Pai is a new-age hippie vortex. The town of 2,000 is full of visitors in their early twenties, but does get Thai and Chinese tourists too. They’re attracted to the cooler temperatures, seclusion, and chill vibe.
Hippies and Muslims
If the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule gets you down, then Pai is the place for you. I spied a trio of barefoot tourists in the 7-11. One had a feather in her hair, the other had pop tabs woven into her dreads, and their male companion was missing a top. Tattoos were showing from under their barely-there street market clothes. Two were buying bottled water while the third groaned “I haven’t bought bottled water in months.” The subtext clearly judging them for destroying mother earth with their plastic waste. “I was going to bring my water purifier, but I wanted to travel ultra-light this time,” the nature killer explained.
I was actually fairly stunned by the skimpiness of the tourists’ clothing. Thailand is a conservative country. Shoulders and knees are always covered at work or in a temple. Cleavage should not be exposed. I understand that tourists are on vacation and want to absorbs as much sun as possible. But cultural sensitivity is more important than a tan.
Pai has visibly more Muslims than in Chiang Mai. Many women wear a hijab or a niqab (covering everything except their eyes). It’s perplexing to see a women covered head-to-toe in black selling souvenirs to a women in a knitted bralet and with her butt cheeks hanging out of her elephant shorts.
According to my 60 seconds of internet research, the Muslim community in Pai is either Chinese Muslims or Rohinhya of Myanmar. Since Pai is only 80 km to the Myanmar border, it sees a fair amount of refugees fleeing persecution from the government.
I was warned that there is nothing to do in Pai, and one night is all you need. But I think those people were taking the wrong approach. There is plenty to do in Pai, but if you don’t slow down and take it easy, you’ll find the sleepy town boring.
Pai has waterfalls, trekking, elephant tours, bamboo rafts, cave trips, hot springs, rafting, yoga and curvy roads. Unfortunately, the night we arrived saw a major downpour that flooded the area – all water activities were temporarily closed. But this didn’t stop us from visiting the Big White Sitting Buddha or enjoying pedicures and and fruit shakes.
The worst kept secret in Pai is the mushroom smoothies at Sunset Bar. For 500 THB ($20 CAD), you can enjoy a drink laced with hallucinogenic fungus. Since it’s illegal, and my body is a temple, I didn’t partake, but a friend gave me her first hand account.
The bar is a good walk down a mud path. It has many platforms with triangle mats and low tables for you to recline and enjoy your high. My friend said she felt mellow with the occasional fits of laughter, and an all-round good feeling. It wasn’t the trip she was expecting. No hallucinations. No epiphanies. Some of the young patrons acted pot-stoned (maybe they were?) shouting things like “How are my toes attached to my feet?”. Everyone was just happy to be around each other and the music sounded really good.
When asked if my friend would do it again she said “Definitely. Way better than drinking or smoking pot.” She stayed up until 3am, and other than being up early and feeling tired, she didn’t feel hungover at all.
For a small town, Pai offers a huge variety of food. We enjoyed some amazing breakfasts, and vegan and vegetarian meals are plentiful.
Sandwich from Om Garden. Hash browns and avocado and tomato on toast from Art in Chai. Smoked salmon poached eggs on a bagel and avocado and tomato bruchetta from Boomelicious.
But the best food was at the Night Market. For 90 THB we had enormous vegan falafels, made fresh to order.
Grilled black sticky rice with black sesame seeds covered in sweetened condensed milk (tasted like Chinese sesame balls) for 20 THB and fresh vegan salad rolls for 40 TH.
After stuffing our faces we went around the cornerto Baan Pai Terrace where we enjoyed a Chang and listened to a Thai cover band play rock tunes from the 50’s. I wonder if they\ve been playing the same set for sixty years.