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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Pai & Chiang Rai, Thailand

THAILAND | Sunday, 22 September 2013 | Views [19881] | Comments [11]

There was much more I would’ve liked to have done in Chiang Mai but unfortunately we were tight on time. I would’ve loved to have seen the tigers as well but they are drugged so that tourists can have the pleasure of cuddling up to them. I don’t want to support that.


After 2 nights in Chiang Mai we caught a minibus to a place called Pai, about 3 hours away up in the mountains. The curvy and bumpy roads made me very car sick! But it was completely worth it. Pai is such a beautiful place surrounded by mountains covered in lush wild bush & jungle, emerald green rice fields, wild chickens and dogs ruling the streets and a totally laid back hippy atmosphere. Here is the place to participate in meditation & yoga, learn to cook or speak Thai, get a massage and of course – hire a motorbike / scooter to explore the area. Before this trip I swore adamantly that I wouldn’t get on a motorbike. I’ve been on them before as a passenger and have loved it when I know my life is in good hands, but I don’t feel comfortable being in control of one myself. I was nervous about being on the back of a bike with Andrew who had never driven one before but he did great and we had a fantastic time exploring the waterfalls, viewpoints, canyon and nearby villages, and basically just enjoying feeling free out in the open air. It definitely gave us a break from the heat and humidity. Andrew clearly enjoyed himself, looks like a motor bike is going on the list of things to buy in Australia! Not that I’m complaining!


Pai’s town itself is tiny and doesn’t take long to explore on foot. There are plenty of hostels & tours on offer, funky rustic bars and cafes and a few shops. Basically it’s a backpackers haven far from the smoke of the city. Outside of town there are many more fantastic homestays, guest houses, tree houses and even a few fancy places with pools but you definitely need a scooter to get around as there are no taxi’s or tuktuks, unless your hire a personal driver. In hindsight we should’ve done a bit more research about places outside of the main town and figured out the logistics of getting our bags around on a scooter but it is very convenient to stay in town.


We found a very basic bungalow with air con and a private bathroom for $16 a night and stayed there for 2 nights. On the third night I wanted a nicer bathroom and a slightly nicer room so we upgraded ourselves to a whopping $24 a night but it turned out it wasn’t the wisest move. It was right next door to a bar with music pumping into the wee hours. I didn’t actually mind the music, it was the drunken females shrieking that did my head in. We had to get up at 4.30am too to get our bus to Chiang Rai. Not ideal.  The bungalow had a mosquito net too and the “upgrade” didn’t. Mosquito’s are abundant in Thailand. I haven’t actually seen many of the stealthy pests but Andrew and I have countless red welts decorating our bodies.


Basic private room accommodation in Central & Northern Thailand can cost anything between $10-40 NZ for two people depending on your preferences (and trust me, air con is your best friend!). Showers are always pretty much over the toilet which is very inconvenient when you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and the floor and seat are wet! Affordable food places can cost anything from $2 -10 NZ per person. Western food is generally always double what Thai food costs. Thai people are mainly very polite and love to smile and just to have a chat. This is a bit hard to get used to as we learnt in South America that if locals approach you, they generally want something. However, in Pai, when we want to order food, we felt like we interrupting their lazy day and they weren’t very interested. I even had 6 dead ants floating in my meal but here refunds or returns are not an understood concept. It’s best not to let these things faze you – it’s just added flavor!


Massages range from $5-15 depending on what you are wanting. I am a huge fan of massages and was quick to give one a go. I was led to a mattress in a line of mattresses in a dimly lit room. I lay next to another tourist getting a massage and next to a sleeping local. My masseuse massaged my feet and then my back through my clothes. She also chatted to the masseuse next to her and even took a call on her cell phone! She then put me in some weird positions to try and click my back. Not the most amazing massage I’ve ever had but I still enjoyed it! For only $8 I can’t complain. I definitely plan on getting more throughout my travels while it’s so cheap – one a week too much?!


At night the hill tribe village people come into Pai to sell their food and things that they make by hand. It’s neat wondering the little dusty streets with relaxed people everywhere having a nosy or enjoying a drink at the many funky bars lit up with coloured lights and blaring various reggae / dub sort of tunes. It’s a fantastic atmosphere and it made me smile.


As briefly mentioned, on next to no sleep, we departed Pai in a minivan before daylight broke. Our driver was very enthusiastic and fancied himself a bit of a rally car racer zigzagging over both lanes and flying around the sharp corners, sleeping dogs and cows on the road. Despite sitting in the front seat, I still felt ill. Not a chance of catching a few hours more sleep, every time I closed my eyes I wanted to vomit! After a quick 2 and a half hours, we were deposited in to another vehicle which was full of foreigners doing a border run to Myanmar (Burma) to get a new entry visa for Thailand. (If you enter Thailand by land you get 2 weeks, if you enter by air then you get 30 days). We were dropped off 3 hours later in Chiang Rai.


Chiang Rai isn’t the most interesting of places to visit. There are many treks you can do from here and there is the incredible White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) but other than that it’s just another big mess of a city. We found a hostel nice and close to the bus station and caught a local bus 5km out of the city to the White Temple. I loved it - it is very impressive! As the name describes, it is pure white, and is covered in mirrored glass which make it sparkle like pieces of silver. There are intricate patterns of dragons protecting the temple on roof and entryways, as well as a beautifully patterned draw bridge over a sea of reaching hands & skulls. Fish filled ponds also surround the temple which reflects the radiant image at night when it’s all lit up. It sounds a bit morbid but it is truly beautiful. It is a contemporary Buddhist design which I believe is meant to depict the white purity of the Buddha. All the skulls and outreaching hands depict those in hell and as you cross over the bridge, you approach heaven. The inside is supposed to be quite an usual sight with the walls covered in painted pictures of our modern culture from UFO’s to Superman to Neo from the Matrix. Unfortunately we were unable to go inside as they have banned tourists without the supervision of a tour guide due to past inappropriate behavior from foreigners. Such a shame!


To get to the temple, the bus had dropped us off on the side of a highway and pointed us in the general direction. After exploring the outside of the temple, we walked back to the highway in the scorching hot sun pondering how we were supposed to know which bus to flag down. Within a minute, a shared taxi swooped in to save the day. Shared taxis here generally operate similar to the bus, and in this instance, it cost the same. We wondered around trying to find food – there are a few restaurants catering for tourists but mainly it’s plastic table and chairs under a tarp with a lady serving some sort of concoction out of a pot. We would be daring if it wasn’t for our weak stomachs and the very high chance of the food being spicy, which neither of us can cope with. We have been eating a lot of the local food but generally we have to rely on pictures or English written descriptions of what it is that we are actually ordering!

After we finished our dinner, we were asked by a group of students studying tourism at university to be interviewed for their project. We obliged and they filmed us! Interesting!


After one night in Chaing Rai we caught a local bus 2 hours to the border town of Chiang Khong to enter Laos by long tail boat over the Mekong River.


A few extra tidbits about Thailand for those that are interested:

(Snippits are taken from the Lonely Planet – South East Asia on a Shoestring – book)


  • Feet are seen as the dirtiest part of the body and you should never point them at someone, or put them on a chair or table or step over someone. Shoes must always be taken off before entering a house, building or even a shop. It is illegal to step on money as it has the king’s face on it!
  • All male Thai’s are expected to spend at least 3 months in their lives as a monk. Women must not touch or sit next to a monk. Roughly 95% of Thai’s practice Buddhism. Even in prime real estate in Bangkok, the space is left for spirit houses.
  • Thai’s eat using their spoons as a form and their forks as their knives. They find it very unusual when foreigners put forks in their mouths.
  • Thailand, amongst many other Asian countries, find public displays of affection between as man and women as offensive. They also ask for foreigners to not wear skimpy clothing. Generally shoulders and knees should be covered, especially in temples. (But it’s so hot, how do they cope?!!!)
  • It is believed that the first Thai’s migrated south west from China. The settled around the river forming farming communities that eventually fell under the empire of present day Cambodia. What is now Southern Thailand, they were under the sway of the Srivijaya empire based in Sumatra.
  • By the 14th century the first Thai Kingdom named Sukhothai (meaning Rising Happiness) emerged. The third king is credited for developing a Thai writing system and for building Angkor inspired temples. Eventually the Prince of Ayuthaya came to power this Kingdom ruled until the Burmese destroyed the city. Previous to this they had managed to thwart foreign take overs, including an attempt by a Greek man hoping to advance French interests. The capital is now in Bangkok with the Chakri dynasty still occupying the throne. Between 1851 – 1910 the kings steered the country towards modern western style clothing and schooling and forging trade agreements. In return for the country’s independence the King ceded huge portions of land to French controlled Indochina.
  • There has been great political unrest in Thailand for many years. In 1932 a peaceful coup converted the country into a constitutional monarchy, loosely based on the British model. Since then there has been a power struggle between 3 groups – the military leaders, elected government and the monarchy backed by the aristocrats. In the 70’s the threat of communism arose but didn’t come to fruition. The most recent coup was only in 2006 when the prime minister got ousted. There were massive political protests in 2008 which even shut down both of Bangkok’s airports for a week. In 2009 there were violent street protests.
  • There is a structure to one’s place in Thai society governed by conventions of social rank defined by age, wealth, status and personal & political power. The elder always picks up the tab, the junior does the menial chores. Young Thais from poor families are expected to support the family by working long hours doing side jobs such as selling sweets or juice to tourists.
  • Thailand has a split personality – the highly westernized urban city Thai’s and the rural farming communities who still follow the old values.
  • Thai’s rarely sweat or stink. They generally bathe up to 3 times a day.
  • 75% of the population are ethnic Thai’s. People of Chinese ancestry make up 14%. Other large minority’s include the Malays and the Khmers.
  • The country has dense mountain jungles in the north to tropical rainforests in the south. There are mainly 3 seasons. July – November is the wet season, December to March is the cold season (still doesn’t get below 20 in the south or maybe 5 in the north) and the hot season April – July when temperatures soar to the unbearable and all the lovely green turns to dry brown.
  • In the middle of last century, 70% of Thailand was forest. Now it is less than 20%. Native tigers and elephants are becoming endangered species.
  • Being caught with drugs, even marijuana, you can be fined heavily and imprisoned. If you are caught taking drugs over a border, you can be executed. Police run sting operations where they try and sell you drugs then arrest you. We were offered to buy weed twice while riding around villages in Pai and they seemed confused when we said we don’t smoke!




Hey! I was wondering where you booked your minivan from Pai to Chiang Rai? Thanks!

  PL Feb 27, 2014 9:04 PM


just reading your blog on northern thailand & have to correct you on the tiger kingdom. They are not drugged as you stated in your blog. They are how ever trained, using only a tap on the nose as we do with domestic dogs, when a certian behaviour isn't allowed.
Like playing rough or play biting farangs:)

This is a conservation & breeding program that receives no finacial support from the government. Just you & I alike.

The only thing that may not sit with people is that they actually wake the tigers from sleep so farangs can have their photo taken with them. You can, if you wish let them know you would rather they not and pay the photo cost anyway ( is only a few dollars) or make a donation.

  cindy christiansen Mar 2, 2014 11:40 PM


Does any one know a direct transport from Mae Hong Son to Chang rai or Pai to Chang rai?:)

  Taylor Mar 12, 2014 1:10 AM


Hi, we went to Tiger Kingdom later in the day (approx 16:30ish) when it was cooler & they were playing in the pools like kittens. I think it's just too hot for them during the day, the same as it is for you & I.
We travelled to from Pai today to Chang Rai via Chang Mai & i regret not just spending the extra money to go Pai-Chaig Rai direct. Was a day wasted. Wish I'd bought a mozzie net with me though - they're everywhere!
Off to see the white temple tomorrow. Can't wait!

  Jenna Mar 18, 2014 2:55 AM


Oh & in answer to No3, there is a minibus from Pai-Chiang Rai for 500bht but leaves really eay in tbe morning. I think AYA run it.

  Jenna Mar 18, 2014 2:59 AM


Pity you have the impression that not much happens in Chiang Rai, and as a tourist I cant blame you for gaining that impression. As a local expat I can vouch that the place is fascinating and beautiful but you wont see any of it on a brief visit, you will require a local person to take you to the places a tourist usually doesn't see, both in town and close by town.

  chris.fogaty Jul 20, 2014 12:42 PM


I have volunteered at tigerkingdom, they are NOT drugged. They are born and raised in the park and used to people from an early age. Please do not spread false runours without having any information. The personell cares deeply for the tigers and it's a slap in the face for them. The rumpur of the tigers being drugged started from incompetent comments like yours.

  Taylor Sep 26, 2014 5:52 PM


What was the name of the transportation from Pai to Chiang Rai? Cause im looking for something for Chiang Rai to Pai! thank you:)

  sophie May 6, 2015 11:09 AM


I wanna travel from Pai to Chiang Rai, where can I arrange the mini van?

  Kevin Klerks Aug 18, 2015 6:22 PM


That is one of the most photoshopped things I've seen

Pai is insane anyway. No one cares, like a giant freedom festival.... saying that... anywhere but the UK is like that

  Brendan Challenger Mills Jul 4, 2016 12:33 PM


Wow you’re so negative. Always the issue when people from 1st world countries go “exploring”. Just accept that nothing is going to be like back home and maybe appreciate a country or place for what it is, in this case a country that has no choice but to accomodate endless reams of complaining tourists.

  Lomie May 24, 2018 10:46 PM

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