We arrived in this laid-back mountain town with only 3 nights booked, and ended up staying more than 2 weeks. So we must have fallen head over flip-flops in love, right?
I’m not so sure…
I’m back in the bustling city of Chiang Mai as I write this, and although I am already longing for the endless rice fields and starry nights that we had in Pai, I’m still undecided about how I really felt about this town.
With waterfalls, winding mountain roads to be explored on motorbike, and more cute cafes than I could count, Pai is literally a combination of all my favorite things. But there’s just something about the town that bothered me and it has taken me a while to pinpoint it exactly.
It seems that 10 years ago, Pai would have held a special undiscovered charm. But now that it's on nearly every backpacker’s itinerary, the influx of people has brought an overwhelming amount of commercialism to this village of just 2,000 residents.
Tourists clad in the obligatory baggy elephant print pants outnumber the locals, and the number of restaurants and bars owned by foreigners seems to rival the amount of establishments run by Thais. There’s just something that feels artificial about this town; I might venture to say that it borders on cheesy.
Don’t take this to mean that I didn’t enjoy my time in Pai. In fact, the opposite is true. I had the best coffee, mojitos, and avocados I’ve had in a while. I met other travelers, went stargazing, played in waterfalls, and napped by the river. It was utter bliss, actually.
I just feel that Pai is talked up so much and the flaws are rarely discussed. Every traveler I spoke to before making the journey raved about this small town in the mountains with a “chill vibe, man”. And my research online churned out the same results, calling it a “stunning riverside oasis”. Nobody seemed to speak about how the town is dangerously close to losing its appeal to tourism.
There's no arguing the beauty that surrounds the town, but it seems that if it weren’t for the beautiful surroundings, Pai could just be another over-hyped place anywhere in this world. And a few years and thousands of tourists from now, it just may.
I certainly would still recommend Pai as a place to visit in Thailand. There is plenty to do, and it still holds an undeniable charm as long as you know what to expect.
If you're headed that direction, check out our Complete Guide to Pai, Thailand.