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Eat and meet


Pai boast a not-bad selection of eating places though considering the flood of tourists it sees and the number of hotels and guesthouses, it could be better!

Western food is rather limited, unless Thai spag bol or Shan pizza fits the bill. The worthy French Chez Swan is sorely missed, making your best bet Italian fare unless you're just after a burger. If Italian floats your boat head directly to the excellent Baan Pizza without passing either Amida Pizza or Da Cristina. Well located down small Tesaban 1 Soi with a pleasant sitting area, including some cushions-on-the-floor tables and efficient service, this Italian-run pizza joint serves up some of the best pizzas and most excellent array of pasta dishes this side of Bangkok. Inexpensive and worth every penny -- even the house red is good.

On the same soi slightly closer to Chaisongkran is a popular and decent bar and BBQ joint called Cafe Paille, run by the friendly Dutchman Marcel. A well-stocked bar and pavement grill produces inexpensive steaks, burgers and chicken with coleslaw and salad. Pai River Corner has a similar BBQ and salad deal among numerous other offerings, though you're paying extra for the, admittedly agreeable, riverside location.

Quite a few restaurants and guesthouse kitchens do the usual bit of everything -- Thai, Western, Chinese and so on, but the Thai in these kinds of places may be watered down versions or local versions of Western favourites that they think they've got right. Of these, Thai Country, up on the main street just down from the 7-Eleven, is the most popular eating spot and, with some discretionary ordering, probably justifiably so. Their Thai food is good, cheap and comes in large portions, and their breakfasts and coffee are fine. Since the vast menu includes just about any dish you've ever heard of, it's a bit doubtful as to whether their chefs can knock up equally good French, Italian, Hungarian, Mexican, German, Israeli, Indonesian, Malaysian and so on... as well.

Just across the road from Thai Country is the Ruan Ban Pai, (the one with the woven leaf roof), which is also worth a mention for good service and some imaginative Thai dishes you won't see elsewhere. Probably the best simple, classic Thai food though in the centre of town is Na's Kitchen at the top of Raddamrong Road by the traffic lights. All your Thai favourites are here and well cooked in authentic style and with inexpensive price tags. They will of course tone down the authenticity (read chillies), if you ask them. The only drawback to this friendly and excellent establishment is that they are notorious for slow service, so take a crossword and be patient. Probably the best Thai food on the edge of town though (if you don't mind a bit of a walk or have transport), is Baan Ben Jarong. Reasonable prices and a diverse menu make this a good choice though the mostly red wine menu (to appeal to yuppie Thai tourists) is a bit worrying. Bottle of St Emilion '96 with your green curry anyone? Baan Ben Jarong is a large wooden building on the left as you head out of town, a little way past Ting Tong Bar and the petrol station.

For those of a more healthy inclination, a bakery well worth a mention is Divine, situated in the new flashy mini-mall complex at the corner of Chaisongkran and Tesaban 1 Roads. Their range of coffees and bakery counter gets consistently rave reviews but you may need to go and trek it off afterwards -- or sign up for one of their detox courses?

Pai's most famous coffee shop is just out of town, however, on the summit of the hill at the entrance to town on the road from Mai Ma Lai. Coffee in Love is probably the only coffee shop in Thailand with police crowd control during the high season. It is absolutely compulsory for any Thai tourist visiting Pai to stop there first and the tiny cafe terrace, with superb views over the valley, gets totally swamped. The tiny car park is backed up way down the road with tourists trying to find parking spaces. A frappe feeding frenzy for Bangkok yuppies!

Much more chilled out and only a short walk from town (over the bridge and follow the signs), is the excellent Fluid. It's basically a decently sized swimming pool (50B a go) with a cafe set up around it. There's music, bar, shakes and some great snack food (like their potato wedgies). This is the spot to chill out in the heat of the day or have a beer with the expats at the end of the afternoon. Since Fluid is probably just as much a bar as a cafe that leads us on nicely to the bar section!

Bars and night spots
Most guesthouses will sell you a Coke or a beer but not so many have bars as such. Many do have sitting areas, often including the almost de rigueur fire and wooden logs set up, which can be nice and certainly welcome in winter. These are often good places to meet your co-guests, though only some of the larger resorts will have fully equipped bars.

A lot of the early evening action takes place on Chaisongkran Road where a few pavement bars set up, with even a couple of Khao San-style VW cocktail bars taking over the bus station forecourt. (In high season this street bears more than a passing resemblance to Khao San, with hordes of young Thais strolling up and down, mingling with bare-chested backpackers -- just swap the Akha vendors for Lisu ones). Bong's pavement cafe is a particularly popular and friendly one if you can find it, on the right as you go down to the river. Also on Chaisongkran Road is the popular and very friendly Almost Famous -- about half way down on the left. Newly opened but an instant hit, you'll find this spot busy, mostly with expats, even in low season.

Later on the action usually moves to either one of the larger bars on the edge of town where the decor and atmosphere is more Ko Pha Ngan than Khao San, or one of the several, smaller live music bars such as Buffalo Hill or Buffalo Extreme. Both are near the bridge end of Tesaban 1 and both have reasonably priced drinks and reasonably sullen service. Occasionally they will put on good live music with both Western and Thai musicians. These can get very crowded during high season since they're popular with both international backpackers and Thais.

The larger edge of town bars also have occasional live music and also often come with the camp fire set ups. They have curious hybrid atmospheres, somewhere between large guesthouse gardens, trendy Bangkok bars and Haad Rin techno dance complexes. Several of these bars were set up by southern Thais escaping from (or bringing with them?) the over-commercialised Phuket or Chaweng scenes. The music is still more 1990s than noughties, so expect plenty of Massive, Portishead and Groove Armada. Ting Tong Bar has a large fireplace area and dance floor, Don't Cry Bar even has fire jugglers and a BBQ, and Be Bop has frequent live bands and a dance floor. You'll see fliers for parties and live bands appear on the table before you, wherever you are, throughout the afternoon and evening, so it's very easy to find out what's going on.

Most of these places close down fairly early (usually 01:00ish) as they're within the town limits and the mayor wants to keep things under control. For late night spots, head over the bridge. Just 10 minutes outside Pai's limits you'll find Bamboo Bar and Don't Cry, both open until the last customers go home, which usually means 05:00 or 06:00. Bamboo's quiet and laid back while Don't Cry is friendly and lively with a half-decent pool table and food provided.

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