Life in Pai

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May 31, 2011
Tasting Tea, not Opium in Mae Salong
June 10, 2011

Life in Pai

By Stephen Bugno

Pai, Thailand is the quintessential backpacker town. I’ll try not to be too judgmental and let you decide for yourself if you want to visit. Be warned: it is a small town with a big ego problem. You’ll see it on t-shirts, postcards, and other souvenir goods.

Travelers initially come to Pai for trekking in the nearby mountains and hill-tribe villages. And then they tend to linger. It’s a laid back town and some of the locals tend to have the same outlook on life as many of the town’s foreign visitors: growing dreadlocks, smoking weed, doing pretty much nothing all day.

I heard somebody say that Pai was the place some travelers came when they got tired of the south of Thailand. That seems accurate. Pai reminds me of a beach town without the beach: open air bars serving mojitos and caipirinhas, foreigners strolling the streets in bikinis and tank tops, excessive drinking.

This is a mandatory stop on the Banana Pancake trail. After Chiang Mai, visit Pai, do some trekking to hill-tribes villages, rent a motorbike, relax in Pai for a few days. That seems to be what most travelers are doing. Few make it to the very pleasant and not-too-far-away towns of Mae Hong Son and Tha Ton.

What I don’t understand is the fact that the town itself is not particularly beautiful or pleasant. If a place was chock-full of backpackers and set in a painfully beautiful natural landscape, I might be able to look past the fact that it is a dusty tourist town. But, Pai, the town itself, is just not an attractive place to hang.

Pai may be chilled out, it may be a good time, you may even love it. But one thing it is not: Thailand.


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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. benny says:

    Generalise much? Did YOU even leave the town?
    There’s amazing scenery nearby, great mountain biking, white water rafting, hikes and more.
    i stayed in a little bungalow next to the river and woke up each morning to beautiful mountains rising out of the mist.
    Yes, there’s waay too many backpackers there, but there’s a reason for that and also for why so many Thais hit Pai – because it’s a genuinely lovely spot.

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