE Asian riverside/mountain town.
Definitely shares some vibes with Luang Prabang, but leans more hipster than traditional. Lots of young Thais hipsters from Bangkok flood here — it’s a really cool community!
What a great getaway! Pai looks lovely – I’ll have to add it to my list (and your photos are fabulous)!
Thanks Karisa! It’s a photogenic place!
Pai really does look like a fairy tale getaway. It has been entirely too long since I was in Thailand!
Fairy tale is the perfect way to describe it. Gorgeous!
I spent 3 nights in Pai not long ago and had the misfortune to be down with a cold nearly the whole time and didn’t see as much as I’d have liked. I hadn’t intended to go to Pai either, but I kept meeting other travellers raving about it, traveller recommendations make the best verbal guidebooks (and blogs of course!)
That is definitely a bummer, Emma! I had food poisoning last time I pushed through Pai on my way back from Mae Hong Son and I was DEVASTATED not to get to hit my favorite restaurants one last time. Such a bummer.
I love long train trips, how long did it take to go to the North? I guess it’s a brand new entry on my to do list…May be shorter than crossing Siberia but seems defenitly worth!
Hey Alex, don’t quote me but I think it’s about 12 hours. Perfect for a nice overnight journey and saves a night of accommodation!
Oh Pai, this is one of my favorite places in Thailand. I remember the first time I was in SE Asia and people raved about Pai. When I finally visited, I immediately understood their enthusiasm… Monks in the early morning streets, lush mountain landscape and a chilled atmosphere. It’s magical.
I think everyone who goes falls under its spell! It was definitely much much more crowded than last time I was there though. Secret is totally out.
Wow it’s beautiful there! I love that you ended up in the same bungalow… it can feel like going home again, especially in a place you love!
I know! And I didn’t request it either, just a really fun coincidence 🙂
Yup, there really is something about Pai! Tony & I showed up there intending to ride the Mae Hong Son loop on motorbike and anticipating we would hate Pai only to find ourselves STILL there a week later and reluctant to leave. 🙂 (Oh, and we never did that loop… some day!) I dream of returning and spending a month (or more!) there again some day. I know some people hate Pai, and I get that it’s not a typical Thai town, but how someone could hate somewhere so cheerful and adorable, I do not know!
I dream of doing that loop someday too! However after doing tiny portions of it from both cities I have to admit I don’t think I’m a brave enough driver to tackle the whole thing… yet. One day 🙂
I’ve heard such great things about Pai, we almost replaced Chiang Mai for it when we were there and didn’t. Next time, for sure, I will choose Pai. I miss Thailand, hoping to get back there sometime soon! 🙂
Pai would be my pick, out of the two 🙂
Aw man! Now I’m really sad that we never made it to Pai! I keep hearing that it is a relaxing paradise. Fantastic photos. Glad you enjoyed.
It is a great place to recharge mid trip. Even if you are going wild with the nightlife and the activities, it just has a relaxing vibe!
Pai was my favorite place in Thailand. Came planning to spend a couple days and ended up there for a week. I had to drag myself away or I think I would’ve never left. Loved the laid back atmosphere and the food. Not only was there amazing Western options, but I had my favorite iteration of Massaman curry there.
Ooooh, massaman is my favorite! Do you remember the name of the place? If so I’m totally adding it to my list for next time!
That. Looks. INSANELY GORGEOUS!
(that’s all I have to say about this post.)
Ha ha, and that is more than enough 🙂
I would like your life, please.
COME WITH ME. (Or we could just trade sometimes. I wouldn’t mind having a hot hubby and a sprawling Victorian to boot.)
Oh gosh, those photos do look straight for a fairytale! Absolutely stunning. I love all the wild flowers growing.
This looks like the perfect retreat from your crazy days in Bangkok! The street art is BEAUTIFUL, too.
It really was a great spot to detox. Which is almost always needed after a few days in Bangkok 🙂
Ah, Pai. It is most definitely a magical place. I went there on a recommendation from a friend who said it was her absolute favorite place in the world. I was a little skeptical but after spending an entire week there I was in love. I have the same dream of renting an apartment there 🙂 I loved the street food there too. So random, but there was a little burrito stand that served such great burritos I still dream about them 🙂
After Koh Tao, it is definitely my favorite place in Thailand! (Followed closely by Bangkok, and Railay, and Lopburi, and… okay, I like a lot of places in Thailand.)
I stayed at Breeze of Pai last time I visited and totally loved the place! Good to see Edible Jazz is still there too 🙂
Aw, isn’t Breeze of Pai the best? I’m going to regret blogging about it if I ever go there now and it’s full, ha. (Just kidding. I don’t really think I have that much of an influence on Pai’s vacancy scale.) I can’t imagine staying somewhere else now!
OMG. That looks like fairy-tale land. Didn’t even consider to visit a but this looks like my kind of place! It’s pretty and has such a romantic girly feel to it. Pastel colours and all. Love your photos!!
It is super feminine! I mean, lots of guys there too of course, but I do think the whole town is pretty romantic, as you said 🙂
Wow, this place looks adorably mystical! Wishing I could pack my bags and catch a flight there right now. One day soon, hopefully. 🙂
I am counting down to my own return too, Emily! It’s simply magnetic there!
I am also an ocean lover but I agree that rivers are pretty special too – I lived on a houseboat on a river for a year in London. Pai looks stunning and a great spot to relax 🙂
Ah, a houseboat sounds like a dream. I’d love to rent one someday!
Everyone talks and suggests to visit Pai but no-one posts pictures 🙂 After reading your post I’m sure we’ll take a bus to Pai soon. Greetings from Chiang Mai, this city rocks too!
I’ll be posting about Chiang Mai next, Sari! Thanks for the kind words!
I think you might have just single-handedly added Pai to my list of places to visit in Thailand. I’ll be visiting in the next few months
That’s what I like to hear, Rebekah! Let me know if you love it… but how could you not? 🙂
I definitely regret not making it up to Pai when I was in Thailand last year. Everyone seems to love it, and it certainly does look like a great place to chill out and relax.
Next time, for sure!
Maybe after TBEX Asia? 😉
I love reading about all of your Thailand adventures. The country seems so magical and diverse. I’m glad you had a great trip.
It really is. From big cities to beaches to the highlands, Thailand might not have it all… but it does have a lot.
Can’t believe of all the time i spent in Thailand i never made it to Pai! Looks like a dreamy little vacation spot xo
Ha I have spent so much time in Thailand now that I just get embarrassed when I haven’t been somewhere that most people get to within two weeks — and there are quite a few (Phuket and Phi Phi come to mind!). Oh well, there’s always time in the future.
On my next visit to Thailand, I’ll make sure to make time for this Pai-radise! 🙂
You won’t regret it! Four days didn’t feel like enough.
I really liked the culture of Pai. The pics are really awesome. 🙂
Thanks Peter! It is an incredibly unique little place.
I never stayed at Breeze of Pai but it looks so charming! We always ended up in this place way up on the hill, about a 10-min walk from town whose name I can’t remember at the moment. We loved the views but I almost wish we’d stayed somewhere closer to the river at least once. Love that little hippie town so much!
It was definitely nice being a five minute flop from the riverbanks… we be lazy. I almost always want to stay right in the heart of things. Otherwise I know myself too well… I’ll never leave the room! Ha.
Sweet as Pai! I cannot wait to take trip here upon my move to Thailand. The laid back riverside hip vibes seem like the perfect getaway for clearing your mind and vibing out. Heartstrings a’tuggin at the thought. You’ve done so right by Pai with these photos, but what’s new?
🙂 You’re the best Kristen!
The more I hear about Pai the more I can’t wait to visit. Looking forward to reading your next posts on there!
Coming up first thing tomorrow 🙂
Honestly Alex, you are our “wanderland”. I always enjoyed reading posts from you on Thailand, especially KOH TAO ones. You do your thing, girl. Thanks, you let me escape into a holiday with your blog 🙂
You are so very welcome, Julia! Here’s too many more posts from sunny places!
I love Pai – the food, the laid-back atmosphere, the cheap accomodation. I could totally rent an apartment there for a whole month too, it would be so relaxing.
One of these days, I SWEAR I’m going to do it 🙂 One of these days…
One of my absolute favourite posts so far… 🙂
Aw, thanks Carla! You’ve been a loyal reader, so that means a lot! 🙂
LOVE the sound of any market where you can get original, one of a kind stuff!
Looks an interesting place indeed.
Sadly they are rare! My favorites are this one and the night market in Luang Prabang.
Pai is also good memories for me! But it made me lazy. I was always thinking, I’ll go on that jungle hike tomorrow or rent the scooter to visit the waterfall tomorrow and ended up just relaxing. But I don’t regret it! 🙂
Nice article with lovely pictures. Thank you!
Ha, it’s definitely an easy place to get stuck. Which is why I will budget much more time there next time around!
After looking at your blogs post of Pai, my friends and I have plans to visit it when we are in Northern Thailand next month! 🙂 Except that it seems like there is quite a bit of transport to do, how would you recommend to Pai from Chiang Mai? I am aware that there are public buses as well as mini vans that can be booked beforehand.
I’m really looking forward to visiting Pai!!
P.s. I spent hours scrolling through your blog because the photos are great
Hey Chermin, I have always taken minibuses. Even when I took a public bus between Mae Hong Son and Pai, it was a minibus too. I know there is an airport near Pai with flights from Chiang Mai, but I have never looked into it. Best of luck!
This looks amazing! What time of the year were you there? Trying to figure out the best time to visit Northern Thailand…
Hey Ashlee, I’ve been in both March and in October and loved it both times. Check Travelfish.org for more info on Thailand weather 🙂
Wow! I’m so glad that I stumbled upon this. It’s a friend’s wedding in Jan, so naturally being the lazy sod that I am, I’ve only just started planning! I’ve calculated that I realistically only have 4 days (post travel time) left, so Pai over Chang Mai I think!!
Alex, I know you were there for the relaxing side of it, but would you know what the night life was like?
I’d definitely choose Pai over Chiang Mai. You may want to look into the flight from Chiang Mai to shave off some travel hours if you’re only there for a brief trip. The nightlife is actually better than you’d think! I love the laid-back rasta bars, and there’s a decent amount of live music. You’ll have a blast!
This is so wanky it’s painful. Pretentious wannabe hippies visiting the least hippy place on Earth.
I could never be a real hippie — my hair would not look good in dreadlocks. Bummer!
Pai is such a beautiful place! I am dying to revisit, and I was planning to make my way back out there this year. But I had to cancel the trip 🙁
Hoping Thailand will be open for travel soon!