Pai – Winter in Thailand’s most mountainous Province

Two nights in the peaks of the North

My first visit to Pai meant a return to Mae Hong Son, a province I was so intrigued by. We took the Prempracha minivan through mountainous terrain with steep inclines and sharp cambers. I was engrossed by the narrow streets and serene setting when we arrived at Pai after the 4-hour journey. Whilst at a cafe stop in the town centre, I noted the large foreign community present. Moreover, I was curious as to why Pai was such an attractive place for tourists and expats. Being December, the weather was the coolest I’d encountered in Thailand, especially in the mornings when scooting.

Pai Night Activities

The well frequented Pai Walking Street night market.

We certainly encountered the lively night scene that Pai had to offer. Of our two nights, the first we met our friend and her boyfriend at Petit Cru Wine Bar. The bar was compact yet provided an outside area to sit and was close to the walking street market. We tried some tasty Thai-Western fusion dishes such as Khao Soi tortillas and chatted with the chef. Additionally, the meal was accompanied by a bottle of Pinot Noir to enjoy. On our second night we sampled Pad Thai and Pizza from the street market. The market occurs every night and included international cuisine from Greece, Mexico, Morocco and more. Similarly, we went to a bar on the walking street on our second night and observed Pai nightlife.

Pai Day Excursions

Tha Pai Memorial Bridge and Pai Canyon

During the day we hired a scooter and journeyed to the Tha Pai Memorial Bridge and Pai Canyon. These destinations were 8 and 10km south of Pai respectively. The bridge was constructed to enable the Japanese Army to reach Mae Hong Son and attack Burma during WWII. I learned that after the war Japanese soldiers burnt the bridge down, however, the locals rebuilt it. Further, there are numerous rice fields encompassing the bridge, producing a superb light green backdrop. Pai Canyon, also known as Kong Lan, is a unique geological area caused by extensive erosion. The chiseled narrow ledges of the Canyon have 30-metre deep cliff drops. In addition, slender walkways offer magnificent views of the mountainous valleys and landscapes.

The approach to Santichon Village high in the mountains.

Santichon Village and Yun Lai Viewpoint

In the afternoon we stopped at Santichon Village and Yun Lai Viewpoint around 6km west of Pai. Santichon is a Yunnanese village selling traditional food, tea, herbs, medicines and handicrafts in houses built from straw. I believe the population is around 2000, a mixture of Yunnanese, hill tribes and nationalist Chinese soldiers. Yun Lai Viewpoint showcases the amazing nature around Pai: dense woodland, wild flowers, rubber fields and commanding mountains. We reached the elevated Yun Lai by continuing the road from Santichon through Lisu tribe settlements. There were pavilions, a bamboo viewing deck and Chinese tea shops with souvenirs for sale. I thoroughly enjoyed these experiences and recommend visiting both.

Lookout over Pai from Yun Lai viewpoint with rubber plants in the foreground.

Temples

Wat Luang

Exploring the wonderful Wat Luang temple in the small city of Pai.

The first temple we explored was Wat Luang in the town centre. Although not as ancient as others in Pai, I felt Wat Luang was intriguing and alluring. The viharn is wooden, in front of which stands a sitting Buddha. Additionally, a White chedi, with an umbrella shaped top, gilded in Gold lies adjacent. I later discovered that umbrella shaped tops are a common feature of Shan style temples. Wat Luang provided exquisite photos and due to the tranquil setting, I really sensed a meditative atmosphere.

Chedi Phra That Mae Yen

Inspired by the gigantic White Buddha statue at Chedi Phra That Mae Yen.

After completing our excursions we went to Chedi Phra That Mae Yen around sunset. The temple is walkable from Pai and the unmissable white Buddha visible from afar. There are 353 steps up to the temple complex so you can get your daily exercise. The complex¬†consists of the ‘Phra’ ubosot (ordination hall), the main viharn, and several chedis. Furthermore, we experienced a smaller viharn housing a reclining Buddha in addition to the gigantic white Buddha (above). The height and proximity of the temple produced striking panoramas in every direction. I feel blessed to have experienced the sunset at this magnificent temple.

Wat Sri Don Chai

The final temple we investigated was Wat Sri Don Chai, located in Wiang Neua village. I regard Wiang Neua village as a ‘local’ Pai area as it appeared more traditional. I read that Wat Sri Don Chai was the first temple in Pai, built in 1312. Further, the temple incorporates Lanna architecture, guarded by mythical creatures and the famous Naga handrails at the entrance. There were beautiful wall murals in the ubosot including the Phra Singh bronze statue as well as smaller Buddhas. These features along with intricate carvings on the Ubosot exterior were indeed eye catching.

Cafe culture in Pai

After stopping at Wat Sri Don Chai we visited a cafe called “Romance: another story in Pai”. The setting was splendid and provided superb mountain views and natural surroundings. I captured some memorable photos at this cafe including the cover photo of this post. Before departing took lunch at Jikao Bar which had both an extensive food and drink menu. For those interested in cafes there is a Cafe Wawee in Pai, a popular chain in northern Thailand. I refer to Cafe Wawee in my article about Coffee growing in northern Thailand.