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.