Nov 20-22, 2022
Pai is a small town of about 2,200 people in Northern Thailand. Once situated in the “Golden Triangle” of opium production, its’ main focus has shifted to tourism over the past 20 or more years.
Pai is mostly known these days as a laid-back destination for backpackers and hippies. The town’s main street, known as the Pai Walking Street, is lined with bars and clubs, and each night comes alive with vendors selling food, drinks, and clothing. Mixed in, you’ll find shops and street vendors selling many varieties of weed. Much if not most of the crowd is straight out of a hippie scene: young, dreadlocks, peasant-style clothing, flip-flips or barefoot. Some truly look and fit the part. Others look like they just got off the plane or minibus (which they likely did) and are trying way too hard. If you’ve come to Thailand to experience the local cultures and the real people of Northern Thailand, this isn’t the place for you. Yes, there is still some authenticity here, but you have to look hard through the fog of Farangs to find it.
Pai in the daytime: mostly just another Northern Thailand town with a scooter problem, except about half the scooters here are being ridden by tourists.
A Yamaha 100cc streetbike. But in Pai it is re-labeled a “420” in a reference to the weed culture.
A bit hard to read but this is the menu outside The Alchemist, one of the boutique weed bars in town.
Neon in the window at Cheese Madness is similar to many of the wine bars and coffee shops.
Pai has become such a tourist attraction — not just for caucasian tourists but for Thai and other Asian people as well — that there are now more than 350 different places for tourists to stay in this small town, from a backpacker hostel at about $8 a night, to high end boutique hotels at hundreds of dollars a night.
I had read a couple of different times on the internet that Pai was a place that tourists “come for two days, and stay for two weeks”. On our first day here I would have disagreed with that, based on my anti-tourist preference for places I prefer to visit. But after a couple of days I started to see some of the positive aspects of Pai.
For one, it’s a mountain town, so the weather is a bit more pleasant, with cooler temperatures and less humidity. The locals seem to have adapted to the tourism industry and accepted the downsides that come with the economic upsides. Everyone we met (locals) were very friendly and welcoming, despite some of the less-than-friendly entitled farangs.
I love this permanent sign on the side of the road that says “Accident A Head”. I guess it’s cheaper than putting in a traffic light at the intersection. And besides, it’s typically just a bunch of foreign tourists on scooters crashing into each other anyway, so no great loss.
The streets are filled with tattoo parlors and massage parlors. Nearly all of the massage parlors here are legitimate Thai-style massage therapists. But since the town’s clientele are mostly entitled white tourists, the masseuses sadly have to put signs up that say “No Special. Only real massage”. Sad.
Tonight we walked the Pai Walking Street night market, and ate dinner in a “food crawl” through several street vendors. Here’s what we had for dinner:
6 Gyoza dumplings, assorted (2 pork, 2 shrimp, and 2 vegetable)
2 skewers of vegetables; one with duck and one with chicken
4 spring rolls; 2 pork and 2 vegetable
6 pieces of sushi
1 grilled cheese sandwich of feta and mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and black olives
Total price: 285 baht, or about $7.90
The night market is several blocks long.
We bought duck and chicken skewers from this street food vendor for 20 baht a skewer (about 55 cents).
A sign on the walking street advertising the Pai Enduro. Looks interesting.
Our accommodation was fantastic. It looked like what I would expect a small village of bungalows in Tahiti or Bali to be like, without the beautiful water of course.
Super comfortable bungalow with a bed and hammock on the front porch for relaxing.
This cat came and hung out with us at breakfast.
I’m not going to be negative about Pai, but I am going to state my opinion. And it is just that: my opinion. Everyone has their own, and should experience these places in their own way. All in all, we enjoyed Pai, and would return, but similar to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I felt a bit guilty at the destruction of local culture that the hippies have forced on this village, and that’s really not our way of traveling. We don’t want or intend to change the landscape, and Pai has definitely been changed. I guess it’s up to the locals to decide if it is for better or worse.