The road from Chiang Mai winds its way through scintillating landscapes and thick forest until the view unfolds into a broad valley. In the middle, encircled by handsome, high ridges, sits Pai. Over the last 25 years this small mountain village has transformed itself into one of Northern Thailand’s most popular destinations. These days, with its organic eateries and reggae bars Pai could be considered a travellers’ oasis. Even hip young city dwellers from Bangkok are slowly catching onto the area’s beauty, facilities, hot springs and diversity – Lisu, Karen, Shan, Red Lahu, Kuomintang-Chinese are all represented. But in January 2008 Pai’s idyllic charms were somewhat shattered by the shooting of two, young Canadian backpackers by a drunk, off-duty Thai policeman.
However, Pai’s tourist trade appears robust enough to survive such events. There’s excellent trekking, superb rafting, a plethora of places to get massaged and pummelled, some great food and the town still manages to retain a sense of charm. The range of accommodation is also huge – everything from boutique spa resorts through to cheap and nasty huts populated with wasted travellers. All this makes Pai seductive to the visitor who likes to consume their experience rather create it. Don’t come here thinking you’re going to get an authentic slice of Thai life. This is a generic, contrived Khaosan Road-style experience, though, admittedly, in very pleasant surroundings. Helping to cement Pai’s growing status, an airstrip has opened just to the north of town with a couple of flights a day linking Pai with Chiang Mai.
There are two markets in town – the talaat sot (fresh market) on Rangsiyanon Road and the talaat saeng thong araam on Khetkelang Road. The finest monastery in town is Thai Yai-style Wat Klang near the bus station. There’s another monastery, Wat Phrathat Mae Yen, about 1.5 km east of town, on a hill. Head a further 3 km east and you’ll arrive at Pai’s famous hot springs. The sulphurous water bubbles up through a systems of streams – bring a towel and jump in. There’s also a campsite here.
Lisu, Shan, Red Lahu and Kuomintang-Chinese villages are all in the vicinity. Most guesthouses provide rough maps detailing hilltribe villages, hot springs, caves, waterfalls and other sights. For activities such as rafting, elephant safaris, cookery and aromatherapy classes ....
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