Photo: Santichong vista.

Nam Hoo and Santichong villages

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While most of the villages in the Pai Valley are quite modern, a clutch of three adjacent villages to the northwest make for an interesting trip. While they are a key feature of any of Pai’s touted day trips, this makes a good side-trip to do yourself if you have your own scooter.

Once on your chariot, follow the continuation of Chaisongkran Road past the hospital until it reaches the broad Pai bypass. Here you’ll need to cross over and take the first lane on the right signposted Nam Hoo. Nam Hoo village is an old Shan settlement with an attractive wat that’s home to an interesting Buddha image. You’ll see the temple on the left as you enter the village, with a pool and fountain sited in front of the main hall.

Wat Nam Hoo. Photo taken in or around Nam Hoo and Santichong villages, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Wat Nam Hoo. Photo: Mark Ord

Inside, you’ll find the one metre or so tall bronze image, known as Phra Un-Meuang, said to have been cast by legendary King Naresuan himself around the turn of the 17th century in honour of his sister, who’d been kidnapped by the Burmese. Holy water is rumoured to emerge from the statue’s head and any efforts to move it elsewhere have been met with conspicuous failure.

Continuing up the hill, the next village you’ll reach is an old Kuomintang settlement named Santichong. As with a string of such spots across northern Thailand, such as Mae Salong, Ban Khum (Doi Ang Khan) and Pathang (Phu Chee Fah), fleeing Chinese Republican army units known as KMT were allowed to settle in Thailand after defeat by Chairman Mao’s forces in return for assisting Thai forces to combat their own communist insurgents. There’s a wide Chinese-style gate as you enter the village, followed by an array of seriously kitsch roadside attractions. These include cafes, souvenir shops and tea-tasting salons housed in "traditional" clay houses.

Great Wall of Santichong. Photo taken in or around Nam Hoo and Santichong villages, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Great Wall of Santichong. Photo: Mark Ord

It is worth stopping here, as to the rear and not immediately obvious from the road is an astonishing recreation of what we assume is the Great Wall of China. There’s a section of battlement-lined stone wall and a guard tower where you can rent "traditional" Chinese outfits for selfies. Chinese tourists must be rather bemused at the sight but Thais love it. This so-bad-it’s-good sight is definitely worth a stop if you’re passing by.

Further on up the steep main street, the village proper has a surprisingly southern Chinese feel to it, with low Yunnanese-style houses around gated courtyards layered up a steep hillside. It is, however, a lot tamer than it was even a mere 30 years ago, when opium was still the mainstay of the village and ageing Chinese soldiers wandered the streets in their fading Republican uniforms, ancient rifles in hand.

Memorable. Photo taken in or around Nam Hoo and Santichong villages, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Memorable. Photo: Mark Ord

Follow the vertiginous road through the village to reach the Yun Lai viewpoint atop the hill, where a carpark and Chinese cafe afford spectacular views over the entire Pai Valley. This is very steep, so be careful on a scooter and if you’re not confident then park and walk. If you head back down to the gate—and again take care or you’ll end up head first in a traditional Yunnan-style living room—take a left back onto the main route which leads you up to the Lisu settlement of Ban Mor Paeng. While many of the village women still wear traditional dress, the houses are much more Thai than hilltribe. For more traditional looking villages, you’re going to have to either head for Soppong or walk a long way into the hills.

If you wind your way through the village, you’ll reach a T-junction, where a left turn leads a short distance further to the carpark for Mor Paeng Waterfall. From here a short track takes you down through trees to an attractive waterfall, but it is a victim of its ease of access and can get packed with sunbathing, beer-swilling backpackers and selfie-stick waving package tourists on a busy day. Snack stalls are set up in the carpark. There’s no entrance fee but do go early!

Hanging out at Mor Paeng Waterfall. Photo taken in or around Nam Hoo and Santichong villages, Pai, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Hanging out at Mor Paeng Waterfall. Photo: Mark Ord

If you’re doing this under your own steam, you can cut back north to join Route 1095 near the airport heading back into town to avoid backtracking.

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How to get there
This is too far to do on foot (Mor Paeng Waterfall is around nine kilometres from Pai) and too steep for most bicycles so if you haven’t got your own means of motorised transport you’ll have to sign up for a day trip. Otherwise allow a good hour’s riding time on a bike or scooter including stops. Take Chaisongkran past the hospital to the ring-road, take a left then first right and continue straight on.

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Location map for Nam Hoo and Santichong villages

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 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Pai.
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