Get out and about
Published/Last edited or updated: 29th August, 2017
The surrounds of Pai offer some lovely scenic landscapes for hiking. Be warned though that this area has hosted organised treks for decades now, so don’t expect to get too far off the beaten track or to discover any rarely visited villages.
Walking straight out of Pai town offers only limited options, as much of the vicinity is pretty but unspectacular open farmland, and you have a fair distance to cover before getting into the forests and hills. For an easy one-day 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. Huay Chang Waterfall to the east of Wiang Nua also looks promising, though we haven’t tried that route ourselves yet.
Otherwise, you can get your own transport into the hills to more promising hiking areas if you can get hold of a decent map. Huay Nam Dang National Park entrance is just off the highway, around 40 kilometres to the east, for instance, while to the west the Lisu village of Ban Nam Rin on the way to Soppong has plenty of tempting hiking trails. (Pop into Lisu Lodge for brunch or a coffee, and the friendly owner will advise you.) Most Pai guesthouses will provide you with trekking info and booking assistance plus you’ll see myriad agents and operators around town. Note that many organised treks out of Pai will actually take place in the Soppong (Pang Mapha) or Mae Hong Son areas. If you’re planning on heading up that way anyway it could be better to just wait till you get there.
Prices for organised treks 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. Generally operators require a minimum of two people to confirm a departure, but if you’re not in a rush agencies will advertise for other participants and prices should come down as numbers increase. Most spots we saw had trip status boards outside their offices with confirmed upcoming departures and the number of people already booked. Some hiking trips will also offer bamboo or white-water rafting and/or elephant-riding as optional extras (we don't recommend the latter).
Back Trax, with an office close to the bus station, are an enthusiastic bunch of guys and offer a range of hiking tours lasting from one to three days. These include treks through mountainous areas north and south of Pai as well as the Soppong area, and concentrate on walking only, without any elephants or rafting. Programmes involve a mix of overnight stays in hill-tribe villages and jungle camps. They’re quite happy to go with a minimum of only two people and itineraries are flexible, according to fitness levels. For example, they claim their one-day programme in the relatively little-trekked hills to the south of town can be tailored for anything from four to 10 hours of walking time. Prices seem very reasonable, starting at 900 baht per person for a one-day trek through to three-day treks coming in at the 2,400-2,700 baht mark.
Reliable Thai Adventure is a good bet, too. They offer one-day hikes as well as combined rafting and trekking programmes. Their one-day trip to a Lahu village in scenic Mae Lana district comes in at 1,250 baht per person including road transfer and involves around five hours of walking time. When we visited in July 2017 they were preparing one-, two- and three-day mixed rafting and hiking itineraries for high season. Check their site for further details.
Another long-standing and more or less one-man Pai trekking institution is Mr Chart, an experienced guide with an excellent reputation who operates his Trek Pai outfit out of Bamboo House on Raddamrong Road. Treks with Mr Chart will not only lead you to some of the more secluded hilltribe communities but will also educate you on jungle survival techniques; don’t be surprised to find yourself eating things you never thought possible. Trips usually stretch over two to three days, with stays at a Lisu village the first day, and a jungle camp on the second. He can organise up to five-day programmes and tour descriptions proudly claim hiking only, with no elephants or rafting. A popular and in-demand guide, Mr Chart can be a bit tricky to get hold of, so do call or email as far in advance as possible. His rates are comparable to other Pai operators, so count on around 1,000 per person per day.
Back Trax Tour: Chaisongkran Rd, next to the 7-11 store, Wiang Tai; T: (053) 699 739; (097) 936 7254; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thai Adventure: 39 Moo 3, Chaisongkran Rd, Wiang Tai; T: (053) 699 111, (081) 993 9674; http://www.thairafting.com.
Trek Pai, (Mr Chart): c/o Bamboo House, Raddamrong Rd, opposite Pai Witthaya School, Wiang Tai; T: (084) 484 9063; http//:www.trekpai.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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