I am two days shy of a month into my travels. There have been no significant dramas so far. One of the biggest surprises is that because I have to keep my UK business running, I have a reasonable buffer of money building up. This is despite the fact I have developed a love for shopping. With a market on every corner in Thailand, saving money is no mean feat. I have replaced most of the clothes I bought with me. The local economy has done well out of me.
The idea behind these quick-start guides is to give you enough information to arrive in a town or city with enough knowledge to see you through your first 48 hours. My anxiety levels peak most when travelling to a new place. It is the natural fear of the unknown. I have read a lot of the “top ten things to do”, articles. I want an independent experience, though. Despite my anxieties, I am not really too keen on following the exact recommendation of a fellow traveller for an entire week. The point of travelling is to discover.
This is why I have started the quick start guide. This series of articles does not claim to be a definitive guide to travel. They are a travelling ration pack which provides enough information to give you a foothold in a town. A starting point from which you can build your own magical experience.
Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai
Plan one had been for Lucy and me to make our way up to Pai by moped for a couple of days. Plans had to change when Lucy felt too unwell to ride the very winding and somewhat challenging road which connects Chiang Mai to Pai. There are approximately 762 bends, many of them being a hairpin. It was a wise choice on Lucy’s part. Once Lucy had returned to Indonesia, I set about making some decisions.
My options were limited:
Hire a bike in Chiang Mai
I love to ride a bike, but with luggage, it seemed that all the fun of riding the winding mountain road would be lost. If you are feeling up for it, you can hire a moped or motorcycle. A scooter will cost you between 100 baht and 250 baht per 24 hour period. A Honda CBR500 Hornet will be around 1000 baht per 24 hour period. (Ann’s Bike hire)
In my opinion, if you are heading to Pai on a rental, book your bike for at least 36 hours MORE than your intended stay. You can always use the extra rental period at the other end of the hire. If, however, you are having a magical time in the mountains, having to worry about returning a scooter is going to be a real drag. The rental places are relatively relaxed, to be honest, and your deposit/passport will act as security. Still, it is one less thing to have to think about, and an overhire may give you time to disappear into the Pai hole for a few days.
The ride to Pai is around four hours on a 125cc Moped. It is a technically challenging ride in as much you will need sustained concentration and advanced cornering skills. The tarmac surface is actually better than most of the A and B roads around my home town in Devon. The corners and gradients on the road to Pai are similar to those you will find in The Alps. This makes for some stunning views on the way up, and some high-adrenalin riding.
Can I fly From Chiang Mai to Pai?
Wisdom Air used to run a 25-minute flight, twice daily from Chiang Mai airport. Sadly this has stopped. (I say that on behalf of those who suffer from travel sickness). I would imagine that the flight would be worth the ticket price for people who suffer from motion sickness and are faced with three and a half hours in a minibus. If this is you, maybe you should opt for the scooter rental and be in control of your journey.
Booking a minibus to Pai
You can book the minibus to Pai from dozens of places in the Old Town of Chiang Mai. It will cost around 180 Baht for a one-way seat in a 16 seater, air-conditioned minibus. The minibuses will pick you up from your lodgings and are generally full by the time they leave town. I managed to book on the day I wanted to travel. If you are on a tight schedule, book the day before to avoid disappointment.
A couple of things to note for the minibus ride to Pai;
If you suffer from motion sickness, take a moped, or dose up with travel sickness pills. The minibus drivers are ‘very confident’ when driving around the 762 corners.
The drivers WILL NOT STOP if you are taken ill. Have a suitable bag & face wipes if you are affected. And maybe some air freshener or body spray? The windows on the minibuses don’t always open.
Making this journey with a hangover is highly inadvisable. (The girls from Donegal will attest to this fact).
Don’t forget to take a water bottle. There is only one 15 minute stop at the half-way mark, and it can get pretty warm.
I don’t want to make it sound like this journey is unpleasant, because it really isn’t. However, if you are unaware of the above points, it can quickly become hell on wheels for all concerned. I really enjoyed it. I am going to ride a bike next time though!
Arriving in Pai – The Quick Start Guide
Agoda or Booking.com are full of offers when it comes to accommodation. You will find everything from hostels, through to luxury spa and hotel rooms. You may as well book yourself one or two nights in advance if you prefer some kind of plan. It is not really worth booking more than that, as you will want to explore the town, and you may find somewhere that is better suited to you. If you are a confident, seasoned traveller, then just turn up and sort accommodation on arrival.
Assuming you take the minibus, you will arrive at the top of the main town. There are a moped rental and taxi rank right by the arrival point. Dragonfly Mopeds are the highest rated in Pai on trip advisor, and Google. That said, there are at least 6 more companies within a ten-minute walk.
I chose to walk to my lodgings. It took me about ten minutes to walk from the drop-off point, down to the guest house. As soon as I arrived in Pai, I knew I was going to love it. It is so chilled, you can feel the tension leaving you. The walking market is on every day from 17:00, through until around 22:00. I arrived in town just as everything was being set up. There was a great atmosphere, and the sun was starting to set over the mountains. Heaven.
Making up the walking market, are dozens of small street food carts, clothes stalls, gifts, jewellery, handcrafted instruments and smoothie bars. Add to that the actual shops, bars and restaurants. There is a real festival spirit in the town every evening. Pai is like the best chilled-out festival you have ever been to, all of the time.
The rambling, haphazard nature of the buildings, combined with the alleys, and temples, makes this a really trippy place at night. The Breeze Of Pai Guesthouse and bungalows are situated within a minutes walk of the primary street market. Turn left at the second temple, and walk down the street past the Jazz House Bar, and you will find them nestled among the trees.
The Breeze Of Pai Guest House – Pai
I booked two nights here to get me started. Situated down the end of a side lane, past the Jazz House Bar, the Breeze Of Pai is a quiet, cosy little corner of town. Set in between two temples, In dense woodland, all of the sounds from the bustling main street are filtered out. There is excellent Wi-Fi, free drinking water, and a quiet little covered courtyard where I sat and wrote for a few sessions.
There are three types of room at Breeze. You can have a twin room, with two single beds. There is also an option of a family room. Both have air conditioning and en-suite bathroom. I opted for a twin for 450 baht (11.00GBP/17.00USD) I could not work out if these rooms were more money for two people sharing. If you are travelling in pairs, but not sharing a bed, these are a potentially excellent value prospect. The beds are really comfortable.
Sound bleed between rooms is quite bad, so do take earplugs. Also, be aware that the wet rooms are functional. Don’t expect a modern finish. I am pretty fussy, and my place was great, considering the money being charged.
If you feel like splashing out, Breeze has individual bungalows. These are a double bed, en-suite bathroom and air conditioning for 600 baht (15.00GBP/23.00USD). These bungalows are excellent value if you are travelling as a couple, and provide a little more privacy.
When it was time to consider relocating, I didn’t bother.
There were cheaper rooms, but they were right in the midst of the bars and noise. Further out of town, I could have got more room for the same money or extreme luxury. I really didn’t fancy riding in and out every day, and adding 100 baht + to my daily budget for a bike.
That is not really very helpful for you, is it? Because I had this blog in mind, I did the research for you. I even went along and had a look at the rooms to see what they were like. I would happily recommend the following places for you to find your feet and use as a landing pad.
Here are some other accommodation options in Pai:
Ban Dalah Pai + Family Hut Riverside Pai:
Ban Dalah offers a range of different bungalow style accommodation huts, at two different venues. Both Ban Dalah and Family Hut are a short walk across the bridge from the main market walk and situated by the river. Clean, functional and at night, very picturesque. Rooms have air-con, Wi-Fi and comfortable beds.
Expect to pay 750 baht + per night depending on the time of year, and which of the two companies you look at.
Pai River Villa:
Pai River Villas offer a range of dwelling, from a simple hut, through to a luxury family villa. There is something to suit everyone here. Very nice setting. Ten minutes walk from the Walking Market, about fifteen to twenty minutes walk from the bus drop off. Expect to pay 500 baht + per night depending on the time of year, and which of the Villa types you chose. Check current price here
Spicy Pai Hostel
One name which came up regularly in conversation was Spicy Pai Hostel. If you are open to the hostel idea and want to meet up with like-minded travellers, then Spicy Pai comes highly recommended from multiple sources.
There area range of accommodation styles ranging from your mixed dorm, female-only dorm, twin bed bungalow, and Deluxe King double, (which is actually two double beds in one room). Prices range from 180 baht per person to around 500+ baht for the double deluxe room.
My Favourite Food places in Pai:
My only regular haunt was “One Fine Day” for my breakfast. I cannot function without good coffee and a hearty breakfast. One Fine Day was inexpensive, served excellent coffee, and the friendly staff were happy for me to sit and work.
A three-egg omelette with, spinach, avocado, cheese, beans and mushrooms cost me 120 baht (a little over 3.50GBP/5.70usd) – coffee in all its variants was around 50 baht, (1.25GBP/1.95USD)
For all my other meals, I went to the myriad of semi-street food pop-ups and street food barrows. When you can get the best Pad Thai you have ever tasted for 60 baht, approx (1.50GBP/2.00USD) why wouldn’t you? There is so much good food here – you cannot go wrong.
My Favourite Café’s and Bars in Pai
The standard of the musicians in Pai is exceptionally high. Of course, there is the odd bar where this is not the case, and if you want club music, you will find that too. The highlights of my Pai experience were the live music sets and the spoken word. There are some incredible musicians in the town and some equally soulful singers. Poets and artists are also in residence. Try out the following venues:
Jazz House Open Air Bar
Beautifully relaxed, hammocks, wooden decking and garden vibe. Live music daily from around 20:30 to 22:30. This is the perfect place to chill out and contemplate the day you have had and meet the nicest of people. It is an open-air bar, but all of the terraces and hammocks are covered by roofing.
The music was superb. Try and catch local musician and singer Jack, who absolutely smashed it!!
Blues, soul and funk abound at this happening little roadside bar. There is a generous open area at the roadside where smoking is permitted, drinks are reasonably priced, and the music is smoking hot! I saw some of the best blues and funk I have seen anywhere at this lively venue. The quality of the sound system and music choice were superb.
Again, I am a tough crowd when it comes to getting the music right in bars. Twenty years of putting on live music events and club events have made me extremely demanding in these areas. Mojos has it right!
Go. It is as simple as that. And the same is true of the next tip:
Art In Chai – Pai
Otto and his team have created a little oasis in Art in Chai. This is the place for poets, artists, musicians and bohemians. I found way too late in my stay. I enjoyed Pai immensely, regardless. However, for me, when I discovered Art in Chai – I found myself at home, with my kind of people. There is a delicious menu of simple snacks, smoothies and hot drinks. The venue is split between the interior bar, which houses a small reading area, clothing and jewellery stall, and chill-out areas. The front part of the place is a semi-enclosed terrace, with benching, where you can smoke and chat.
Every Thursday, Lily runs the open mic. In her own inimitable way, she knits together the weird, the wild and the wonderful performances. Nomads from all over, join the party. I meet some beautiful souls.
I did work at Art In Chai for a couple of hours, but it felt wrong. I decided to save the Art In Chai space for my downtime.
This leads us to the all-important question for Digital Nomads heading to Pai.
Where can a Digital Nomad work in Pai?
I have to say that I found most café’s and bars amenable to me working. When I work in a cafe or bar that is not a dedicated working space, I always give a 50 baht tip on top of my usual one. When I do, I explain it is for the time I spent working there. 50 baht is a fraction of the cost of a co-working space, and it seems to go a long way to greasing the wheels of acceptance.
There are so many cafes, bars and spaces that look as if they are losing money, I would have thought that this approach would make Digital Nomads a welcome part of the community. I started using this approach in Chiang Mai too. Food for thought.
I went to Pai for three days, I stayed for eight, and it wasn’t enough. I have to head out of Thailand now, as my Visa is running out. I will be back to Pai before Christmas. I think I may spend a couple of weeks there writing my new play. I cannot wait to get back.
Next Time: The overnight sleeper and One Night In Bangkok.
If you are enjoying my Digital Nomad Diaries, please click follow, share or like. None of the links in my articles is earning me any money. If I make a statement or suggest a course of action, it is based on a genuine opinion, rather than a monetary gain.
Sean Holland is Creative Director at Joined Up Think. He is an award-winning playwright and performs spoken word under the pseudonym Alexander Rhodes.