Pai is a small town situated at the foot of the mountains of Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand near the Myanmar border, 135kms northwest of Chiang Mai.
As you enter Pai the snaking mountain road slopes down to the valley and views are of rice paddies and fruit groves. Previously a little known destination Pai is now well and truly on the tourist trail and has experienced some transportation upgrades, mainly an airport with daily flights and a number of luxury resorts. Despite this the town still manages to keep hold of its peaceful traveler spirit. Mainly inhabited by Shan people, whose culture originate from Myanmar, it is a good base for trekking and visiting hill tribes like Karen, Hmong and Lisu.
It is a popular destination amongst backpackers due to its laid back mood and the town is full of cheap guesthouses and restaurants catering to both Western and Thai tastes.
One of the main attractions is Pai’s Wednesday Market, popular with the colourful crowds of local villagers and tribal people who arrive here from all over the valley. You will find natural and man-made hot springs in lush forest settings or take a trip to the elephant camps and take the opportunity to ride one of these magnificent animals. You can even ride an elephant bareback down the river, an experience not to be missed. Other natural attractions comprise of waterfalls and canyons set in stunning surroundings, especially during the rainy season. If you are looking for some adventure try out white water rafting on the Pai River, several of the rapids are awesome.
For those looking for a more peaceful experience on the river, bamboo rafting and tubing on a gentler stretch of the river are alternatives. Trekking adventures can be organized for a 2 or 3 day duration to the hill tribe villages of the Karen, Lahu and Lisu, or you can buy a local map and take yourself off for a hike to the nearby waterfalls and caves.
If you haven’t had your fill of temple sightseeing then visit Wat Klang, it has several small pagodas surrounding a central stupa. Other interesting wats are Wat Hodana and Wat Nam Hu, the latter is known for its Chiang Saen-era Buddha whose hollow head is filled with holy water. Pai is involved in organizing regular music festivals including the International Motor Cross Championship.
Pai is also a good place for a stopover on the popular Mae Hong Son loop. This 3 to 4 day excursion usually starts from Chiang Mai through the mountain countryside to Mae Hong Son and back via Doi Inthanon National Park. Along the way you can experience various beauty spots, such as Huay Nam Dang National Park, caves at Soppong and copious waterfalls.