Photo: Not a bridge too far.

Mae Yen village and waterfall

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In addition to being a cute little Shan village with a collection of chalet resorts and cafes, nearby Mae Yen also has a couple of noteworthy sights of its own.

If you cross over the Pai River by the road bridge on Raddamrong Road and bear right at the first fork, then Mae Yen is the first village you reach. This means it’s within reasonable walking distance of town and has a couple of very pleasant cafes along the way.

Just delivered. Photo taken in or around Mae Yen village and waterfall, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Just delivered. Photo: Mark Ord

The first feature—difficult to miss as it towers above the village—is a huge white seated Buddha image on the hill above the village temple, Wat Prathat Mae Yen. Of recent construction (when we visited in mid-2017 it still came with attached scaffolding), the statue and adjacent viewpoint have shot up Pai’s list of popular sites and a sunset visit to Wat Mae Yen is now an almost de-rigueur element of any Pai stay. On the eastern slope of the Pai Valley, the Buddha faces west so it’s the end of day complement to Yun Lai’s sunrise viewpoint.

The wat is reached from a side turning on the left in the village centre and is clearly signposted in English. A sealed road leads from here up the hill to the main temple buildings and carpark at the foot of a giant staircase taking you up to the Buddha itself. From here you can continue on the dirt track that winds its way up to the right side of the hill or you park and walk. It’s a fair climb and though we didn’t count the steps you’ll definitely be glad of a sit down at the top. The wat itself includes a bell-shaped stupa said to contain an actual relic of the Lord Buddha.

If you’re without transport and are up for walking the whole distance, then we’d set out from town at least a full hour before sundown, though plenty of agents in Pai do offer return taxi trips to the sunset viewpoint. These are pick-up truck songthaes taxis which stop in the carpark, so you’ve still got to do the staircase on foot. The going rate is 100 baht per person each way.

Jungle setting. Photo taken in or around Mae Yen village and waterfall, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Jungle setting. Photo: Mark Ord

Another popular feature in the vicinity is the eponymously named Mae Yen Waterfall, probably the best and most accessible waterfall to reach on foot from Pai town. Head east again over the bridge, bear right at the fork and take the second left (just after the Fluid swimming pool). The first couple of kilometres are along a pretty lane past resorts and paddy, with fine views back across the Pai Valley. When the sealed road runs out continue along the dirt track until you reach a small wooded carpark by a stream.

From here, don’t take the rickety bamboo bridge to the right which leads to an occasionally open cafe, but wade across the shallow stream and follow the trail up a scenic, narrow valley lined by wooded hills. The total distance from the carpark is around five kilometres each way and is relatively easy going though the path criss-crosses the Mae Yen stream numerous times, so it can depend upon water levels. There are no bridges and you will get wet, so we’d recommend sandals rather than hiking boots or you’ll be putting them on and off every five minutes.

The waterfall is pretty rather than spectacular but the hike and scenery are very pleasant and it comes without the crowds of the accessible-by-motorbike alternatives such as Mor Paeng. You’ll need to allow at least four hours for the round trip from the carpark, so don’t start out too late. If you’re walking from town, then add at least another 45 minutes each way so all in all it’s best taking a full day. (Pai to the waterfall is a total of approximately seven kilometres each way.) Take plenty of water, and perhaps a picnic. The falls themselves are good for bathing at most times of year, though we would avoid doing this excursion after a heavy storm. The dirt track can get pretty challenging on a bike and water levels may be uncomfortably high for hiking after heavy rain.

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