I’d heard a lot about Pai, a small village in the mountains of Northern Thailand. It seemed most people shared the opinion that it was a village full of hippies and bohos, sitting around campfires, telling you to forget Bangkok, forget the beaches of the islands in the south, that this is ‘The Real Thailand’.
And to an extent that description is true. The beautiful mountain scenery is a world apart from island life, and it feels like the hustle and bustle of Bangkok is on another planet. I certainly sensed it was a more traditional Thai experience.
Pai is a small community of approx 2,000 residents, however at any one time that number could be doubled by the number of backpackers exploring this somewhat mythical place. I stayed in a busy hostel with giant dorm rooms – 24 people in mine – however we only had about 3 fans to share between us making for a hot and uncomfortable night sleep. But I guess that’s a small price to pay for meeting the people I did there.
Even though the village is small, it takes time to explore the village and take in all their is to offer – daily and nightly market stalls, street vendors and picturesque scenery alongside the river. But the real gems are hidden a bit further afield, tucked away along the winding mountain roads.
A group of us hired scooters and went out to explore, the first stop being a waterfall. There are two contrasting waterfalls in the area, one tucked away in a cave like cut out, and the other exposed in the sun with an incredible view down over the mountains, both giving a much needed refreshment from the heat.
There are many viewpoints to take in the whole panorama of the mountains, for me the best of these was the Pai canyon – small winding cliffs with sheer drops on either side – and a great place to watch the sunset. We also managed to get up to one of the viewpoints to see the valley lit up at night time with an array of lights spreading out to Pai in the distance.
Three days here was enough time to ‘see the sights’, but by no means enough to fully embrace the friendly, relaxed culture of this small community.