When I booked my trip and started reading up on Thailand and all the places I wanted to go, Pai was a name that came up again and again. I remember saying to friends after just reading up that Pai was somewhere that sounded like heaven to me - high up in the mountains, surrounded by hot springs and waterfalls, full of hippies and great places to eat. Perfect. This was part of the reason I decided to leave it until the end of my time in Thailand - as a treat because I was so certain I would be leaving on a high. It was a good decision, and just as I expected, I ended up staying longer than planned. A week in fact, instead of the four days I had booked. I could have easily stayed longer, but I knew if I did that I would still be there two years later. It was such an easy way of life to slip into, I was so happy there and met such amazing, interesting people. You simply cannot compare any other part of Thailand to Pai, anyone who doesn't make a stop there is seriously missing out on a completely different experience to the rest. Trust me.I booked in for a few days at Pai Circus School, which instead of sitting down in the town, sits high up on the mountainside overlooking Pai. For those who don't know, Pai sits high in northern Thailand and in the centre of a stunning mountain valley. Surrounded by towering mountains, the valley is sheltered from the storms, but high up on the hill you are completely exposed. We watched some beauties - the first real weather I had seen in months - rolling in over the mountains during the afternoons and at night. Spectacular to say the least! Circus School is run by an English company who expands to Thailand and now welcome backpackers - mostly English - to their stunning grounds for a break, a chance to release their inner hippy and learn some badass circus skills. I won't llie, the facilities are basic, I booked a bungalow at 300 baht a night while dorm beds were 200 - at this point I couldn't bear sleeping in another dorm for a while, needing a good night's kip. I had my own double bed, fan and mosquito net, plus shared bathrooms and toilets at the bottom of the hill - it might have been basic but I loved it and had everything I needed. There was also a pool and a chance to learn circus skills, trampoline or play games. It was such a social place and many of those staying in town came to hang out in the day.I would really recommend booking in before you arrive to be on the safe side, although I know plenty who didn't, just so you don't miss out when it does get busy. I would also recommend that everyone stays there for at least a couple of nights - even if you then move down to the town after. Staying there is such an experience, you meet so many people and I can guarantee some serious fun! Plus you get to hang out by the pool all day! I loved it there and would definitely go back. I would also recommend going to the canyon while you are in Pai - sunset is the best time and it is really beautiful to walk around. The landscape in this part of Thailand is remarkable. I wanted to go to the hot springs but never got round to it - they are awesome by all accounts just make sure you don't pay 300 but as there is a cheaper 80 bht one across the road that is just as good apparently! If you are staying at circus school - take advantage of learning circus skills - it's so much fun! I was trying my hand at Poi (fire dancing), slackline and hula hooping. It was so much fun and although I didn't have enough time to progress much, others did really well! You can also pay a small sum to have private tuition from the experts there who will coach you through it. Pai was lovely because it was the first place in a while that was completely undemanding on my time. As you can gather from my blog, I've been a busy girl up to this point and haven't missed any opportunities to get involved and go full throttle, so it was nice to relax and indulge a bit for a few days. Sometimes you just need a break from travelling! I spent the week hanging out with two fabulous girls I met in Chiang Mai (and who I ended up travelling the whole of Laos with) plus some others we met at circus school, it was so much fun. We spent our days chilling by the pool, practicing our mad circus skills and eating some of the many delicious foods on offer in the town. It was a really beautiful place to just relax and spend time with people. Our gang had plenty of time to swim, chat, laugh and even hold our own art classes for fun, we played cards at sunset, went for street food and cocktails, shopped and then held hut parties with cheap booze, drinking games and silliness. If was the best and well deserved after a week of volunteering and a hill tribe trekking tour! One of the biggest attractions to Pai was the food - which came at the perfect time. I had spent pretty much the whole three months in Thailand eating Thai food for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I was getting sick of it by then. I had some mad cravings for salad, pasta, smoked salmon, pitta, hummus, and various other delicious foods - western foods. Pai didn't disappoint - it actually had the best selection of food choices I have seen in any part of Thailand so far. My favourite restaurants were Ohm Garden - holy cow it was amazing and used all the best, freshest ingredients for salads, shakes, vegetarian food and sensational breakfasts. To put it in context - this restaurant was the furthest away from circus school, and meant walking down then up the mountain to get back in blistering heat - but we made that trip pretty much every single day because it was so worth it! Witching Well was also amazing and even served apple pie with cream for dessert, plus there was a great Thai place further along the street. I also ate a delicious Greek dish at another restaurant - you would be hard pushed to find bad food here! Definitely make sure you eat at the night market a few times as the food is freshly prepared and delicious there also, then head to some of the bars. Yellow Bar was usually busy earlier and fun, then head to Why Not? and Don't Cry for a bit of dancing, music and more booze. Everyone ends up at these bars and they are a lot of fun! There's plenty of others which are quirky and offer live music including jazz - I went to two but don't know what their names were - both were great with a fun atmosphere and lush music. Spirit Bar was fabulous, such a cool hidden bar but sadly it never really got that busy with the right crowd and the live music was pretty naff. For something a bit wonkier, head to Sunset Bar which has a lovely atmosphere, friendly people and is really comfy for hanging out - it is a bit of a trek so get a scooter there then walk back. Bamboo Bar is one they try to drag you to for a rave but the party never happens, although I did find the cutest dog in the world to play wth there! Whatever you do in Pai - be safe, have fun and enjoy! It's one of my favourite places in Thailand as many travellers say - take care of it and don't let it get ruined.
Have you been to Pai? What did you think? Did you stay at circus school?