Thailand's North


Global Mark : 15.78    Top Ten : No2

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


4 4 1 3 4 3 5 5 5 15.11

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 95% (19) 95% (19) 100% (20) 10 to 18 16.45

Description : 
A small backpacker town full of... backpackers !

Comments : The main reason to come here is to relax and explore the countryside

What to do ? As you will be reminded every meter or so, agencies are offering treks around the area, in particular to Mae Hong Son (cheaper this way) / Whitewater Rafting is another idea in season (June or July to end of January) for 1300 one day or 1600 two with Adventure Rafting ( ) / Yes, massage, cooking lessons, meditations or Ancient Healings retreats (3 days massaging, meditating & heating herbal food for 2800, ) are also on offer here / But you could also rent a bike (40 per day opposite bus stop) or a motorbike and forget it all in the great surroundings (waterfalls, Wat, hot springs, villages) / Climb the hill for a panoramic view and a Wat 

What you may not like ? Seeing nearly more westerners than Thai / Seeing nearly more signs for guesthouses or services than trees on the main streets / Having to fight for a seat on the bus during HS / Being pressed by tribes people, sometimes very young, to buy drugs / 

How long ? It really depends what you like to do as you could spend weeks here...

Where to stay ? Guesthouses at every corner and river curve. All offer HW outside.

- A bit outside town :

bulletSun Hut, 28/1 Mae Yen Rd, a new charming place 15mn from bus stop, pass the bridge on the east part of town / Clean Bungalow 110 or 220 w. shower plus one on a tree ! / Fruits trees, small river,... a great setting !
bulletFruit Garden (053 699125), 52 Moon 2 Ban Hua Na, 1km from bus stop, turn right and follow the road to the countryside, passing by the hospital, free pick up from restaurant Own Home (turn right, then left, then left after market / Bungalows from 50 to 100 (w. shower) / Managed by a young English guy, this place offers great surroundings (small river & fruits garden : longan, papaya, lemon, banana,... for free in season) and entertaining facilities (books, games, pool table, volley ball and probably more to come) at very reasonable price / What you may not like : being well outside town, having to arrive early as it fills up fast

- In the north-east (left from bus stop) : 5mn walk

bulletRiver Corner Guesthouse, go down until the end of the road / Bungalows 150, in particular two isolated next to the river / Great location and huge open space.
bulletWee Hut, turn left in front of the Wat with green roof / Bungalows at 30 (no doors !), 40, 60(1) or 90(2) / It is not the best setting around but it is acceptable and it is the cheapest offer in town ! 
bulletBern's Bungalow, continue and cross the bamboo bridge / Basic Bungalows 100 / Go there for the nice location well inside the fields but it is not so clean nor dirt cheap...
bulletGolden Hut, just before the above on the left before the bridge / Rooms 80(1) or 100(2), Bungalows 120 or 250 w. shower / HW / Go there for the nice location by the river but the rooms lack charm and it could be noisy in the morning, compliment of the roosters...

- In central town : 

bulletDuang Guest House (053 699581), 5 Rungsiyanon Rd, just opposite the bus stop / Dorm 50 (5), Sgl 60, Dbl 120-130, 200 w. shower / Free Chinese tea & map / Correct rooms in the back, a bit off the street. Cheap also. 
bulletCharlie's House (053 699039), 9 Rungsiyanon, 5mn from bus stop, take right then left after the bank / Dorm 50(5), Room 60(1) or 100(2), "Sweet House" w. shower 200 / Correct basic rooms and acceptable atmosphere.

- Around second east-west road : 10mn walk 

bulletPai Guesthouse, from bus stop, take right, then left, opposite the school / Rooms w. shower 80 (1) or 100 (2) / Clean nice rooms but next to the road and small garden
bulletOrchid House, just before the bridge / Correct bungalow w. shower 150 / A nice little garden full of charm and flower.
Holiday Guesthouse & Pai River Guesthouse, next to each other, to the school and to the river / Bungalows 80(1) or 100 (2) / HW / Acceptable location but a slight feeling of abandon
bulletBaan Nam Pai Guesthouse, small road between the two east-west street, at the level of the above / Small bungalows 80(1) or 100(2), bigger bungalows 100(1) or 150(2) / HW / Nice charming garden & clean environment, managed by a Japanese guy. A good choice.

Where to eat ? For great noodle soup at 15, go to the nondescript restaurant next to the first Wat, just left of bus stop. For dinner, as there is no good night market, Nick's Kitchen on the second east-west street, opposite the school, offers good food at reasonable prices.

Trekking ? Difficult to recommend any (ask other backpackers) but we found one with an interesting concept : no elephant nor raft but walk into uncommercialized villages and unspoiled forest and the promise to get 50% off the price (B1200 for 3 days) if you see other trekkers. Permchai's Trekking, 101/2 Ratsadondamrong Rd, opposite the school.

Backpacker's Tips : Andrew Curtis, New Zealand (Oct 08)
« The word is well and truly out about Pai, still a great place to relax, seemed to be full of 18-19 year old GAP students, so great for a drink, but prices are up and the sellers are in town. Still great place to hire a moped or bike and escape… the roads around there are all great and so don’t be shy, get out there into it!!! Mama’s Yoga is an interesting place, pretty relaxed introduction to yoga if you want it at a good price. Don’t expect miracles though.» 

Backpacker's Tips : Phil Mines, UK (Fev 05)
« Very bibbly bobbly town, reiki, bumps and other kinds of magic. Plenty of cheap accommodation: suggest turn left out of bus station until you bump into signs at a large Wat directing you to accommodation near the river. The further south or east you go in this town the quieter. There is a pretty good curry shack on the far north south road. »

Backpacker's Tips : Sonja, Irish (July 04)
« Just been to Pai, and it is a great place. Really good to relax in. Theres a new hostel called the good life where you become friends with all the staff. Also you can get a bus direct to Chiang Rai for THB350 on the 5th,10th, 15th, 20th,25th of every month. Oh and there putting in asecond atm machine just opposite the bus station. »

Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker, Australia (April 03)  
Don't see what the attraction is to Pai, apart from if you want to do Reiki, Yoga, massage, cooking courses. Found it one of the most over-priced and over-hyped places I've ever been to. Stayed at bungalow at Riverside GH on opposite side of river for 100B. Can rent a bike for 70THB or a motorbike for 150THB. If heading to Chiang Mai on the early bus, you need to be there by 8 to get a seat, otherwise you'll be standing, or waiting for the 10.30 bus (unless you charter a taxi songthaew). More great views and journey to Ban Mae Malai took 3 hours and cost 47THB (to Chiang Mai cost 60THB and 4 hours).
Bus to Fang also cost 47THB and takes 2.5 hours from Ban Mae Malai - if you get off there, you'll be assailed by a Mr Sing or his brother-in-law Mr Ping to take a motorbike up to a Karen? refugee camp and to Mae Fang NP Hot Springs. The hot springs are great (you can buy eggs to cook in one of them), although the trip to the village is not appealing. Mr Sing/Ping hands out sweets to the villagers and feels like a zoo - at 420THB, I'd save money for a more responsible guide. 
Bus from Fang to Tha Ton costs 10THB and takes 30 minutes. Couldn't find Thip Travellers GH, so stayed at pleasant Garden Hotel for 200THB in an en-suite bungalow with fan (try not to stay in #1 near the entrance). Tha Ton residents not so friendly, although they have to live with numerous luxury hotels surrounding them so can understand why they're not so approachable. River trip to Chiang Rai leaves at 12.30 and takes 4 hours - cost is 250THB and pleasant trip (although bring wet weather gear as it hailed on us today!) Songthaew to Chan GH in town cost 10THB and friendly hotel costs 70THB for single room and fan.

Backpacker's Tips : Dustin Salveson, USA (July 01)
« When I was in Pai, I was specifically interested in finding a guide with the following qualities:
1) A guide who speaks English: this is important for obvious reasons (assuming you speak English)
2) A guide who is a member of the local hill tribes. I felt that a guide, who is himself a member of one of the local hill tribe villages, could offer more insight into cultural issues, local customs, and language translation (each village has its own distinct language and dialect, all of which our guide was able to speak)
3) A guide who is conscious of environmental issues. It is important to me to find guides that are cognizant of environmental issues including everything from hauling out trash that we packed in (wrappers, cans, etc) to recycling the bamboo from the river rafts when possible. 
4) A guide who can custom tailor a tour to what I am specifically interested in experiencing. I specifically wanted to see as many different hill tribes as possible (in this area: Lisu, Lahu, Karen, Chan), ride an elephant, and go river rafting. A guide who is accommodating is very important.

After much research (internet, guide books, walking around Pai and asking questions), I came across a guide named Pat who I believed would fulfill all of the aforementioned requirements. My research proved to pay off. Pat was more than willing to accommodate any special requests we had (elephant ride/no elephant ride, river rafting/no river rafting, this village not that village, 3 days not 2, etc.). Pat proved to be very environmentally conscious - he even makes sure his clients dispose of trash properly. Pat is a member of the Chan tribe, a local village we actually did not get a chance to visit (but Pat offered to take us to his home village, free of charge, after we returned from the trek - but only because he liked us so much :)... and Pat's English was very respectable.

In summary, our trek consisted of 3 days and 2 nights. We visited the Lisu, Lahu, and Karen villages. We stayed with local families who Pat was friends with - they were all very accommodating and Pat got many laughs from the children who gave us quizzical stares after offering them balloons we had brought. We rode an elephant, although they are terribly uncomfortable, and we skipped the rafting since the river was extremely low at that time. We ate well (Pat is an INCREDIBLE cook) and slept in the huts with the hill tribe families. Total price tag? An impressively unimpressive $32 for everything (food, water, transport).

What is most impressive, however, is Pat's hospitality and knowledge of the region and people. Pat spent extra time with us during the trek and after to answer our questions and give us a truly unique experience - you get a sense that this is not just a job for him but something he really enjoys. The only reason I take the effort to write about this experience is that I believe people should be aware of what to look for in a tour/trekking guide. There's often no reason to go with large, expensive, non-local tour outfits - the best guides are often right under your nose, without the special frills, glitz, and glamour (just my opinion, for what it's worth). Pat can be reached at Duang's Guesthouse. Pat's email address is:

Backpacker's Tips : Eric, Ireland (April 01)
« I had the chance to learn Thai cooking at Tamarind Thai Cooking Course for a week. It was wonderful! and so delicious! There was not too many Thai cooking students, as in big towns like Chiangmai. I paid only 500 bahts for 4 types of dishes. If you have a chance to travel to Pai, you should not miss this course. It's one of my great experience at Pai.»

Bus Schedules :

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Sappong 25 fan/ac 1.5 8:30,11,12,16 4 na
Mae Hong Son 48/70 fan/ac 3.5 8:30,11,12,16 4 na
Chiang Mai 51/71 fan/ac 4 8:30,11,12,14,16 5 na

The trip to Chiang Mai : SSS / L&R / B51 / 4 hrs & 3rd class, in theory 
As the first bus depart from Pai, wake up early ! Indeed, it was full half an hour before departure (8:30) and it was not the high season yet... A few westerners therefore stood up during the trip, soon joined by locals picked up on the way. The scenery was really nice on the first part, that is before the half an hour break, which was soon to be followed by an indefinite break up of the bus. Little by little, everybody hitched their way to Chiang Mai, really no problem in helpful Thailand. Our driver drove us in lightning speed to about 2km north of the Chang Pheuak Bus Station (No1), from where I took a songthaew to the guesthouses area (B10). Arrival time : 2pm.

See also the trip from Sappong / Tham Lod


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