The Sights of Pai

Pai is filled with places to create wonderful memories and places to take beautiful photographs. I have decided to share with you a few of my favorite places for you to explore.

In order to visit these places and to get around Pai your best bet is to rent a scooter. Scooters in Southeast Asia are its life’s blood. Everyone has a scooter. They are usually the Honda Click or the Honda Wave, though there are other brand names and 110cc to 125cc being the average size.

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Honda Wave photo credit honda

I have seen kids as young as 10 to adults in their 70’s and 80’s all using scooters as transportation in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. I have seen families of three people being common and up to four even five on one scooter with babies in the arms of their parents.

I have seen them with a couple of objects in the basket to loads of rice, corn and firewood to four or 5 mattresses balanced on the back of the scooter. The locals are master of loading these scooters to haul their every need.

The cost of a rental in Pai is around 90 – 100 baht per day which is close to $3US. If you have never driven a motorcycle or a scooter there is no need to worry, they have fully automatic transmissions. The throttle or gas is with your right hand as well as the rarely used front brake. The left hand is used for the rear brake. Usually the person renting you the scooter will give you a short crash course, no pun intended, and you are off.

I cannot stress to you enough to be sure to drive VERY defensively. First if you are an American like I am in Thailand they drive on the “wrong side” of the road. But don’t worry it does not take long to get the hang of driving on the left hand side. Make sure to pay attention to everything going on around you, go slow and take your time and you will have no problem.

I also bought an International Drivers License from AAA before I left the states. After driving for the last four and a half months almost every day in Thailand I have never been stopped or asked by the police to see it. I also bought overseas travel insurance just in case.

Now that we have discussed how to get to Pai and I have given you a couple ideas of where to stay, where to eat and how to get around let’s talk about what to do.

As I was in Pai for 10 days I had a lot of time to explore and I was in no rush to see the area. One my first day I decided to go to a couple of the Buddhist shrines and temple and to the Wat Phra That Mae Yen also known as the White Buddha. It is located about two kilometers from town on a hillside.

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Wat Phra That Mae Yen… The White Buddha

The shrine faces west and sits on a large platform of red tiles and a climb of 353 steps it takes to reach the top. It has a spectacular view overlooking Pai Valley best to visit at sunset.

Nestled in one of the canyons outside of Pai is the Land Split. In 2008 a large earthquake shook the region and split the earth creating a crack 2 meters wide and a depth of 11 meters.

A hiking trail has been built ascending a small hill and weaving its way down to the bottom of the crack. Following the trail through the split with the earthen sides towering overhead the trail gently eases downhill and back to the entrance of the farm.

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Exploring the trail in Land Spilt

After your hike there is an area to purchase fresh fruit or a drink, vegetables or a salad grown on the farm to be enjoyed. Donations are gladly accepted as an entrance fee and for the food available and used to keep the site open and run the farm.

If you continue to follow the road through the canyon you will also come to a waterfall and further out encounter the Boon Koh Ku So translating into The Bridge of Merit but known to most as the Pai Bamboo Bridge.

The bridge is made entirely of bamboo slats and stretches over 1 kilometer winding through the rice paddies of a wide valley. At the beginning of the bridge there are a couple small cafes to have a drink or something to eat. Along the way there are places that you can stop and sit in covered structures that provide shade from the sun and enjoy the view.

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Boon Koh Ku… Pai Bamboo Bridge

I noticed that most of the people did not follow the bridge until it ended and that was a mistake on their part. At the end of the bridge is a Buddhist Temple that is not lavish but very peaceful and serene set on a hillside forest.

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Buddhist Monk at Boon Koh Hu Temple

I entered one the temples to find a Buddhist Monk in deep meditation. I watched him for some time, unmoving not even a blink. I sat and meditated in his presence for about thirty minutes before taking out my camera to photograph the surreal scene.

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Meditating Buddhist Monk

Later while wondering through the rest of the temple grounds one of the monks told me the monk in the temple mediating was one of the most revered Buddhist Monks in all of Thailand. I visited the temple a number of times during my stay in Pai. The distinguished monk was there every time I visited unwavering as if frozen in time.

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Buddhist Monk at Boon Koh Hu Temple

Another place I liked to visit was the Love Strawberry Pai hilltop café and fruit stand. Overlooking a valley and a small strawberry farm I would sit enjoying a plate of fresh strawberries recently harvested by a small group of workers in the field below.

As I sat on hillside bench relaxing set against the bright blue skies and white clouds were umbrellas hung overhead providing a splash of color and a dreamlike atmosphere.

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Strawberry Field at Love Strawberry Pai

There is also a small Chinatown outside of Pai known as the Santichon Village or the Chinese Yunan Cultural Village. It is not the typical Chinatown that comes to mind.

The village was settled by the Chinese people that fled the Mao Tse Tung revolution. It is a traditional conservative Yunan village much as it was first built. There are mud and clay buildings, stores and places to try traditional foods.

It has become a tourist destination as of late and you can rent traditional Chinese attire and have your picture taken, try your hand at archery, ride a donkey or take a ride on a large wooden swing.

When you leave the village and continue up the mountain taking a steep dirt and rocky road you will reach the Yun Lai Viewpoint located about 5 kilometers outside of Pai. You can enjoy a cup of tea while witnessing spectacular views of Pai Valley below and the lush green countryside.

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View of Pai Valley from the Yun Lai Viewpoint
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View of Pai Valley from the Yun Lai View Point

An interesting place to visit very close to town is the Karen Long Neck Village in Pai. I have mixed feeling about the Karen Tribe Village. It is absolutely a tourist attraction in Pai and not a full village. There is maybe a half dozen of the tribe women and girls sitting in stalls weaving or with goods to sell. There is a donation to enter the “village” and I also slipped a little extra to those that I photographed. On one hand it is a commercial endeavor, on the other hand it is a way for them to make money to support themselves, still I have mixed feeling.

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Village Girl at the Karen Longneck Village

Photographically speaking and one of the most crowded and most popular places you will visit in Pai is Kong Lan or Pai Canyon. Located about 8 kilometers outside of town it is very accessible even though once at the parking location there is a steep climb up earthen stairs to get to the viewpoint.

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Afternoon at Pai Canyon

Once there you are rewarded with the outstretched canyon and a number of trails and places to stake your claim and wait for the sunset. Though the view is beautiful any time of day the sunset is when the crowds are at their peak.

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Late Afternoon the same day at Pai Canyon

It is truly breathtaking was the sky changes from blues to orange and red and the sun sets behind the distant mountains. I visited Pai Canyon a more than once and every time it was sky transformed into a different scene of colors and hues.

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Another Day at Pai Canyon

If you are going with photography in mind, I would suggest arriving at least an hour, maybe earlier to look around and decided on which view and image you want to capture. If you wait until the last minute the space is crowded and limited for the best views.

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The Third Day at Pai Canyon

Pai is a wonderful place and I am sure you will enjoy your stay there and I hope you have enjoyed visiting Pai through my mind and my eyes.

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Working on images from my cabin at the Bueng Pai Farm (iphone photo)



Chiang Rai and Pai…. Part 1

Of all the places I have traveled to date in Thailand the small town of Pai is my favorite. It is located in a river valley high in the mountains of northwest Thailand.

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Mountain Top View of Pai Below…

Before I discuss Pai let’s talk about how to get there. I flew in from Bangkok, my jump off point that I talked about in a previous posting to Chiang Mai.

Many people love Chiang Mai which is a very large city in northwest Thailand and very easy to access. There is a very large expat community there as well. I really didn’t spend more than a couple days there arranging my travel needs and I also considered it a jump off point, this time to Pai.

I stayed at a wonderful place call the 3 Seasons Boutique Hotel for $31US per night. It is a small hotel with beautiful rooms, a small kitchen area and a great staff. It is very close to the airport and to the immigration offices as I had to extend my visa.

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3 Season Boutique Hotel – photo credit 3 Seasons

I went to a couple of the night markets and the bus terminal to catch my van to Pai, all not far from the hotel. I enjoyed staying at the 3 Seasons so much I booked them again for my return trip from Pai.

There are a few restaurants within walking distance of the hotel however I would suggest going to the Chiang Mai Night Market for something to eat and a bit of shopping. It is not as good as the Pai Walking Street, a bit touristy and expensive by comparison but worth experiencing. There are a couple different sections and the one I found I liked the food, prices were not too bad, and I was able to barter and got a great buy on a jacket.

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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court

In order to reach Pai the you have three alternatives, rent a scooter and drive 4 hours through the mountains or either catch the bus or a private van. I opted for the private van. In some blogs you are discouraged from taking the vans. They say they are driven by madmen and you are taking your life in your hands. I found the exact opposite.

I used the private company Prepracha Transport and could not have been happier. The trick is not to book online, which you certainly can do but you are not able to choose your exact seat until close to the date you are leaving so it is a gamble on where you will sit.

I was in Chiang Mai a couple days ahead of time I took a “Grab Taxl” which is my favorite way to get around the cities in Thailand, to the bus station and booked there. That way I was able to secure the front passenger seat and had plenty of room verses sit three across in the back rows. All seats were the same price of 150 bhat or $4.70US. When leaving Pai I went to the bus station there a few days ahead of time and again secured the front seat.

Pai was once known as the “hippie” community of Thailand. Even though it has become more of a tourist destination as of late and there is still a noticeable “hippie vibe” in Pai. There are numerous places to get a massage, to do yoga and schools and lessons available for both throughout the village.

I use the term “hippie” with some reservation, not that it is a bad thing I grew up in the 60’s. I’d been to the Panhandle and Haight Ashbury of San Francisco. I grew up in Laguna Beach during the days of The Brotherhood and Mystic Arts. I went The Happening all three days and nights with 25,000 other hippies that the Los Angeles Times called the “Woodstock of Laguna”. Years later I hung out with The Mamas and The Papas and Stephen Stills so I know what hippies are, I was a hippie. Okay so that is my rant on hippies, back to Pai.

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Pai also has a very robust restaurant scene for all you “foodies”. You can find everything from simple local dishes at a very reasonable prices to restaurants that would be considered more for the tourist crowd and where westerners would be more comfortable eating.

I myself from time to time I might indulge at one of the more upscale restaurants but for the most part I eat where the locals eat. I have done this all over the world from Baja, Mexico to Istanbul to Vietnam and now Thailand where I live when not working on a cruise ship. I love eating at food carts and food stands and I think most westerners are afraid to do so in fear of becoming a victim of Montezuma’s Revenge.

The trick is to eat where the locals eat. If you see a certain food cart or small mom and pop restaurant filled with locals, it’s safe to eat there. The lesson to be learned is avoid places that have nobody or only a person or two and head for the crowd.

To that end Pai also has the best and most diverse street food scene that I have been to in Thailand. Yes, Khao San Road in Bangkok and the night markets in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are good they do not compare to Pai in my opinion.

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Pai Walking Street at sunset getting ready for the nightly crowds

Every night the Pai Walking Street is lined with numerous food carts. You will find everything from sushi to pad thai, fresh mangos with sticky rice to fresh strawberries, chicken wraps and tacos to barbequed meat on a stick. It is all tastes great and very, very inexpensive. There are also a number of great little stores and stalls to shop in as well.

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Shop and the artist that hand painted a t-shirt that I bought for my brother… they are hanging overhead

My favorite place to eat was the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant which was surprisingly affordable. It is what I would consider upscale and sits right on the river. I ate there several times or just came to have a cocktail and enjoy the view. It is where I spent New Year’s Eve watching the tourist’s light fireworks and let go of flame lanterns as they floated off into the nights sky.

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Blue Lemonade Cocktail at the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant

Other favorites are the Duang Restaurant, Dang Thai Café, Krazy Kitchen Restaurant, Sugarcane Restaurant and the Earth Tones Café.

There is a  myriad of places in every budget range to stay in Pai. I usually like to stay away from the crowds and being in Pai for 10 days I stayed at two different locations.

The first was 10 kilometers out of town on a rice paddy near the river called the Kalm Pai Resort. There entire property has a wonderful view and a very relaxed atmosphere. The young couple that managed the resort were always very helpful. There was also a nice breakfast buffet that was included in the price which was $23US per night.

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Kalm Pai Resort about 100 yards from the river at sunset …
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Sunset over the rice paddies from my deck at the Kalm Pai Resort

I decided to a change of pace and stayed three nights at the Bueng Pai Farm about 5 kilometers out of town. It was twice as much at $42US per night but it was also well worth the price.

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Lake Front Cabins at the Bueng Pai Farm

My wood cabin sat literally right on a lake filled with fish, if you stepped off my deck as they say you were “swimming with the fishes”. You could also rent a rod and reel and try your luck, which I choose not to do. I did see my neighbor catch several very large fish. All of the cabins there were on the lake and had a wonderful view. The Bueng Pai Farm was very peaceful and you will not be disappointed.

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Sunset from my deck at the Bueng Pai Resort

Okay so now you now a little about Chiang Rai and how to get to Pai. You know where to stay and places to eat. In my next post Pai… Part 2 I will talk about where to go, what to see and where to photograph.

Enjoy… larry