As you wander around the world famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar you are bound to spot several street vendors selling tee-shirts with the words “Pai 762” emblazoned across them, ever wondered what that short sentence relates to?.
“Pai 762” relates to the amount of curves in the road on the mountainous journey between Chiang Mai & the “magical” town of Pai, route 1095(the ONLY road that takes you there) starts just north of Mae Rim which lies a few kilometers north-west of Chiang Mai.
The distance between Chiang Mai & Pai is only approx 135kms (85miles), but because of the winding mountain road the road journey can take between 3 and 5 hours. Route 1095 is very scenic as it climbs up and down the mountains, but if you are prone to travel sickness you may not appreciate all the bends in the road.
The travel options for the journey are either Bus,Car or Flight, the car / bus journey can be arduous, but heh, you don’t want to miss out on all that fun by taking a 30 minute flight do you?.
Pai(pronounced “pie”) is just a small community, it lies on a natural plateau surrounded by rolling mountains and enveloped in a natural setting that is both fresh and extremely beautiful.
The air is clean & pure,the atmosphere is quiet, relaxing & warmly welcoming. The different Ethnic Groups ,religious beliefs and languages of the people of the plains and the people of the mountains have blended together here to form a unique set of cultural traditions.
Be warned, people have gone to Pai for “just a few days”, and not returned for several weeks, it holds a spell over many that visit it!!.
During the Tourist Season(November until May) the town becomes very busy as large numbers of tourists either pass through or use the town of Pai as a“Base” for both exploring the area as well as taking part in the endless tours & treks that originate from the town.
The “locals” of Pai live their lives with a great spirit of both generosity and a sense of community, always willing to give someone a helping hand. Yet at the same time, the remoteness of the region can make travel to and from Pai difficult at times.
The town itself is located 1,035kms north-west of Bangkok, and is approximately 500 meters above sea level. The highest point, Doi Jik Jong,is 1,972 meters and can be seen from Pai.Climbing this mountain makes a great days adventure where you can experience both tropical rain forests & virgin jungles!.
The town posseses a magical aura about it, I have only visited the town once, but I was captivated by it’s pace of life, friendliness & natural beauty, I visualise it as very similar to how Chiang Mai was maybe 20 years ago.
The History of Pai:
The origins of Pai are that of a remote outpost in northern Thailand populated by Shan immigrants from northern Burma(Myanmar)from the 13th century onwards.
These people led a very sheltered exisitance until the 15th century when the first settlers arrived from Chiang Mai, this led to several wars, eventually Pai surrendered,many of the Shan families fled back to Burma & the Lanna Kingdom of Chiang Mai becomes the dominant force in the area.
Pai’s recent history is one of waves of migration,in addition to the aforementioned waves of old Shan and Lanna immigrants, Hill Tribe Karen immigrants arrived in the 18th century, Lisu , Lahu & Karen Pa-Dong Longneck people from areas of southern China & Burma arrived in the early 20th century.
During the 1950’s there was an influx of Muslim families from Chiang Mai who began establishing trade businesses and finally a new wave of refugees from the Shan State of Burma started arriving during the last 30 years,fleeing the turmoil caused by the Burmese Junta to work as laborers in Thailand.
During World War II , the Japanese began several projects to create efficient troop and equipment transport routes between Thailand and Burma, and (in addition to the well-known Death Railway through Kanchanaburi) one of these projects was the improvement of the existing “road” from Chiang Mai through Pai and Mae Hong Son.
A wood and steel bridge(Pai Historical Bridge) built by the Japanese still stands about 10 km from Pai on the road to Chiang Mai, just parallel to the bridge later built in the course of more recent road improvement projects by the Thai government. As it turned out, just about when the Japanese supply line reached Burma, the war was over!.
It was not unti 1967 that the Thai government started developing the “modern” road leading from Chiang Mai via Pai to Mae Hong Son,which today is known as Route 1095,however the route was not completed until the mid-1990’s
Things to Do:
ALL the activities below can be booked locally in Pai, just like Chiang Mai there are MANY tour companies located throughout the town, please take your time, chat with several of them before deciding what suit’s your personal requirements best !!.
Here’s just a few ideas for you:
* padelling a rubber dinghy along the Pai river.
* adventure rafting and canoeing along the river.
* explore local caves.
* mountain & jungle trekking.
* elephant riding through jungle.
* mountain bike cycling or motorbike-trekking.
* visiting local hill tribe villages.
* herbal sauna and Thai traditional massage.
* Thai cooking course classes.
There are several trekking companies that can organize walking tours through the jungle, staying either at camps in the jungle or in the hill tribe villages. Treks can last for anything between two and six days and you can decide with your guide how hard you would like the walking to be.
Between July and December you can go on rafting trips for a few hours or a few days. You can choose from simple bamboo rafts or rubber rafts that are owned by several different rafting companies.
There is an elephant camp near the hot springs that offers jungle rides all year round for two or more people. The ride usually passes through the hot springs.
Motorbike/Mountain Bike Tours:
In Pai many people decide to rent their own vehicles to see the sights. You can choose from either motorbike or mountain bike and there is now a service that offers Enduro bike tours and courses to teach people how to ride.
Places of Interest:
Tha Pai Historical Bridge:
This bridge is comparable to a “gateway” to Pai district. Initially established during World War II by the Japanese army as part of a supply route to Burma, it was destroyed and restored by the local community.
Mo Paeng Waterfall:
From the town center you can either walk or take a bicycle, motorbike or car up to Mo Paeng Waterfall, passing through several different hill tribe villages enroute. If you decide to walk it takes approximately 2 hours each way.Once at the falls, there are three different pools you can swim in.
Mae Yen Waterfall:
At the source of the Mae Yen River, Mae Yen Waterfall is about 12 kms from the town, located deep in the forest along a trail where there are no villages. The walk is beautiful and the waterfall is impressive. As the trail is so small, you cannot take any vehicles up to the falls. It’s best to ask for directions from local people before you set off and to make sure you take plenty of water and some food as this trek will take you the whole day!.
Tha Pai Hot Springs:
Tha Pai Hot Springs are part of a national park just 8 kms south of Pai. There is a stream running through the hot springs and you can choose either to bathe in the river or in bathtubs that have been built on the site. You can get to the springs by foot, bicycle, motorbike or car.
Wat Mae Yen Temple:
Mae Yen temple is located halfway up a mountain and once you have climbed the 350 steps to get there the views over the valley are tremendous, covering a radius of around 10kms. There is an interesting old chedi at the temple and also murals that were painted by a local artist about the previous lives of the Lord Buddha.
Wat Luang Temple:
Luang temple has a beautiful Shan style chedi, which was built in 1899 and also has a Shan style sermon hall and Buddha image. Luang temple is the main temple of Pai and is where many of the town’s important festivals take place.
Wat Klang Temple:
The chedi at Klang temple represents a mixture of Shan and northern Thai styles. The base up to the middle is Shan style and the middle to the top is northern Thai. There are alcoves set in the sides to represent the different Buddha images for each weekday.
Pai Morning Market:
If you visit Pai, wake up a bit earlier to making merits in the morning and see the way of the local living that cannot be found anywhere else!. The market is only open from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.daily.
Pai Walking Street:
Walking Street is located on Rungsiyanon Road in Pai, and it’s the meeting place where all the local hill tribe families from the mountain villages bring their souvenirs,handmade clothes & Silver Jewelry to sell.
During the “cool season” of November-February daytime temperatures are typically 28C-30C(70-80F), the nights are quite chilly and drop down to 15C(55F), and sometimes colder!!.
The “hot season” of March-May sees daytime temperatures of around 35C(100F) with nightime temperatures typically 8-10 degrees cooler.Also during the hot season the annual “Slash & Burn” farming technique takes place, this is when very large areas of bushes, trees & vegetation are burned by the local hill tribe agricultural farmers in preparartion for the sowing of new crops which follows with the onset of the rainy season.
With the rainy season (June-October) comes the potential for torrential rains,and typically mild flooding.The worst of the weather is usually between August & October, and does bring a halt to the main outdoor pursuit “activities”.
Warning: I have added the above point regarding swidden agricultural(slash & burn)techniques intentionally as there are considerable health issues raised by this antiquated practice, that sees many thousands of people each year throughout all of Northern Thailand seeking medical health due to respiratory problems!!.