The hidden gem of Thai culture...
Pai is a name of a tiny town in the north of Thailand that you should not see in the same context with classical Thai tourist attractions like Phuket or Pattaya. In fact, it’s different to the whole of the Thai experience you get elsewhere. Yet, it’s so worth visiting, if not more so, because of this! Words don’t cut it nor would pictures probably (though do have a look at the photo gallery), but Pai’s atmosphere invariably keeps every visitor speechless from the moment they take the two hour ride in the mountains (take some Dramamine with you if you get car sick!) with its breath-taking views of flourishing northern Thai nature, right up until the heart-breaking moment of departure back home.
Many people, when describing this place, will mention the lovely personalities of locals (the same personalities that made people fall in love with Thailand ages ago), or amazing fresh food, or authentic northern culture. But really Pai has another subtle quality, and to my mind the most important thing about it, a quality that benefits both your heart and mind. You see, when you’re in a town with population of less than three thousand, you are basically surrounded with more trees than people. In this ravine between high mountains where you can hear your own heartbeat, your brain starts functioning in a completely different way, focusing on things you would probably only think of the last time when you went hiking with school or with parents back when you were a kid. With its strong alternative community, it’s also unlike anywhere else in this part of the world. All kinds of fashionistas, urbanistas and other groups of Bangkok come to Pai for the breath of fresh air and chilled atmosphere. And they all leave with completely renewed minds too.
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But it’s not only the fresh air and astounding nature that makes this town so special. Pai is also a very culturally interesting phenomenon that emerged near the border with Myanmar and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. It comprises influences of both countries in a way that the colours and tastes that they bring in make the overall impression of Pai completely stand out from other Thai experiences; it is an absolutely unique gem of Thai culture. It is most likely that you won’t see such a quaint combination of bright colours and laid back vibes that is inherent to the overall local mood anywhere else in the world in fact. And the blend of strong smells and gentle tastes of northern Thai street food and traditional slow food makes Pai a new destination for foodies as well.
If you're lucky enough to go on New Year's Eve, prepare for a firework and lantern show like no other. Buy your own fireworks and lanterns and have a blast, literally (we nearly set fire to a firwork shop so be careful!). Or just hit the town for some dinner and drinks at the various choices available. Stay at a homestay, rent your own apartment or get a hotel or guesthouse, there's lots to choose from and all for cheaper than in the rest of Thailand. We stayed at a few places, all really nice, with their own charm; PuraVida was our favourite, Baan Kungkang De Pai was really kitsch and Cozy Pai, was really lovely, quaint and quiet.
Walk, breathe, hike, try new foods and lifestyles in Pai, or just chill; and make sure you get to see the fantastic hot springs and canyons. Once you visit, after coming back home you will never forget that there’s this little hidden paradise out there far in the mountain forests with incredible nature and sincerely friendly people.
Pai photos: Click on the arrows to scroll, or on the image for a larger version (in a pop-up)
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