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What is it about Pai, the tiny Thai mountain town, that makes it so hard to leave? I fell for Pai in a way that I didn’t think it was possible to love a place without an ocean — I found myself fantasizing about renting a little bungalow for a month and holing up in this landlocked paradise.

Mostly, what I loved about Pai was intangible — the bohemian atmosphere, the laid-back feel, the artistic community. But what else did I love about Pai? Let me could the ways…

1. Amazing Accommodation

I checked out several different bungalows in Pai, and I was mega impressed by the value in what is a fairly touristy town. For 400 baht a night (about $13.50), we scored a riverside bungalow with a massive wrap around porch, and a massive king sized bed. For an 800 baht splurge (about $27) at Breeze of Pai we had ourselves a darling A-frame with tile floors and unlimited free bananas — score!

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

2. Crazy Characters

The people watching in Pai was top notch. Outside of the Vespa Market in Bangkok, I’ve never seen so many painfully hip Thais in one place — they could just as easily be walking the streets of Brooklyn or Berlin. And then there were the characters. I’m a pretty reluctant street photographer — I don’t like to take photos of people without their permission and am usually too shy to ask, but this bamboo tea warrior was basically asking for it.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

3. Top Notch Eateries

After just a few days in Pai, I felt like a regular at my new favorite snacking spots. Witching Well made a bell pepper pasta that I thought was going to make my mouth explode (in a good way), Boomalicious made organic fresh breakfasts that would make an localganic vegan weep with happiness, and this one street cart lady made banana nutella waffles that made me rethink my path in life. I. Was. So. Happy.

Oh and um, I totally ate some Thai food too. I swear.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

4. Fun Ways to Move

When you aren’t stuffing your face in Pai, there are some interesting ways to distract yourself. The local Muay Thai gym had a fantastic head trainer and a great community of fighters from around the world — after just one session, we were invited to a poker game at the ring and out for drinks with the crew.

Also on the activities menu? A swimming pool called Fluid, lots of yoga, and, in case you were hoping to learn to juggle on your trip to Thailand, a circus school. Seriously.

Pai, Thailand

5. Bohemian Boutiques

Let me start with the caveat that I am not much of a shopper any longer — any purchase means another thing I have to carry around the world, plus less baht in my wallet. But even I was having a hard time resisting the charming shops and stands that lined the main street at night. On the outskirts, laid-back local artists would lay out beautiful prints and sculptures. It was very special and unique to be able to buy a piece of original art and have a chat with the creator.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

6. A Sense of Whimsy

From pink VW bugs tearing down the road to anonymous art on the sides of the street, Pai has a sense of undeniable whimsy about it.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

7. Getting Out!

The most popular activity in Pai is actually renting a motorbike and getting out of town! You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about my two-wheel adventure, but think waterfalls, hot springs and more.

Pai By Motobike

Have you ever been to Pai? Did you love it as much as I did?

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46 Comments...
  • Sam
    March 18 2013

    Oh my gawd I am literally sitting at my desk in my uni tutorial nearly in tears over the fact that I spent a year in Thailand and never went to Pai. Like my throat is closing up and I’m feeling all hot. Near to crying. This looks amazing argh I have no words. If you are still there now I hate you ! But love you at the same time for letting me feel like I’m there. xx
    Sam recently posted..Coconut + Raspberry Cream Scones

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Sam your comments always tend to leave me laughing out loud. Ha. Yes Pai is fantastic, actually one of my only regrets of this trip is not having more time to spend there. Let’s go back!

  • Jena
    March 18 2013

    Alex so glad to see you fell in love with Pai as much as I did! I got stuck there for over a month last fall and returned again in January before I headed back to the states. It became my Thai home much like Koh Tao became yours. So happy to see this post and recognize the wonderful sights. Also so awesome to hear about the Muay Thai Gym there! I have been thinking about trying it and your blog posts have motivated me to do so this fall when I return to Pai. Also who was teaching the yoga at Fluid? When I was there the wonderful teacher Sunisa had left.

    Your blog is fantastic by the way! It has kept me focused and in wanderlust as I work over the next few months to jet back to Thailand and beyond.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Jena

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Jena, so fun to hear from another Pai-lover! I’m jealous of the time you spent there 🙂 Unfortunately there was no one teaching yoga when I got there, I did stop in to ask! And thank you so much for your kind words, love hearing from you!

  • Alana - Paper Planes
    March 18 2013

    I’ve always loved my quick trips to Pai but recently have heard from more and more people who ‘hated’ it because of all the tourists (which I always cringe at as an excuse, because, um…you’re a tourist too…).

    I still think that even though it’s definitely on the radar now and many people visit, it’s still been able to retain it’s charm and you can find your own little piece of paradise hidden away! Now I want to go back after reading this…
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> Moment of: Vietnamese Floating Entrepreneuers >

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Ha, I SO feel your pet peeve there… I mean, I do get it in a way, but places are crowded for a reason! And I didn’t find it any more “touristy” than Chiang Mai. Ugh, I loved it so much.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    March 18 2013

    Pai looks like so much fun, but not in an aggressive, in-your-face kind of way. I think you nailed it perfectly when you said it has a sense of whimsy to it, as that was certainly what I thought from looking at your pictures. I haven’t heard much about this place, but it looks like a nice, chill place to spend a few days when we pass through Northern Thailand. Love that accommodation was so cheap (found it nearly impossible to get nice bungalows for less than 700THB while on the Andaman Coast).
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Dumaguete: The Most Charming City in the Philippines?

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      I totally agree… Railay was the most expensive place in Thailand I’ve ever been! By the end of the week I was thrilled to throw down 1,000 baht for a bungalow that wasn’t rotting out the bottom. Crazy how perspective changes quickly 🙂

  • Shaun
    March 18 2013

    The activities in Pai sounds amazing! Especially the Muay Thai gym!

    How long of a ride from Bangkok?

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      It’s a 3-4 hour windy ride from Chiang Mai, which is about a 12 hour train or bus from Bangkok. Worth the journey! 🙂

  • Rachel ZC
    March 18 2013

    I’m so upset we didn’t make it 🙁 we were seriously running out of days 🙁 but we took your advice on Asia Scenic cooking school and spent the last night at Aloft in Bangkok. Your blog is awesome 🙂 xxxx

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Thanks Rachel! I’m so glad you did Asia Scenic… did you love it? And the Aloft, ah I love that place. Hope both suggestions did you well!

      • Rachel Zammit Cutajar
        March 20 2013

        We did 🙂 Loved the food market we went to before the cooking started and kept going back there every day for one meal or another 🙂 The place was awesome too! Will definitely check out your blog for recommendations for the next trip whenever that will be 🙂 Hope your travels bring you to Malta some day so we can catch up again xxx

  • Simon
    March 18 2013

    I agree with all this, but what about the street food? I found they had different flavours and smells coming from all over. Super tasty stuff.
    Simon recently posted..5 Bеѕt World Travel Exhibitions

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Don’t banana nutella waffles count as street food? 😉

  • Kat
    March 18 2013

    Hi Alex, I was wondering if you’ve thought about adding previous/next post buttons to your blog layout at all? I miss a couple of posts every so often and it’d be awesome to be able to access the next post directly from the current one.

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Kat, I really need to! I used to have it in my old theme but it didn’t come with this one. I miss it too though… I’ll talk to my developer 🙂

  • Annie of TravelShus
    March 18 2013

    I LOVE this town. one of the few places in the world that just seemed to fit with me. perhaps its the hippie connection hehe.

    also, did you stay at Breezes? those rooms looks familiar. loved that place!
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..A Snowstorm in Fort Greene

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      I think the place we stayed on the river was called Breezes… what a bad blogger that I can’t say for sure, ha! I agree, Pai just felt right to me.

  • Dani
    March 18 2013

    I can’t believe we never made it there when we visited Northern Thailand last year. Next time we’re in South East Asia, we’ll go there for sure. In fact, after reading this post, I am tempted to hop on the next flight to Thailand 🙂
    Dani recently posted..Interview with housesitting experts Nicole and Michael from Suitcasestories.com

    • Alex
      March 18 2013

      Ha, I know how you feel… writing this post definitely had be plotting my return. I think you would love it!

  • Anne
    March 19 2013

    You’re here in PH already?! WOW! Wish I could meet you. What are your plans?

    • Alex
      March 19 2013

      Hi Anne! I’m currently en route to Donsol, where I hope to swim with whale sharks and manta rays! Then I’m planning to hit Malapascua and possibly Bohol before I fly out. Time is moving so fast! Unfortunately I’m not sure if I’ll be back in Manila (that’s where you are, right?) except to spend a night sleeping at Clark airport before my flight :/

  • Magic Travel Andrew
    March 21 2013

    Ahhh, Pai. My wife and I have been there a few times. It’s certainly a quirky little place. If you’re confident on a motorcycle or scooter it’s a great ride from Chiang Mai.

    We’re in Singpore right now, which is great, but now you’ve made me home sick for Thailand 🙁
    Magic Travel Andrew recently posted..Bicycle Tour of Bali

    • Magic Travel Andrew
      March 21 2013

      And I’m pretty sure I know someone in your photos. Is the young woman selling stuff at the street market named Gaelle?
      Magic Travel Andrew recently posted..Bicycle Tour of Bali

      • Alex
        March 24 2013

        I’m not sure Andrew! If I made it back I will ask her 🙂

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      I was really, really excited about riding there from Chiang Mai — but I’m actually quite glad I didn’t. I loved renting a bike while we were there, but all those turns would have made that journey more stressful than enjoyable for me 🙂

  • James Shannon
    March 21 2013

    Pai is incredible … I always make a point to go there whenever I’m in Thailand.

    Pai is the Thai version of Portlandia, and I love it!
    James Shannon recently posted..The Filipino’s Secret Beach Getaway: White Beach Near Puerto Galera, Philippines

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      My next trip to Thailand will without question feature a month in Pai! Love love love this place.

  • John
    March 22 2013

    One reason to hate it: Thousands of stupid backpackers tubing style

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      Hey John, I actually didn’t see barely anyone tubing in Pai! Maybe on or two people floating down the river, but it was super low key. Are you thinking of Vang Vieng?

  • Enon
    March 22 2013

    I discovered Pia from an offhanded reference by a fellow American in Bangkok. We sat at a shared table, discussed our travels, and she mentioned having recently returned. I was intending to visit the Andamen coast, but changed my mind at the last minute, taking the 762 curves to Pai from Chiang Mai. Man, did I feel low on that first day — alone and so far removed from the ocean — but after a quick pop out to the main street (The Wishing Well especially) I was in LOVE. It was the perfect mix of posh civility and genuine human interaction. The people were amazingly warm, and it was the only place in Thailand I 1) was able to enter a shop without being bullied or hounded into a purchase and 2) saw Thais freely mixing with European friends (in large numbers). Wonderful town.

    • Alex
      March 24 2013

      I totally agree on your second point! I really loved that in the bars it was such a great mix of locals and visitors, rather than simply Thais behind the bar and Westerners in front of it. It was one of my favorite things about the place, can’t believe I forgot to include it here.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    April 2 2013

    That looks like my type of place. Just returned from Kathmandu which is also very bohemian and I loved it!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Everest Base Camp chronicles

    • Alex
      April 3 2013

      Oooh! I don’t know much about it but something about Kathmandu sounds very exotic 🙂 Will have to add it to my list!

  • Bunny
    January 25 2014

    I really enjoyed my recent trip to Pai. I noticed that your article left out the Bebop Bar in Pai, where everyone and their mother go on Saturday nights. Great music and fantastic roadhouse atmosphere.

    • Alex
      January 26 2014

      The nightlife is definitely a fun part of the package in Pai 🙂

  • Jherson Jaya
    June 27 2014

    Hi!

    You got an awesome post here! Im visiting Pai next month. I would like to ask, is there a bus from Pai to Bangkok?

    • Alex
      June 28 2014

      Hi Jherson! I don’t think there is a direct bus, but I could be wrong. I believe you’d have to change buses in Chiang Mai. Personally, I’d take a bus to Chiang Mai and then get on the train. Much nicer! Good luck!

  • Joe
    October 8 2014

    I love going to Pai as well, especially the night market and biking through the valley. If you go back and want a peaceful rest or enjoy fishing right from your balcony you should give http://www.paifarm.com a visit. A fisherman’s paradise to catch giant fish!

    • Alex
      October 8 2014

      I’m not much of a fisherwoman, but I have heard great things about the place 🙂 Pai is magical!

  • Olivia
    November 7 2014

    Awww! This post made me happy! I spent a short amount of time in Pai and fell in love! Sleepy little town that comes alive at night. I can’t wait to go back!

    • Alex
      November 7 2014

      I am dying to spend more time there! It really is a special place…

  • Helen
    December 1 2014

    oooo can’t wait, it looks incredible. We missed Pai first time round too, but there’s been so many good reviews of the little town that we’re finding a way to squeeze it in our schedule. Your post has really made me look forward to doing some gooooood shopping there. cannot wait!

    • Alex
      December 1 2014

      I picked up some new art on my most recent trip back too… which will be covered here on the blog soon! What a lovely trip it was!

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