A good way to relax
Published/Last edited or updated: 29th August, 2017
The picturesque Pai River presents contrasting scenes, ranging from bucolic views as it winds its way past the farms, paddy and chalet resorts of the Pai Valley, to spectacular jungle-clad mountains as it slices through limestone hills beyond.
Sedate and tame during the dry season, it can get pretty wild and ferocious during the monsoon months. You’ll find correspondingly sedate and more adventurous river activities on offer depending on the time of year you are in Pai. These go from a relaxing hour or so punting on a bamboo raft or a fun twirl down the valley in an over-inflated inner tube, through to a multi-day white-water expedition through mountain gorges towards Mae Hong Son.
Tubing is the simplest and cheapest of the above and can be done most months of the year. This means it's inevitably the most popular things to do, with advertisements for tubing trips ubiquitous in Pai guesthouses and travel agents. Average price is 250 baht per person, which includes a transfer by tuk tuk or pick-up upriver a few kilometres (exactly how far will depend upon water levels), from where you float back downstream into town. Trips usually last an hour, though depending upon current and water levels, slightly shorter or longer options may be available for a few baht more or less.
Take care during rainy season, as the flow can be very strong—there will be monsoon period days when tubing activities are suspended—but mind your bum on the bottom during dry season! Do be sure to wear suitable attire—if you wear a bikini or go topless on the river, you’ll end up walking back through town in the same, which is not respectful of the locals. It’s a good idea to pack some spare dry clothes to leave at the agent’s office, along with your phone and wallet.
Another relaxing means to experience the Pai River and local countryside, bamboo rafting takes you at a slow pace downriver on long thin rafts made of lashed-together bamboo trunks. Between two and four passengers travel with a boatman, who punts the raft along with a long pole. Even without splashing, it’s highly likely that you will get wet, so luggage should again be left behind, and any valuables you do take, securely sealed up in plastic bags.
The cost varies from place to place, and depends on the size of the rafts, how many passengers, and how long the journey lasts. Generally, expect to pay around 1,000 baht for a raft for an hour for up to three or four people, although for Westerners, we’d stick to a maximum of three people per raft. The most convenient spot for a walk-in rafting trip is at the eastern end of the Memorial Bridge. Look out for the Thai guy dressed as Jack Sparrow. The trip heads downstream from the bridge for around six kilometres, taking an hour or so according to the current, after which they’ll drop you back at the starting point by tuk tuk or truck. Bamboo rafting is often offered as an extra in combination with a trek or day tour.
White-water rafting on the Pai River has become very popular, with several rafting or combined trekking-rafting programmes offered by tour agents and guesthouses. There are one-day programmes, two-day rafting trips going all the way to Mae Hong Son, or combined two- and three-day trekking and rafting options. Tours ending near Mae Hong Son provide the option of staying in town or returning to Pai and of course the pick-up truck coming to collect you at the finishing point can bring your gear up if you’re staying on. Experience isn’t necessary and trips begin with a safety demonstration of paddling techniques and how to manage the rapids. The rafting is broken up by picnics on the riverbanks, bathing and visits to hot springs and waterfalls. The scenery is gorgeous, and takes you through the stunning forest-lined Pai River gorge.
Overnight accommodation will usually be either camping in private tents or a bamboo hut where everyone sleeps dormitory-style on the floor with foam mattresses, sleeping bags and mosquito nets. Food is cooked by the guides and vegetarian food is available by prior request. During the dry season from February to May programmes are normally suspended due to lack of water while in late rainy season—August and September—conditions can get pretty full-on with several grade four rapids featuring on the itineraries.
The Thai Adventure Rafting operators on Chaisongkran Road have been around for a long while. They are well organised, with professional guides and decent equipment, and offer a range of tours. When we stopped by in mid-2017, their programmes included a one-day rafting trip for 1,800 baht per person or a two-day one at 3,500 baht. The former covers 35 kilometres and some 15 rapids up to grade three, while the latter is 60 kilometres with no fewer than 60 rapids up to grade four to negotiate. Both run from July to February, require a minimum of three people and the two-day version includes a night in a jungle camp. All meals during the course of the tour are included and vegetarians are catered for. They also plan a three-day, two-night tour for the upcoming high season, so keep an eye on their very good website.
Pai offers the opportunity to do a range of other activities too such as ATV-riding, rock-climbing, kayaking, horse-riding, mountain-biking and mini-golfing. Just flick through the myriad brochures in your reception or travel agent.
Bamboo Rafting: Memorial Bridge, Wiang Tai; T: (062) 468 6801; (085) 708 4706; open Mo–Su: 07:00–17:00.
Thai Adventure Rafting: 39 Moo 3, Chaisongkran Rd, Wiang Tai; T: (053) 699 111; (081) 993 9674; http://www.thairafting.com.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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