Travel To PAI
It first appears that there’s not a lot to see in Pai (pronounced like the English word `bye’, not `pie’), a peaceful crossroads town about halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son on Rte 1095. But if you stick around a few days and talk to some of the locals, you may discover some beautiful spots in the surrounding hills.
Most of the town’s population are Shan and Thai, but there’s also a small but visible Muslim Chinese population. Attracted by easy living and a small live music scene, Pai
nowadays also features a sizeable collection of long-term visitors mostly farting and Japanese who use the town as a place to chill out between excursions elsewhere in Asia.
Northwest of town, a Shan village, a Lahu village and a Lisu village, a KMT village called Ban Santichon (San Ti Chuen in Yunnanese) and Nam Tok Mo Paeng can all be visited on foot. The Shan, Lisu and KMT villages lie within 4km of Pai, while the Lahu village is near Nam Tok Mo Paeng, which is another 4km farther from town
You can cut the hike in half by taking a Mae Hong Sonbound bus north about 5km and getting off at a signpost for the falls; from the highway it’s only 4km (about 2km beyond the Pai Mountain Lodge). A couple of pools at the base of the falls are suitable for swimming best just after the rainy season, October to early December.
Across the Mae Pai and 8km southeast of town via a paved road is Tha Pal Hot Springs (admission free; swimming or bathing 508), a well-kept local park 1km. from the road. A scenic stream runs through the park; the stream mixes with the hot springs in pduct’s to make pleasant bathing areas. ‘There my also small public bathing houses to which hot spring water is piped.
The Krung Thai Bank located on the eastern side of Th Rangsiyanon (the main road through town) has an ATM and foreign-exchange service.
Wat Phra That Mae Yen
This temple sits atop a hill and has good views overlooking the valley. Walk 1km east from the main intersection in town, across a stream and through a village, to get to the stairs (a decent climb – 353 steps) that lead to the top. Or take the 400m sealed road that follows a different route to the top.
Trekking, Rafting & Elephant Riding
Any of the guesthouses in town can provide information on local trekking and a few do guided treks for as little as 500B per day if there are no rafts or elephants involved. Among the more established local agencies are Back Trax ($ 0 5369 9739), Duang Trekking (see Duang Guest House in Places to Stay) and Northern Green ($ 0 5369 9385), all with prominent streetside offices on Th Chaisongkhram, in the centre of town.
Thai Adventure Rafting (TAR; n/fax 0 5369 9111; F firstname.lastname@example.org) leads excellent two-day, white-water Mae Pai rafting trips in sturdy rubber rafts from Pai to Mae Hong Son for 1800B per person including food, rafting equipment, camping gear, dry bags and insurance. Along the way rafters visit a waterfall, a fossil reef and hot springs; one night is spent at the company’s permanent riverside camp. The main rafting season is July to December; after that the trips aren’t normally run. TAR has offices in Pai (Th Rangsiyanon) and in Chiang Mai (Th Charoen Prathet).
Thom’s Pal Elephant Camp Tours (a/fax 0 5369 9286; ei thorns elephant_camp(rtyahoo .com; Th Ratdamrong) offersjtingle rides year-round at its camp southeast of Pai near the hot springs. It costs 30011 to 55013 per person (minimum of Iwo people) fora one- to three-hour ride that includes a visit to the hot springs. It also arnutges bamboo or rubber railing trips down the Mac Pai. Combination elephant trekking,/river rafting tours (1000B per person) include lunch and transport. Other cot ihinatiiii tours/treks are available, including ovemip,ht slays in hill-tribe villages.
Traditional Massage & Herbal Sauna
Pai Traditional Massage (A 1)53699121; Th Sukhapiban 1; open 4.30,un 8.30pm Mon-Fri,Â 8.30am-8.30pm Sat & Sun), in a house near the river, has very good northern-Thai massage for 150B an hour, 230B for 11 hours or 300B for two hours, as well as a sauna where you can steam yourself in samun phrai (medicinal herbs) for 60B per visit. The couple that do the massages are graduates of Chiang Mai’s Old Medicine Hospital. A three-day massage course is available for around 2000B. Massage and sauna services are available on weekends.
For those into rougher stuff, another place in town called Mr Jan’s Massage (Soi Wanchalerm 18) employs a harder Shan-Burmese massage technique.
Places to Stay
Abodaya Guest House & Restaurant ($ 0 5369 9041; Th Chaisongkhram; rooms 3508) occupies a sturdy brick house opposite Wat Klang. All rooms have private hot-water shower and there’s a restaurant situated on the 1st floor.
Charlie’s House ( 0 5369 9039; Th Rangsiyanon; dorm beds 608, singles/doubles without bath 60/1008, with bath 200/250B), two doors southwest of Krung Thai Bank, is clean and secure. There are dorm beds and rooms around a large courtyard with shared bathroom or with attached hot-water shower (plus 40B for a third person). Charlie’s is often full during the high season.
Duang Guest House (( 0 5369 9101, fax 0 5369 9581; Th Chaisongkhram; singles 6070B, doubles 120-1306, rooms with bath 2008, with TV & fridge 400B) has 26 rooms spread throughout a rambling complex of two-storey houses and row house. The rooms are basic but usually clean.
Along the Mae Pai in the eastern and northeastern part of town is a string of quiet bungalow operations. Pai River Lodge ( 0 1439 4490; singles/doubles 808, larger rooms 1008), south of Th Ratchadamnoen, has simple huts arranged in a large circle with a dining and lounge area on stilts in the middle. There are older A-frame huts and a couple of slightly larger nicer ones. Because of its quiet, scenic location it’s often full. Rates may be higher in peak season.
Baan Tawan Guest House (( 0 5369 81167; “ei email@example.com; singles & doubles 200-3008), on the river near Pai River Lodge, is a collection of five bungalows and a two-storey house containing eight rooms. All are constructed of old, salvaged teak, with a modicum of charm and river views.
Baan Nam Pai ( 0 1830 1161; ei baan firstname.lastname@example.org; 88 Mu 3, Wiang Tai; huts 80-200B) is a very friendly and well kept place that is usually quiet. All huts have shared shower and toilet facilities; price differences reflect the size of each hut. Eight new huts under construction at the time of writing will feature private facilities and cost more.
PP Orchid ($ 0 5369 9159; 80 Mu 3, Wiang Tai; singles/doubles 100/1508), close to the river, offers basic bungalows in a nicely landscaped area. Pai Guest House (Wiang Neua; singles/doubles 70/908, with bath 80/ 1008), near PP Orchid, has very basic rooms with thin mattresses on the floor.
Mr Jan’s Bungalows ($ 0 5369 9554; 501 Wanchaloem 18; rooms without bath 706, singles/doubles with bath 150/2008), part of Mr Jan’s Massage, is tucked away and features 10 simple bamboo huts set among a large herb garden and fruit trees. All guests have access to facilities where you can bathe with heated, herb-infused water.
Baan Pak Kunmun (Pohkamnam Guest House; $ 0 5369 9382; bungalows 806, rooms 120B), down the lane that’s opposite Wat Kiang, offers either bungalows or row-house rooms; all have shared bathroom.
Rim Pai Cottage ($ 0 5369 9133, 0 5323 5931; Th Chaisongkhram; rooms and bungalows 500-8008), close to the river, has clean, quiet A-frames with bathroom, electricity and mosquito nets; there are also overpriced rooms in a row house. One large bungalow is available by the river. The rates here in clude breakfast.
Golden Hut (-a 0 5369 9949; dorm beds/ doubles 50/1006, bungalows with shared hot-water bath 1208, singles/doubles/triples with bath 200/250/3008) is a well-landscaped place north of Rim Pai Cottage offering simple thatched huts on stilts lined up along the river, plus dorm beds and double rooms in a large bamboo-thatch building. Riverside (‘ 0 5369 9929; [ei the. riverside. guest email@example.com; 111/1 Mu 3, Wiang Tai; singles/doubles without bath 80/1208) can be reached by a path that continues from Golden Hut along the river. Simple thatched bungalows are close to the river.
Shan Guest House (a 0 5369 9162; bun-galows 2008), on the southern edge of town off Th Rangsiyanon, is quiet and well-run. Well-worn bungalows have private hot-water showers. A rickety dining and lounging pavilion sits on stilts in the middle of a large pond. Long-term discounts are available.
View Pai Hotel ( 0 5369 9174; rooms with fan/air-con 300/5008), farther south to wards Chiang Mai past the petrol station, is a rather plain, three-storey place with over priced rooms.
Mountain Blue Guest Cottages ($ 0 5369 9282; bungalows 508, single cottages 801008, double cottages 100-1506) is out towards the western end of Th Chaisongkhram near the hospital.
Out of Town Several guesthouses located across a bamboo slat bridge near Golden Hut closed due to flooding in 2002. At the time of writing they were rebuilding. If they re-open you’ll have a choice of four or five simple hut operations offering accommodation for 80B to 250B.
Pai Watershed Guest House (1 Mu 1, Ban Mae Yen; singles/doubles with shared shower & toilet 100/1506) is about half a kilometre beyond the bamboo bridge, where the trail begins to climb up to a ridge. Here you’ll find good views of the valley, plus quiet surroundings, which attract many long-term guests.
View Point Bungalows (Wiang Tai; singles/ doubles with shared shower & toilet 100/ 1506) nearby offers a good view of the northeast part of town and terraced rice fields.
Pairadise (‘ 0 9838 7521; a pairadise .firstname.lastname@example.org; 98 Mu 1, Ban Mae Yen; bungalows 3508), atop the ridge, offers a row of very nicely designed, spacious bungalows with private hot-water shower. Pairadise stands alongside a spring-fed pond suitable for swimming.
Suan Doi Resort (Mu 1, Ban Mae Yen; huts 250-3506), just beyond Pairadise towards Wiang Neua, is a collection of wooden A-frame bungalows in a nice, wooded setting alongside a stream.
La-Pa Nim, Tree House and Yoonaan Cottage are all farther north of Suan Doi Resort with simple huts in the IOOB to 30(114 range. None has a telephone. Yoonan Col tage can arrange Burmese meals.
Sipsongpanna Bungalow & Artist Home stay (Tel: 0 5321 6096, 0 1769 0142.Â E-mail : email@example.com; Â 60 Mu 5,Â Ban Juang, Â Wiang Neua; bungalows 150B), a couple of kilometres north of town in the village of Ban Wiang Neua, is a small but charming collection of wooden bungalows alongside the river with lots of deft little touches, such as private but separate toilet/ shower facil-ities for each. There are sitting areas sprin-kled throughout the compound, along with a vegetarian cafe and art studio. Thai vege-tarian cooking lessons are available.
Across the Mae Pai southeast of town are a number of places to stay along the road that leads to the hot springs, not far from Wat Phra That Mae Yen. Most offer simple thatched-roof huts for about 50B to 100B. Farmer Home ($ 0 5369 9378; 79 Mu 1, Ban Mae Yen; bungalows 50-200B), about 600m east of the river on a hillock, is a nice, friendly spot with a variety of huts.
Sun Hut ($ 0 5369 9730, 0 1960 6519; 28/1 Ban Mae Yen; singles/doubles without bath 100/120B, rooms with bath 120-200B) is the best of the bunch; it has nicely spaced bamboo huts, plus one tree house, with shared bathroom. There are nicer units with private shower. The turn-off for Sun Hut comes right before a bridge over a stream, about 200m before the entrance to Wat Phra That Mae Yen.
Farther down this road are a couple of small resorts that take advantage of the local hot springs by piping the mineral-rich water into the facilities. Spa Exotic Home (( 0 5369 9035, 0 5369 9145, fax 0 5369 9462; Ban Mae Hi; tent sites 1008, single/twin bungalows 500/700B) features comfortable wooden bungalows with private hot-water shower and one or two large beds. You can get a 40% discount front May to August. You can also pitch a tent on Ilic propi’rly. On the well-landscaped premiscs are a nicely de-signed set of outdoor hot tubs for the use of guests and a restaurant serving good Thai and Western food.
Thapai Spa Camping
(in Chiang Mai , Tel: 053 218 583, fax: 053-219610, Ban Mae Hi,cottages 600-800 B) near Spa Exotic Home, oilers 15 wood and stone collages with natural, hot,Â mineral-water showers. There’s also an outdoor Â hot-waterÂ pool. Visitors may use the mineral bathsÂ here Â for 50B without staying Â overnight. Tent camping is available for 400B for two persons.
Pal Mountain Lodge (Tel: 053-699-068, Ban Mo Paeng, bungalows 500-600B, VIP bungalows 1000B
is 7km northwest of Pai near Nam Tok Mo Paeng and several hill-tribe villages. Well-maintained spacious A-frames with hot-water showers and stone fireplaces sleep four and are good value. In town you can book a room or arrange transport at 89 Th Chaisongkhram, near Northern Green.
Michel Bungalows (Tel: 0 1951 4337; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Ban Rong Yaeng; row house rooms with hot water & fan 250B, bungalows 400B) is about 6km outside Pai on the road to Chiang Mai and features a big pool with a stone filtration system. The bungalows are down a dirt lane about 200m off the main road. Rooms are discounted 50B if you stay more than one night.
Places to Eat
Nong Bia Restaurant (Tel: Â 0 5369 9103; Th Chaisongkhram; Â dishes 20-506; open 8am-10pm daily), the most reliable and one of the oldest eateries in town, serves a good variety of inexpensive Thai and Chinese standards, as well as khao sawy.
Hut Ing Pai (Th Chaisongkhram; dishes 2560B; open 7am-10pm daily), directly opposite Nong Bia, serves good jok (broken-rice congee) in the mornings and standard Thai fare the rest of the day.
Somtam Na Amphoe (dishes 10-25B; open 8am-5pm daily), opposite the District Office, makes the best som tam in Pai, as well as other tam (pounded) salad-like dishes using green beans, cucumber and other vegies, along with fresh charcoal-grilled chicken.
Thai Yai (Tel: 0 5369 9093; Th Rangsiyanon; dishes 30-60B; open 7.30am-10pm Mon-Sat, 7.30am-noon Sun) continues to provide the most dependable Thai farang menu in town, whether your tastes run from fresh-baked wholegrain bread to kuaytiaw raat naa (rice noodles with vegetables and gravy). This place is also a popular meeting point for breakfast as only the municipal market opens earlier.
Edible Jazz (dishes 25-75B; open 2pm11pm daily) is a relatively new spot on the lane leading to Golden Huts, near Wat Pa Kham. The menu’s Thai and farang, and the laid-back, cushions-on-the-floor atmosphere make it a good spot for a late lunch or leisurely dinner. Jazz CDs play in the background, and occasionally the Thai owner plays improvisational acoustic guitar.
Pai boasts a small live-music scene. Bebop Cafe (Th Rangsiyanon; open 6pm-lam daily) is designed to look like a Shan-Yunnanese shophouse on the outside, and decorated with Asian hippie gear inside. The house band and occasional visiting bands play blues, R&B and rock nightly (starting at around 9.30pm).
Edible Jazz (see Places to Eat earlier) hosts occasional live acoustic music.
Getting There & Away
Buses (60B ordinary, 84B air-con) depart Chiang Mai’s Arcade bus station at 8.30am and IIam and noon, 2pm and 4prn daily. The distance is only 134km but the trip takes about three hours due to the steep and winding road. From Mae Hong Son there are also five buses a day with the same de-parture times as the buses from Chiang Mai. This winding, l I lkm stretch takes three to four hours (53B, 74B). In the other direction, buses depart Pai for Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son at 8.30am and 10.30am and noon, 2pm and 4pm. Buses from Pai to Soppong cost 30B ordinary, 35B air-con.
Most of Pai is accessible on foot. For local excursions you can rent bicycles or motor-cycles at several locations around town. A place next door to Duang Guest House rents out bicycles for 50B per day (80B for newer bikes). Motorcycles can be rented at MS Motorcycle Rent, just south of Thom Pai Elephant Camp Tours office 100cc bike Â cost 150B per 24 hours, larger bikes cost 200B. Motorcycle taxis can be hired from the taxi stand at the bus stop. Typical fares are 25B to Ban Nam Hu and Ban Wiang Neua, 35B to Nam Hu Lisaw and Nam Hu Jin, and 45B to Tha Pat.
Pai can be used as a base for excursions to hill-tribe villages, as described earlier in the Pai section. Farther afield, the area northeast of Pai has so far been little explored. A net-work of unpaved roads some little more than footpaths skirts a mountain ridge and the Mae Taeng valley all the way to the Myanmar border near Wiang Haeng and Ban Piang Haeng, passing several villages along the way. Near Ban Piang Luang is a Shan temple built by Khun Sa, the opium warlord.
This area can also be visited by road from Chiang Dao in Chiang Mai Province.