“Pai is amazing and so peaceful”, “I am in love with its beauty”, “It is so different than any other town in Thailand”, “You should definitely visit it man” – I still remember how different people portrayed Pai and inspired me to spare a few days out and visit this “secluded little town”, after Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.
Excited, and hopelessly driven by the whole gamut of backpackers’ emotions, I equipped my rucksack, booked the first minivan that left the next morning and waited impatiently to be passed out for the night. The next morning, as I grabbed myself on the way to Pai, I indeed found a naturally beautiful part of Thailand. It was green as far as I could see, and the timely glimpses of Thai countryside was constantly adding up to a good experience. The road to Pai has over 700 turns, but you barely notice them, as the journey leaves you awestruck with its beauty. The densely covered hills come your way rolling like waves into the horizon.
I was happy that I decided to visit Pai, until I finally arrived, and happened to explore its streets on a weak 100 cc rented scooter. I noticed guesthouses outnumbering private residences, trekking agencies and western restaurants seemingly all-pervading. Local Thai culture being tragically lost. As the sunlight went weary, the entire experience deteriorated even more – the evening buzz now seemed high in spirit, and the sound of partying and live (English) music was hard to overlook. This was when the night markets turned into a massive Khao San Road, of Bangkok.
I think the town must have its charm a few years ago, when there were not many tourists to jam the town’s only few alleys, with their unskilled driving habits, under the influence of drugs. But as I found it in the monsoons of 2016 – which fortunately was not the peak tourist season yet – I realised that its Thai feel has been completely washed away as the waves upon waves of westerners and Chinese tourists flock here, right after killing a few nights in Chiang Mai.
In less than 24 hours in Pai, I found myself falling into a negative rut due to expectations about how things ‘should’ve’ been and how they turned out to be. I expected a quiet, culturally rich, full of Thai locals, Thai food and Thai everything – kind of town, and it turned out to be everything else but that. The outgoing extroverted side of my personality that was shining brightly during the beginning of my trip was starting to fade, and a sudden tinge of realisation had it that this town was not meant to entertain me.
Most of the backpackers who like Pie like it because it’s cheap (which is a good thing), and everything – from imported food to imported beer to endless parties – is easily accessible here. But that was perhaps the reason why I did not like it. Because you go to Thailand, and choose to explore the north – which is famous for being more Thai in its appearance – to get local experiences, eat local food and drink local booze. If I fancied an imported beer or wanted to lose myself in a party culture I’d have headed south.
To me Pai turned out to be nothing more than a modern town and a hippie oasis, akin to its Himalayan counterparts that have grown in fame only because it offers a perfect setting to smoke weed, drink and do yoga. Though I am not claiming that you must not visit Pai, or it doesn’t look beautiful anymore. It sure does.
You go a few dozen kilometres out of the town – in any direction – and you come across a beautiful countryside. A host of natural, lazy activities, impatiently waiting to keep you entertained. I especially loved some local attractions and exploring unknown villages around Pai, among few other things. And they were pretty much the highlights of my time there.
I think Pai can be so much more than a haven for western hippies, if only we travel a little more responsibly, and try to protect its individuality and solitude. After all, travelling makes us realise what amazing and distinct world we live in, and our every action makes it become more or less so.
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