Pai

Pai

Busy trekking centre

Once a sleepy and somewhat remote Shan town, Pai is set in a picturesque valley in Mae Hong Son province and is these days well and truly marked on any tourist itinerary of northern Thailand. Old timers and more experienced travellers may poo-poo it for not being the “real Thailand” anymore, but if you’re a young backpacker on a first trip to Thailand it can be a great fun scene and it is now easily accessible in every sense.

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The original settlement on the left bank of the Pai River, at what is now Wiang Nua village, dates back to the Lanna period when it was an important regional centre, though there’s nothing much left to see these days. During the 1970s it was a pretty hairy spot, being controlled by the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Chinese) army and forming an important opium transit point.

River scenes. : Mark Ord.
River scenes. Photo: Mark Ord

In the 1980s, Route 1095, originally built by the Japanese during World War II, was finally sealed and the Thai government began to exert more control in the area. The pesky KMT were offered decent farmland if they agreed to behave themselves; drug lord (and/or freedom fighter, depending on your point of view) Khun Sa and his Shan State Army were pushed far enough away to no longer pose a threat, while the lingering Communist Party of Thailand insurgency was restricted to even remoter northern areas such as Nan, effectively making Pai and its surrounds accessible to ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 2,100 words.)

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