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Oh Pai … deep sigh and long pause… where I do even begin?

Many of you have probably never heard of Pai, a small town of 3,000 people located 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. It isn’t exactly a ‘must-see’ spot on the Lonely Planet’s list of places in Thailand, nor is it known for big sights and attractions. In fact, when you ask me what there is to do in Pai, my answer will most likely be “NOTHING!”

I first heard about Pai in my hostel in Chiang Mai, when a group of us were hanging out in the common room exchanging travel stories and chatting about our next destinations. “It’s an awesome place with beautiful scenery, you should go” – someone said. I was about 2 weeks into my adventure. And despite having big plans for the remainder of my trip (like going to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam all in the short 3-4 weeks I had left in SEA), I thought that I could easily fit a little 1-2 day detour to Pai.

So a few days later, I hopped inside a minivan and embarked on a 762 turn 4 hour nauseating ride journey to Pai. They should really give you a medal for just getting to Pai! Route 1095, which connects Pai and Chiang Mai (135kms), is a very scenic route through the mountains, but it has been known to cause some serious motion sickness issues for a lot of travelers.

Road to Pai. About half way through the 762 turn journey

Road to Pai. About half way through the 762 turn journey. Note the curvy road sign ahead.

Back in Chiang Mai, I was told that I absolutely have to stay in the most amazing place in town called Spicy Pai. This hostel was so popular that beds in their dorm rooms were selling out days in advance! Luckily, a few of my new friends from the hostel in Chiang Mai reserved me a bed and I was “in” for just $3 a night!

Within a few minutes of arriving in Spicy Pai I was smitten… and not only by the adorable kittens that were roaming around the common areas, but by the incredible views and the most amazing set up of this hostel.

I was smitten by this kitten

One of the 4 Spicy Pai kittens roaming around the main areas

Spicy Pai bamboo huts

Spicy Pai bamboo huts

Beautiful dusk at Spicy Pai

Beautiful dusk at Spicy Pai

Morning views. Blue skies and green rice paddies = heaven!

Morning views. Blue skies and green rice paddies = heaven!

Each bamboo hut, set in amidst the lush greenery of rice paddy fields, was a dorm room with 4-10 beds, and the common room was setup inside an open air bamboo hut.

The common room was by far the best part of Spicy Pai Hostel. This room held so many memories, so many laughs, and was a place where many friendships were born. In the morning, it was a place to gather up some friends to join you on an adventure ahead, during the day, it was a place to chill out in a hammock, read a book, or catch up on emails, and in the evening it became the heart and soul of our stay in Pai. Here, adventures were planned, stories were exchanged, laughs were heard, and life-long memories were made over a game of King’s Cup.

This is where the magic happened. Common room at Spicy Pai... a.k.a. Hotel California?

This is where the magic happened. Common room at Spicy Pai… a.k.a. Hotel California

After my first night at Spicy Pai, I chucked my SEA itinerary in the garbage, threw my hands up in the air and said:

“Forget the itinerary! I’d like to extend my stay for another week, please”

A sentence that was followed by loud cheering and clapping from my new friends, who soon become known as the Spicy Pai family. I just didn’t want to leave…  In that moment, on that day, Pai was the happiest place on earth!

My shirt may say "I love Bangkok", but in that moment I was in love with Pai

My shirt may say “I love Bangkok”, but in that moment I was in love with Pai

In Search of Waterfalls in Pai

The next week was a bit of a blur. It felt like the entire hostel was hanging out together. We rented motorbikes and took our time exploring the country side, getting into all sorts of trouble, and of course, checking out Pai’s biggest attractions – the waterfalls.

Spicy Pai biker gang ready to explore the country side

Spicy Pai biker gang one our way to explore the countryside

Mhor Pang Waterfall

First, wast the Mhor Pang Waterfall, located about 8 km out of town.  Set in a lush green forest it offered fantastic views and, for the brave ones, a great water slide straight into the freezing cold pools!

Mhor Pang Waterfall, Pai

Mhor Pang Waterfall, Pai

Views from the Mhor Pang Waterfall

Views from the Mhor Pang Waterfall

Nature made water slide!

Nature made water slide!

Pam Bok Waterfall

The following day we were off to discover, the Pam Bok waterfall.  Surrounded by high cliffs, this waterfall offered a a great place to cool down on a hot day. The water here was a bit murky and the bottom was covered in slippery rocks, but it was worth the trek out there!

Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

Fast rapids at the Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

Fast rapids at the Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

Pam Bok Waterfall, Pai

But it wasn’t just the waterfalls and the amazing people I met in Pai that landed it a spot on my top 5 favourite places around the world.

Exploring Pai’s Beautiful Country Side

Pai’s beautiful country side provides everything you need for those that love to explore. You can get on a motorbike and explore many of its hidden gems: from rice and corn plantations, to pleasant old-fashioned little villages and roads where you might just come across some of its local residents…

Beautiful country side in Pai

Exploring the country side outside of Pai

Lush greenery views in Pai

Lush green views in Pai

Riding through the fields outside of Pai

Riding through the fields outside of Pai

Beautiful views of Pai country side

Beautiful views of Pai country side

An amazing encounter with elephants in the middle of Pai countryside

An amazing encounter with elephants in the middle of Pai countryside

Trekking in Pai

Pai is known to be one of the best trekking locations in Thailand. It’s a starting point for treks that push further North allowing you to see the real life of Thailand’s remote hill tribe villages. We hired a guide and set off on a 2 day adventure through rice paddies and bamboo forests, spending some time in remote villages of Northern Thailand.

Our brilliant guide, leading us through the bamboo forest

Our brilliant guide, leading us through the bamboo forest

A village in the North of Pai

A remote village in Northern Thailand

Hiking through the rice paddies on our way to remote villages North of Pai

Hiking through the rice paddies on our way to remote villages north of Pai

Doing Nothing in Pai

Playing in waterfalls, hiking and adenturing on a motorbike are all great ways to spend your days in Pai, but in my opinion, the best thing about Pai is that this town makes it perfectly OK to spend your days doing absolutely NOTHING!  You can hide away in a tea house, like the Good Life: Herb and Health Restaurant, and spend your day drinking tea with a good book in hand.  You can check out one of Pai’s many yoga classes,  or just spend your days eating, drinking, or simply hanging out with fellow backpackers at one of Pai’s many restaurants and bars.

Good Life: Herb and Health Restaurant in Pai

Good Life: Herb and Health Restaurant in Pai

A streetside restaurant in Pai

A streetside restaurant in Pai

Bamboo Bar and Restaurant a place to catch up with friends and exchange stories

Bamboo Bar and Restaurant a great place to make new friends and exchange travel stories with other backpackers and locals.

It’s easy to get “stuck” in Pai and to completely fall in love with its laid back atmosphere and its friendly residents, a mix of locals and expats. Pai is a place that relaxes you, that refreshes your mind and really gives you some time to think, to reflect, and to take it all in.

Pai is one of the most beautiful places I have been to in Thailand. Its unique mix of local culture, breathtaking views, and a great backpacking community is what continues to draw travelers to this rather off the beaten path village. It was hard to leave Pai, but eventually, most of us packed our bags, said good bye to Pai and continued our adventures in SEA.

Although, there were a few that never did…

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Pai is not known for big sights and attractions, but its beautiful surroundings and laid back atmosphere make it a place you won't forget.

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