Pai is beautiful. The drive to Pai is stunning, and the town is calm, laid-back and simple. I stayed slightly out of town in a private bungalow, where I couldn’t hear anything but birds and rain. From my balcony I watched squirrels running up and down the trees, and enjoyed living the peaceful life while recovering from COVID-19.
Once I was well enough to join society again, I wandered around to see what Pai had to offer. While there wasn’t much going on in the centre, the surrounding areas were another story. Crossing over the river running along the east side of town, it suddenly felt like I had been transported to the countryside. Rolling grassland extended as far as the eye could see, with the occasional house or guesthouse popping up along the dirt roads. I found a couple of chilled out cafes on the way, which apparently were no secret as other tourists had also flocked there. It was a welcome escape from the traffic and noise of the town (even though Pai is one of the quietest places I have visited in Thailand).
The White Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen), a couple of kilometres outside of town, gave me the best workout I had in Pai. Several hundred steps took me up to the base of the giant statue, where I was treated to cloudy views over town while buckets of sweat poured down my face. It was nothing spectacular, but I appreciated the exercise. Supposedly, the lookout is fantastic at sunset, but as this occurs about 7 p.m. in summer and the temple closes at 6 p.m., I couldn’t confirm if this was true.
Pai’s daily night market is a tourist highlight, but thankfully it was nothing like the packed crowds of Chiang Mai’s Walking Street. There were roughly 30 stalls spread out along a short stretch of road, with plenty of space to move about and not feel like you’ll be stuck in there forever. It was interesting enough to eat there for a couple of nights, but there were many other restaurants around town to satisfy my Thai food cravings.
On my last day in Pai, I had hoped to hike to Mae Yen Waterfall, a 16 km return trek from town. Unfortunately, I was still feeling the effects of COVID-19, and undertaking a long hike in the oppressive summer heat was not going to be possible. However, I was well enough to hire a scooter for the day, and I set out with the aim of cramming in as much as I could.
First stop was the I Love U Pai Cafe, located on a hill on busy highway. Every tour group stops here for tourists to take photos of the surrounding landscape. From the carpark, all I could see were the tops of mountains sticking up over a line of nearby trees. I wasn’t blown away. After I left, I realised the outlook was probably a lot better from the top level of the cafe. It didn’t matter, as later in the day I found another viewpoint further along the highway, with much more impressive views.
Pam Bok Waterfall was reached via a picturesque drive along narrow country lanes. I arrived late morning and it was practically empty. The attendant tried to sell me an entry ticket for more than I was willing to pay, but after a quick negotiation she said she would drop the price by half if I didn’t go to the hot springs. I had no idea there were hot springs here and I had no intention of visiting them.
The walk commenced in a lush forest alongside a fast-flowing brown river. A few minutes later I reached the end of the path, where I was presented with a view of a bunch of rocks. I could hear the waterfall and see its spray, but the actual drop eluded me. It seemed that the only way to observe the full beauty of the falls was to swim over to them, which I was not in a position to do (having no swimwear with me). I returned the way I came, disappointed.
Just up the road from the waterfall was the Bamboo Bridge (Boon Ko Ku So). The name says it all. It looked quite rickety in parts but seemed to hold up well as I cautiously made my way along the bamboo poles. Near the entrance was an outdoor cafe, where you could relax and admire the scenery. I don’t see how sitting around in the middle of a 30-something degree day with humidity off the charts could be relaxing, so I continued on. For almost a kilometre, the exposed bridge wound its way over green rice fields before ending at an understated temple. As I was not dressed appropriately according to Buddhist customs, I was not permitted to enter.
My last stop was Pai Canyon (Kong Lan), a natural attraction that is a major drawcard for everyone in the area. I had visited briefly when I passed through Pai five years ago, but I was keen to explore it further. It’s a fairly small canyon as far as canyons go, but there was no doubt that the scenery was spectacular. All around me the land just dropped away into nothingness, leaving precarious ridges to walk along. Being Thailand, there was no thought of installing safety barriers to prevent anyone from plummeting 30+ metres to their death.
Following the one and only trail, I made my way downhill to various viewpoints that faced back towards the main lookout. Apparently there was a circular trail I could have followed, but I wasn’t feeling overly energetic so I climbed back up after ten minutes or so.
I’ve read that the canyon is another site that is best visited at sunset. I wasn’t keen to hang around for hours on the off chance that a mesmerising sunset would unfold before me. Once I had taken my hundred or so obligatory photos, I set off back to Pai for one more stroll through the night market.