If you like beautiful scenery, few tourists, a hippie culture and off-the-beaten-path attractions, Pai is the place for you. Hot springs, waterfalls, caves and Pai Canyon are just some of the attractions available.
My brother and I went up to Pai for Christmas 2016. Renting scooters from Mango Bikes in Chiang Mai, we were able to complete the 140 km ride in a little under 3 hours, and on a single tank of gas. As a warning, please only attempt this journey if you have previous experience on a scooter or motorcycle, and you’re fully sober. A huge percentage of the tourists who attempt the ride have accidents. It doesn’t even have to be your fault either. I had less than half a second to swerve around an oncoming truck in my lane while going around a corner in the mountains at high speed. If you don’t have experience, bus tickets are as low as 140 baht. Then you can rent a scooter in Pai with the same admonition.
There are plenty of activities to choose from. Many have a price tag of 1000-2000 baht. These include rafting trips, bareback elephant rides (ecotourist friendly), and tours to the waterfalls, caves, hot springs and canyon. With our scooters, we decided to create our own tour.
Sai Ngam Hot Springs
There are two main hot springs near Pai. The more famous one is the Tha Pai hot springs, which have a series of pools. The entrance fee there is 200 baht. While I didn’t go to that one, I was told the top pool is 80°C, hot enough to boil an egg. There are then a series of lower pools, each with a cooler temperature.
The other option is the Sai Ngam hot springs.
With a couple friends from the hostel, we went to the less-touristy Sai Ngam hot springs. These are located 15 km north of Pai (about a 30 minute ride). There are two meager fees to pay. The first is just off the main highway. The Lom Nam Pai Wildlife Sanctuary (in which the hot springs are located) has an entrance fee of 20 baht for the scooter and 20 baht per person. Then there is an additional 20 baht fee for the hot springs themselves when you arrive.
There are a couple pools at the Sai Ngam hot springs, but nearly everyone congregates in the large pool at the top. When I say everyone, there were less than couple dozen people there, and half of those were locals. I’d say the water is around 40°C, although it’s not consistent throughout the pool. Whatever the temperature was, it was certainly relaxing. We just sat there for hours, soaking up the warmth and minerals. Later, a couple cute little Thai kids jumped off logs into the water without really being a distraction.
In fact, we enjoyed the water so much that we kinda lost track of time. We had planned to go spelunking in the Tham Lot cave, but after driving halfway there, it became clear that it would be long after sunset before we returned to Pai. None of us wanted to be driving on the cold mountain roads in the dark.
Instead, we decided to make it down to the Pai canyon for sunset. That was easier said than done, since we’d made it pretty far north, and would really have had to haul ass to make it back in time.
But make it we did!
Sunset was scheduled that night for 5:46 PM. We pulled into the parking lot at 5:40 and then had to run uphill for a couple minutes to reach the lookout. When we reached the top, I discovered the rush was more than worth it.
Okay, maybe the Pai Canyon isn’t as impressive as the Grand Canyon, or any canyon for that matter. The location basically has very narrow trails atop sandstone formations running through the forest. But we really lucked into a gorgeous sunset.
I’m also an adventure junkie, and running along the narrow paths in sandals with sheer drops to either side was wonderful. I would have loved to spend a full day traversing the numerous trails, and I plan to do so some weekend while I’m teaching English in Chiang Mai.
On the way back, we stopped at Coffee in Love, a top attraction to visit in Pai. Unfortunately, we got there just moments after they closed! So that’s still on the bucket list too.
The next day, we explored a mysterious waterfall, but I’ll mention that tomorrow in the next post. Stay tuned.