The top six things to try in Pai – a weekend travel guide

    Article by Lindsey Chynoweth

    Lindsey Chynoweth

    Posted: December 14, 2018

    Original photo: Shinsuke Ikegame

    The town of Pai is nuzzled against green mountains. The place has a distinctly bohemian feel, with live acoustic music and independent artisan stores lining the river.

    On a moped, take roads flanked by shining paddy fields. Slide down a waterfall. Visit a land split, and bathe in natural hot springs.

    The town is just three hours north of Chiang Mai, where GVI offers a range of volunteering programs and internships, from reintegrating elephants back into the wild to women’s empowerment working with a Karen hill tribe.

    All participants enjoy free weekends to experience further cultural immersion and travel around northern Thailand

    Here are the top six things to try while in Pai for the weekend:


    Original photo: Klim Levene

    Day 1

    1) Slide down Mor Paeng waterfall

    Pai has three waterfalls, the fierce Pam Bok waterfall in the southwest, the calmer Mae Yen in the northeast, and the modest Mor Paeng in the northwest.

    Travel to Mor Paeng on two wheels and pass paddy fields, where herons stalk the waterlogged fields for frogs and snakes.

    Park your bike and climb down the smooth boulders to the waterfall. If you are lucky, some locals might show you how to safely slide down the jetstream into the pool below.

    2) Sip jasmine tea at the Yun Lai viewpoint

    Original photo: Klim Levene

    From the waterfall, head back toward the nearby village of Santichon. This cultural village celebrates the traditional culture, cuisine and way of life of people from the Yunnan province in China.

    Shortly after entering the village, take the steep road to your left to reach the top of the hill. Watch out for errant dogs and chickens crossing your path.

    For a modest entrance fee of 20 Baht, drink in the panoramic views while sitting in a bamboo hut. Treat yourself to a fragrant green or jasmine tea served in a painted china teapot. If you’re hungry, ask for some traditional steamed pork buns.


    Original photo:  mattmangum

    Drive back into town and support independent businesses by buying handmade artisan products, or colorful threads woven by local tailors.

    To further help the local economy, sign up for a Thai cookery course at the Pai Cookery School, and join the chef in the local market to scoop up fresh ingredients.

    You’ll learn how to cook five courses of your choice, including the signature mango sticky rice dessert. You’ll take away new skills, as well as a recipe book to broaden your culinary horizons. Spend the rest of the evening enjoying the local bands that play riverside.

    Day 2

    4) Traipse on the rusted soil of Pai Canyon

    Original photo: Klim Levene

    Drive south to reach the steep twisting path over Pai Canyon. You should pass the ‘Love Strawberry’ cafe, where you can stop for a quick strawberry smoothie and flavoured muffin, surrounded by extensive decor inspired by the red seeded fruit. However, if you drive past the Memorial Bridge, you have gone too far.

    The canyon has no entrance fee, and there are some drinks stalls at the start. The narrow terracotta ledges twist around the deep canyon and offer an unparalleled, and elevated view of the mountainous landscape beyond.

    The canyon fills up with travelers at sunset, so make the most of it by going earlier in the day for uninterrupted views.

    Wear shoes with a good grip as the paths do not have railings for support. Mind your step as there are exposed tree roots and crumbling soil patches to navigate, with 100 ft sheer drops in places. It is not suitable for those with a nervous disposition or clumsy feet.

    It takes around an hour to complete the loop, if you are brave enough to do so. If it is a sunny day, stay hydrated as there is no shade on the circuit.

    5) Support local farmers at the Land Split

    Just down the road, visit the Land Split: a natural phenomenon caused by earthquakes in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

    A farmer suffered a seismic crack through his crop fields, losing his livelihood. However, his family has shown resilience by welcoming visitors to gawp at the gaping 11m-deep and 2m wide ochre fissure, mapping out the fault line far beneath the surface that caused the earthquakes.

    Enjoy lunch with your hosts, who prepare a feast of local produce: including bananas, sweet potato chips, roselle juice, dried dates, nuts, freshly plucked passion fruit, homemade jam, and their special roselle liquor.

    The family does not charge its visitors, but they invite donations to help sustain a living. Thank them generously for their hospitality.

    6) Steam yourself in the Tha Pai hot springs

    Original photo: mattmangum

    To finish the weekend, continue on the road south toward the outdoor Tha Pai hot springs.  Located on the edges of Huay Nam Dang National Park, step into natural pools fringed with jungle fronds.

    A clear stream runs through the forest grove, leading you to a number of pools to soak in. Let the dust of the trail rinse off your tired limbs as you close your eyes, enjoying the sounds of the cicadas.

    The hot springs are open from 7am–6pm, and the entrance fee for foreigners is 300 Baht with no set time limit (locals pay 40 Baht per visit).

    The pools vary in temperature as you move upriver, with some bathing pools at around 93–96 degrees Fahrenheit. The top pool reaches 176 degrees Fahrenheit and is not suitable for bathing in, although some entrepreneurs will try sell you eggs to boil here as a novelty.

    There are showers and toilets available. Bring shoes to wear in the pools as the rocks can be slick as you enter the water.

    Participants in the GVI programs can visit Pai during the weekend, and staff will arrange a return minibus to take you from Chiang Mai. If you would to get involved in our northern Thailand projects, contact us for more details.