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If you mention the destination Pai in a room full of travellers, probably a good 80 percent of the people in the room won’t be able to tell you that it’s located in the Northeast region of Thailand. Around 10 percent will raise their hands and claim they’ve heard of the place, but won’t be entirely clear on where it is. Five percent will begin to look hungry and wonder when the a la mode is coming. And then there will be the final five percent who will adopt that look of thoughtful reflection as they recall one of the most memorable times in their backpacking history.
That is Pai. Or should I say was Pai?
For decades, the district and town of Pai had remained one of Thailand’s hidden gems—hidden at least from the masses. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet would have shown the way, but for most 4- and 5-star clients, it just wasn’t a place they’d visited or ever considered. There are two reasons for this. One, the airport didn’t become operational until 2006, and the road between Chiang Mai and Pai was not a pleasant drive. And two, there wasn’t a good selection of upscale hotels to be had. International brands weren’t interested in investing due to its lack of connectivity. While the area itself had much to offer, it was only the backpackers who dared to make the journey.
That’s all changed.
There is now an airport offering three flights with Kan Air from Chiang Mai during the week on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (at time of writing). And the road between the two cities has been much improved, now taking only three hours to traverse.
But best of all, Pai has some delightful boutique style hotels that are perfect for romance that have sprung up in recent years. The international chains are still too risk aversive to give Pai a shot, but that doesn’t mean clients can’t enjoy luxury while visiting.
Here are my two favourite picks:
The 20 rooms at the Reverie Siam boast a tasteful mix of old world charm with a side of oriental flair. Large sunken tubs with a ledge on which to perch a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape offer a perfect romantic escape.
For clients who have slightly less ostentatious requirements, the Quarter Hotel is a fabulous option. What’s best is that the location is no more than a 10-minute walk to the heart of the action. The hotel even lends out bicycles for those who want to explore the town at their own pace.
Both of these hotels offer clients a relaxing retreat that won’t disappoint. And the affordable price points might leave them shocked and slightly suspicious.
But why go to Pai anyway? Here are my top 5 list of things to do in Pai.
While not the Grand Canyon, Pai Canyon is special for the interweaving canyon ridges that provide interesting angles for photo ops. And because the area is relatively unknown to tourists, you don’t have to jockey for position to get that secluded spot on one of the ridges for just you and your loved one.
This sect of the Karen tribe consists of Burmese refugees who fled to the northern regions of Thailand escaping evident persecution in Myanmar. Characterized by the multiple gold rings worn around their elongated necks, the women of the tribe enjoy getting their photos taken. Visiting their villages help boost their economy.
The area around Pai is known for its natural hot springs. There are many bubbling pools to choose from, all set in secluded wooded areas. The area’s largely unexplored and it’s not uncommon to find a nature’s hot tub all to yourself.
Normally I don’t recommend clients drive around Thailand themselves, but the area around Pai is pretty laidback, devoid of the crazy motorists found throughout the rest of the country. Travellers can take a leisurely pace and search out the area’s many waterfalls and natural swimming pools. They might even get one to themselves if they are lucky. And afterwards, they can make their way to the nearby village of Santichon. Santichon is notable in that it was settled by the Chinese escaping Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.
The town’s busiest thoroughfare named “Walking Street” comes alive at night. This half-mile stretch of road is blocked off from vehicular interruption. Nearby villagers come to sell their handicrafts. Foodie stands offer everything from “lasagna by the square” to deep-fried crickets, and local bars hire musicians to entertain their patrons to the sounds of Green Day. Every night feels like a summer patio party on Walking Street in Pai.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply my top 5 picks for things to do in Pai. If you have clients looking for something a little bit out of the norm and wanting a genuinely romantic and adventurous vacation, try Goway’s 4-day Pai Encounter.
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