Nestled in a mountainous valley in rural Maehongson province, Pai is a small village of around 12,000 people – if you count the surrounding villages. The region was originally settled as a base for raising elephants, and waypoint to the capital city, Maehongson. Pai began to eclipse the capital city as a destination for foreigners in the early aughts. A popular Thai film in 2006 caused a massive surge in Thai visitors. A few years later, a Chinese movie filmed in Chiang Mai and Pai drew throngs of tourists from that country.
What is Pai known for?
Most people these days hear about Pai as a tourist destination. In fact, it is the premier holiday spot of Maehongson province, drawing lots of visitors seeking unforgettable nature, outdoor adventures, and a “shanty” kind of atmosphere. There is also a growing contingent attracted to late-night partying, but that is not the focus at Ing Doi (enjoy as you like, but please let others enjoy the sounds of nature at night).
Yes, there are great activities here, like hiking, rafting, cooking classes, elephant and nature camps, and much more! But local Thais will inform you of Pai’s original and enduring claim to fame: garlic. The official Pai city poem features the fragrant bulb. The famous Pai garlic is small and pungent. It’s usually prepared by simply smashing it and adding it to a dish just like that. We sometimes do this to make the best garlic bread we’ve ever had.
Pai is well known as a center of art. Artists are attracted to settle here for the aesthetic beauty, low cost of living, and easy, free flowing feeling, along with the comradery of fellow creatives.
Besides a reputation for being uber-chill and inexpensive, Pai is known for providing some relief from Thailand’s often stifling heat, being several degrees cooler (on average! your mileage may vary).
What to do in Pai
As we mentioned, there are many activities. If you stay here at Ing doi and Yawning Fields, you are able to walk directly out of your bungalow to start a nature trek that culminates in a waterfall, should you persevere for the full three hours to reach the spot(The Mae Yen Waterfall).
Motorbike (scooter) rental. Please don’t blame us if you get a booboo, but this is actually our number one recommendation for most people who are able to drive a scooter. Automatic or manual scooters are available for incredibly low rates. As little as 100 baht a day. Please watch out for loose gravel, and avoid getting a “Thai tattoo” from the hot exhaust pipe!
Rafting is another option. There are several reputable and safety conscious outfits offering trips.
Trekking. Again, there are several companies, we are happy to recommend some for you.
Eating!! Yes! This is our favorite! Although it is probably necessary to maintain ongoing biological processes, that is NOT why we do it! Pai has some great eats, from the superb fusion cuisine of Ohm Garden, to the more standard Thai fare at Na Kitchen. Vegans can check out Ganita cafe, near the Pai highschool, Street Vegan on walking street by Wat Pa Kam, or the popular and creative Earthtone cafe. One of the oldest and highest rated pizza places, Amidos, is across from the Pai Highschool. There is also a well-regarded night market, which has a wide variety of Thai and other ethnic foods, and averages a very favorable p/t ratio (price to tasty). You can walk to the night market from Ing Doi, if you don’t mind the 800 meter stroll.
Cooking courses. If you get tired of only eating, and would like to try your hand at actually cooking, Pai has some top-notch cooking courses available. Ask us if you’d like a recommendation.
Landsplit. It’s about 10 kilometers from the center, in the direction of the Pam Bok waterfall. Just a chill spot with a hole in the ground and nice roselle juice and other treats.
Waterfalls. Pam Bok is the best that’s easy to get to. Mor Paeng is also good, a little more touristed.
Chinese Village. Also known as Santichon Village, it was settled in the 1950s by KMT who fled the revolution. It’s interesting for the unique architecture, horses, and landscape that is reminiscent of Yunnan. If there is a drawback, it’s the commercial atmosphere of the place. Good for Chinese tea and Manto biscuits.
Maehongson Loop. It’s not really in Pai, but it could be the adventure of a lifetime, driving, riding, or even cycling this gorgeously rugged and rolling landscape. Budget a minimum of four days to complete the circuit.
Canyon. It’s so full of tourists that we hesitate to recommend it. But the flocks of tourists here are no fools – the sunsets here are magical. Protip: Go in the morning for fewer peeps and a good canyon hike.
This is just a quick sampler; there are heaps more places to go and things to do. Feel free to ask us!