Posted by: rob | August 20, 2007

Good Pai

We’ve just spent a couple of days in Pai (pronounced Bye), a valley town amongst the mountains near the Burma border and situated on the Mae Hong Son loop of road. Although it is only 100-ish kilometres from Chiang Mai it takes a few hours to reach by minibus. The town itself is as famous for the road to get there as anything else. On a 65km stretch there are 762 stomach churning curves, so the souvenir T-shirts say. It feels like more. The road continually snakes and hairpins up and down and around mountains without any straight sections. I spent half the trip with my face in a plastic bag though thankfully made it there without having to use it. Our minibus driver evidently takes it upon himself to set new records on his twice daily trip for he was taking the racing line the entire distance and he overtook every car we saw. Going around hairpin bends at 80km/hr is not fun. Kim says it was actually 100km/hr but I had my eyes closed at that point. When he finally hit a straight he took that little Toyota Hi-Ace up to 140km on the wrong side of the road. The return trip had us just as white knuckled.

The town itself has great character. While Chiang Mai has Starbucks, McDonalds, and Boots chemists, in Pai every restaurant has family cooked food, fresh fruit, and veggie options. We saw burka-wearing motocyclists, burger munching rastafarians, Japanese hippies, and spacey looking old guys. All the locals, apart from the Aya Service minibus workers, were very friendly. Kim managed to get stung by a small bee on the first day and the roadside pharmacy gave us the asian cure-all of Tiger Balm for relief, and of course the pain went away in a few minutes.

Pai is just a small town but there are hundreds of guest houses. We splurged on one of the most expensive at $40/night for a private bungalow but there are options down to just a dollar a night. Although our bungalow was in the middle of rice paddies (much like the field shown above) it had air-con, satellite TV, hot water, and was next to the best pool of our trip.

Once in Pai tourists generally go exploring on a rented motorbike ($3/day) or do an organised trek. We weren’t keen on an organised trek or organised anything so rented bicycles ($1/24hr) and headed off in search of Mae Yen Waterfall that the map said was a 7 km walk after a few km of cycling. I don’t know how far we walked but after 3 hours of hiking along a river we decided the safest thing to do was turn back for another 3 hours of hiking in order to return before dark or any potential afternoon rain. Slightly disappointing as we must have been very close to the waterfall which is supposed to fall 30m into a swimmable pool of water.

The trail to the waterfall criss-crossed a small river or stream that only ever went to knee depth. By the time we finished walking we’d crossed it 82 times! At the turning back point the trail had all but disappeared and the only option was to climb up metre high waterfalls. We weren’t doing that, but earlier five clambering Canadians had passed us and we assumed they went further than this. The only other non local we saw was a beanie wearing Japanese hippie carrying a rifle on his shoulder. From a distance I’d thought it was a guitar. We exchanged pleasantries, as one should when meeting a gunman in the woods, and continued on.

Pai was one of those places that you spent a couple of days and wish that you’d spent more. While Chiang Mai is interesting and relaxing, I recommend readers go further afield if you have the time.



  1. Maybe the Canadians were lost and thought they were in Niagara Falls!

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