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.

Pai White Buddha
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.

Land Split
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)


Author: larry pannell

I started my career in photography as a professional photojournalist in 1979 at the time working with several newspapers and magazines in Southern California. What I loved most about photojournalism was its diversity and over my career I covered professional sports, concerts and travel. As life would have it mine took yet another turn and in 1988 I developed an interest in holistic medicine. I became a professional massage therapist specializing in sports medicine. In 1991 I decided to go to medical school and obtained a medical degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine and stared my career as a licensed acupuncture physician. After medical school I moved my practice to northern Idaho for a year before settling in the resort area of Sun Valley, Idaho. I’ve always been an outdoor person and hiking and backpacking the Rockies and fishing the pristine river waters and high altitude lakes offered me a wonderful photographic opportunity. In 2010 I left Sun Valley and I once again found myself on a cruise ship, this time working as an “Acupuncturist at Sea”. For the past seven years I have traveled to 85 countries, which has allowed me to photograph much of the world.

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