Trekking and hiking in Pai

Well worthwhile

Photo of , , Pai

What we say: 4 stars

Walking straight out of Pai town gives you only fairly limited options as a lot of the surrounding area is unattractive open farmland and you have a fair distance to cover before getting into the forests and hills.

Walking along the river bank is better, especially once you've got out of town and away from the bungalows a bit. Mae Yen Waterfall is one of the better hikes doable from town. Head over the bridge, take the second left and it's around 7km through some of the closest hills to town, so you'll soon leave the road and be walking up a pleasant wooded valley where the path crisscrosses the Mae Yen Stream. Allow 3 or 4 hrs round trip.

Another scenic area for a stroll, though you might need a lift down there, is Pai Canyon. Just before reaching the WW2 bridge and the turn off for the hot springs, on the road to Chiang Mai is a sign on the right indicating a dirt track to follow taking you a short distance to the 'Canyon'. It's a very scenic and unusual site, being in effect a miniature Grand Canyon. It's worth a few pix and particularly good if you're into bird watching. (Our resident Travelfish bird expert reports three different kinds of woodpecker in the same tree -- exceptional!)

If you're staying out of town then you're guesthouse or resort will certainly be able provide you with suggested walks in the area, otherwise you're limited to getting transport into the hills to better hiking areas or signing up for an organised trek. Again most guesthouses will be more than happy to provide you with trekking info and there are plenty of agents and trekking operators around town as well. Bear in mind that though there are plenty of hill tribe villages in the nearby hills 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. Indeed most organised treks out of Pai will usually be done in the Pang Mapha or Wiang Haeng areas, so maybe it's better to just get up that way yourself and book a trek up there directly to save some money.

As far as organised trekking goes, a number of registered trekking agencies in Pai offer options for seeing the local countryside on foot, and getting to hilltribe villages and scenic spots that are otherwise inaccessible. Most popular are three-day, two-night or two-day, one-night trips that take in local Lisu, Lahu and Karen villages and a waterfall or hot spring.

Generally you need a minimum of two people for a departure, but if you have enough time, most agencies will advertise for other participants. Prices vary depending on the number of people going, the distance travelled and the activities covered but as a rule expect to pay around 700B-1,000B per day.

Most agencies will also offer bamboo rafting and elephant riding as an optional extra to tack on to your trek for around 200B per person per activity.

If you want to spend more time in the region, or go further than the average trekker, it is usually possible to organise your own trekking trip. There's not really so much reason to trek for more than five to seven days.

Highly recommended is Mr Chart. He is a freelance guide who has gained a steady reputation in Pai and 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. Contact Mr Chart by phone on (089) 953 3605 or see his website at http://www.trekpai.com/

Back Trax can organise treks of one to three days or longer. Everything is flexible. Their guides are very friendly and speak very good English, and some speak other local languages. At least 15% of the cost of your trip goes toward supporting and developing the villages they visit, in addition to a fee paid for your stay, and they are more than happy for you to carry in much-needed blankets, medicine, clothes, and school supplies to donate. The guides will help you distribute these responsibly to the head of the village, a school teacher or local doctor. Their office is on Chaisongkhram Road. T:(053) 699 739, (081) 035 2253. backtraxinpai @ yahoo.com

Pai Adventure offer a wide range of combination trekking, rafting and elephant riding packages. Contact them by phone T: (053) 699 385, (089) 953 4848. http://www.thailandpai.net. pairafting @ hotmail.com.


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