The surrounds of Pai offer some lovely scenic landscapes for trekking, but be warned this area has been trekked for decades now, so you won't find any "rarely visited" villages.
Walking straight out of Pai town gives you only fairly limited options as a lot of the surrounding area is unspectacular open farmland, and you have a fair distance to cover before getting into the forests and hills. For an easy stroll, your best bet is to head to Mae Yen Waterfall, though your guesthouse may be able to provide you with some other suggested walks. Otherwise get your own transport into the hills to better hiking areas or sign up for an organised trek.
Most guesthouses will be happy to provide you with trekking info plus there are plenty of agents and trekking operators around town. Bear in mind that though there are several hill tribe villages nearby and lots of scenic countryside, tourists have been trekking Pai for some 30 years now and you have no chance of finding any ‘rarely visited’ villages, nor getting even remotely off-the-beaten track. Most organised treks out of Pai will usually be done in the Pang Mapha or Mae Hong Son areas, so maybe it's better to just get up that way yourself and book a trek there directly to save some money.
Note also that while we have heard excellent reports of some treks out of Pai, local guides are going to be more hit or miss than those of the larger operations in Chiang Mai. Professional guides are generally going to go where there’s the most work. The reliable Pai Adventure may be a good bet but have a walk around Pai to chat with a few operators to see what else is on offer as well.
Generally you need a minimum of two people for a departure, but if you have enough time, most agencies will advertise for other participants. Pai Adventure for example have a helpful trip status board outside their office with confirmed upcoming departures and number of people already booked. Prices vary considerably depending on the number of people going, the distance travelled and the activities covered, but as a rule expect to pay around 1,000 baht per day. Many hiking trips will also offer bamboo rafting and elephant riding as optional extras. When we visited in low season they had several rainy season discounts on offer.
Mr Chart, a freelance guide who’s been around for a while, has a good reputation and still operates out of Bamboo House. Treks with Mr Chart will not only bring you to secluded hill tribe communities, but will also educate you on jungle survival and you may find yourself eating things you never thought possible. Treks usually spread over two to three days, with scheduled visits to a Lisu village the first day, and a jungle camp the second, though he can organise up to five-day programmes. No elephants and no rafting proclaims Mr Chart -- this is trekking only!
Pai Adventure: Chaisongkran Rd; T: (053) 699 111, (081) 993 9674; http//:www.thairafting.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Chart: Bamboo House, Raddamrong Rd; T: (084) 484 9063; http//:www.trekpai.com
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 15th July, 2015.