Although I’ve been on the road through three Christmases, this was the first time I spent it somewhere unique and special. Pai, Thailand.
My brother arrived in Thailand on December 18th for his first overseas adventure. After a brief exploration of Bangkok, we made our way up to Chiang Mai, and then to Pai. I had heard about Pai last year when I spent a month in Chiang Mai. Pai was just becoming a key attraction in the Chiang Mai region. My brother had planned to come see me in Thailand for the holidays last year, so I chose to hold off on Pai to go with him, and went to Kuala Lumpur instead. His plans then fell through, and Pai remained on my bucket list…until now.
An Adventure in Pai
Last year when I was looking at guest houses in Pai, I didn’t see more than a dozen or so. Now there are a couple hundred. Moreover, while the town has a permanent population of 2,000, I’d say there were at least five times that in the couple days we were there. Luckily, one of the last guesthouses with availability over the holiday weekend was one of the more popular.
The Famous Pai Circus Hostel opened in December 2012, and has been improving itself ever since. In the morning you can get free yoga classes, there is a two-hour circus school every afternoon, and at night you can enjoy an hour-long fire show. While I didn’t end up using it, they even have an infinity pool overlooking the Pai valley. I’d say the only disadvantage of the hostel was the quality of the bungalows. The walls were paper-thin, the door had space around it allowing anyone to look in and several guests complained of bedbugs (luckily not us).
On our first night there, we grabbed a dinner on the Pai Walking Street, a short distance from the hostel. After that, Payton fell asleep while I watched the fire show. Although it wasn’t as good as the one I later saw on New Year’s Eve, it was still fun.
The next day was spent adventuring to the hot springs and Pai Canyon, mentioned in Pai Part 1.
Mae Yen Waterfall
Christmas Day was entirely spent on a hike to the Mae Yen Waterfall. The two main waterfalls of Pai are Pam Bok and Mo Paeng, but those both have entrance fees and are outside of town. On our budget, we decided on the third, free option. We were also told it was only an hour hike to the waterfall, and the drive to the hike was less than two kilometers. It didn’t quite turn out the way we were told.
You can find the beginning of the trail here on Google Maps. There’s a small hippie hut called Valhallah if you want food or drinks before or after the hut. From there, just follow the signs for the trail, which starts off walking through the center of the stream. Instead of taking an hour, the hike was closer to three hours, and we ended up crossing the stream a total of 40 times!
Mae Yen is hardly a world-class waterfall. The water cascades down the rocks maybe 15 meters into a pool. If you’re courageous, you can climb up the rocks to a ledge a couple meters up and stand under the ice-cold water. The best part was the lack of tourists. There were less than a dozen people hanging out at the waterfall, and we passed less than that on the trail up and back.
The main requirement for this hike is sturdy footwear. I’d recommend a pair of water shoes, or high-quality sandals. As mentioned, you’ll be crossing the river a total of 80 times on the hike. Not knowing this, Payton was unable to wear his sneakers and ended up doing the hike barefoot, which he felt afterward! I wore my sandals, and they finally fell apart! Believe it or not, these durable Land’s End sandals had lasted a whopping 25 years. Comfortable, sturdy and durable, I never had a reason to replace them. They survived countless trips to the beach in my life and two years of travel, including two months of only wearing them in SE Asia, and even a day hike through the mountains of Doi Suthep. Alas, they finally gave up on this hike. RIP, wonderful sandals! Perhaps I can get Land’s End to send me another pair to promote for the next couple decades! LOL
I’d also recommend bringing some food on the hike, and lots of water. At a good pace, with a little time spent at the waterfall, the hike took us about six hours. By the time we made it back to town, we were absolutely famished!
We grabbed a bite to eat at the same restaurant we had breakfast at and then moved into the KK Hut Guest House across the street. Cool travel tip: it’s half the price of the Pai Circus Hostel, and offers much nicer facilities. We happened to get a free upgrade to a “family room” with a massive bed and en-suite bathroom. From there you just have to walk across the street if you want to enjoy the circus activities.
And that was our adventure in Pai. The next day we got a bite to eat in town, and then returned back to Chiang Mai. It should be mentioned that I might have unleashed the beast in Payton on the scooter. He was accustomed to it this time, and he didn’t hold back.
We left so many adventures in Pai behind. Luckily I’ll be working in Chiang Mai for the next three or so months, and I’ll be back up for the other waterfalls, caves and hot springs. Payton will be back in the states, so I’m looking for others to share the adventures with me. Any takers?