Thailand // The north //


Set in a broad, gentle valley 43km beyond Soppong, PAI was once just a small-town stopover on the tiring journey to Mae Hong Son, but in recent years has established itself as a major tourist destination in its own right. There’s nothing special to see here, but you can partake of all manner of outdoor activities, courses and holistic therapies – even retail therapy at the art studios, bookshops and jewellery shops – and the guesthouses, out-of-town resorts and restaurants have tailored themselves to the flood of visitors who make the journey out from Chiang Mai. Westerners settle into the town’s full-on traveller culture and laidback, New-Agey feel for weeks or even months – the local tourist maps even give handy lists of tattoo studios and non-MSG restaurants. Meanwhile, Pai is now firmly on the radar of Thai tourists, so in high season, especially on weekends when the sunflowers near Mae Hong Son are out, the narrow through-streets get clogged with a/c minibuses. It can be an odd mix, but an evening promenade along the “walking street” of Thanon Chaisongkhram, with its Thai-style galleries and gift shops in the traditional buildings at the western end and more traveller-oriented outlets to the east – plus a sprinkling of local hill-tribe people and shrouded Thai Muslims – is undoubtedly pleasant and sanuk.

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