Asia Destinations

Why Pai is Secretly the Best Place in Thailand

Think of Thailand. You’ll likely conjure up images of tropical islands, beach huts, full-moon parties, temples, and the chaos of Khao San Road. What you might not imagine is mountains, canyons, and waterfalls. That’s because you haven’t been to Pai, one of Thailand’s better kept secrets.

Nestled in the mountains of the northwest, Pai is increasingly travelled in recent years but still off the beaten path, and especially popular with the alternative backpacker crowd. While Pai is surrounded by vertiginous scenery, its inner core is comprised of a network of laidback bars, restaurants and artisanal street markets. It’s the mountain version of a Thai Island, just with a little less party-party and a little more masala chai. Here’s why you should visit Pai, Thailand.

Hideouts & Hammocks

There is plenty in the way of typical Thailand tourism to be getting on with in Pai, but the charm of the city thrives in the places that are a little harder to find.

The Walking Street (the most touristic part of the city: think postcards and meat on sticks) is a joy to traverse and get lost in at night, but the hideouts down side-streets, at the backs of bars, through hidden doors and up secret staircases onto rooftop patios, are where you strike gold in this town.

I started out swinging on a hammock at the Edible Jazz, a stone’s throw from Pai River, drifting in and out of high-quality live local music. Then, as the nights went on, I migrated to smaller cafés and bars all over town, in even cosier and tucked-away settings. At one point I was reclined on a bean-bag on a bamboo platform, a multi-coloured light show beneath me and a canvas of stars above me. Pai is a town that rewards digging deeper. Once inside, you’ll feel about as isolated and safe from the rest of the world as can be.

Of course, spending your entire trip to the Mae Hong Son province – where Pai is located – drinking Singha beer and dozing would be something of a waste, so let’s look at what else is on offer in the way of activities and sightseeing.

Kong Lan Canyon

A beatiful sunset panorama with two hikers at Pai Canyon (Kong Lan), Maehongson, Northern Thailand

Sometimes referred to as Thailand’s Grand Canyon – admittedly, an immodest description – Kong Lan Canyon is a welcome way to walk away an afternoon. With beautiful sights and challenging hikes, this network of ridges and trails is certainly something hard to come by elsewhere in Thailand.

You can easily take a tour bus or motorbike from the main town to Kong Lan. Read on for more info on getting around Pai. The canyon views at sunset are popular, and with good cause, but a word of warning: there is little in the way of safety railing and maintenance, and some of the ridges can get quite crowded and narrow. Stay alert. The drops are sheer in places.

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