Why Pai is perfect
Nature has come to an agreement with progress in the little northern town, and everyone's very, very happy
Published on November 24, 2007
Why Pai is perfect
Civilisation normally requires centuries to develop, but in the northern town of Pai the cycle has taken less than 15 years. Before 1993, adventurous souls needed at least seven hours to get to Pai from Chiang Mai, via a treacherous dirt road. Now it takes 20 minutes to fly in the freshly laundered tourists.
In the early '90s there were one or two guesthouses and the town wasn't big enough for the both of 'em, as the cowboys might say. Today classy boutique hotels share turf with curious farmers, who surely find it odd that the rice paddies where they grow their food are now tourist attractions.
Are these visitors, they must wonder, friendly aliens or barbarians at the gate?
For the most part, the aliens have handled their invasion with care. In fact, aside from the bustling centre of town and a boom in property values, Pai overall has not really changed all that much.
Head a little way down the road and the river valley is still as blindingly beautiful as it always was. The citizens and developers have together made sure Nature's glory isn't marred by inappropriate architecture or outlandish activities.
There is, after all, really only one reason to come here - the serene natural beauty. Overlooking this fact would spell the end for the golden goose.
So the "boutique" resorts have done well in Pai. The higher-end tourist who wants to enjoy an authentic, aesthetically arresting experience will find some of the most unique, small, pretty and personalised accommodation in the country.
It only goes to show that you can't have your Pai and eat it too: Everyone is entitled to a slice of paradise.
Pai's newest and most self-consciously "world-class" boutique resort, the Quarter manages to make its modest acreage feel like a cosy little Thai village - that is of course, if the villagers were all photographers for fashion magazines.
Blending the best of traditional Thai styles with clean modern lines, quality accoutrements and natural finishes, the Quarter strikes the perfect line between living amid nature and actually living in it.
Call (053) 699 423 or (053) 699 947 or visit TheQuarterHotel.com.
A bit farther out of town, this resort is for those for whom "vista ultimate" is not just a new version of Microsoft Windows.
Though the decor can be a bit kitschy, the atmosphere is magical and the location is superb - smack dab on the river with a view of fields that will render the satellite TV programmes utterly uninteresting. A night swim in the pool next to the Pai River, with the insect orchestra tuning up in the background, is a must.
Call (053) 698 226-7 or visit BelleVillaResort.com/pai.
Another excellent option near Belle Villa is the similarly styled Baan Krating, a series of 32 plush but rustically themed villas interconnected by a verdant lagoon. With a well-sized pool, a Jacuzzi and even a meeting room for business powwows and seminars far from headquarters, Baan Krating is where you come to get away from it all, without getting away from it all.
Call (053) 698 255 or (053) 699 595 or visit BaanKrating.com.
PAI RIVER CORNER
Each of the nine rooms at this fun, friendly place sports its own unique, handcrafted look, some with modest but cosy furnishings, all the way up to one with its own indoor spa. The location by the river and right in town means you're right in the thick of things, but escape is only leisurely footsteps away.
Call (053) 699 049 or visit PaiRiverCorner.com.
Another small, quiet place by the river, with rooms similar in style to those at Pai River Corner. Likewise, each room is decorated differently, so take a look around for the one that most strikes your fancy.
Call (053) 699 403 or visit PaiVimaan.com.
Seven kilometres outside the centre, near a host of elephant-riding camps and astride a bend in the river, sits this large and unusual resort of teakwood rooms. Though the earthbound accommodation is lovely, of special note are the two treehouse rooms, which are not all that luxurious but afford their tenants not only an unmatched aerial view but the opportunity to pretend they're 12 again.
Call (081) 840 4690 or visit PaiTreehouse.com
RIM PAI COTTAGE
The oldest upscale resort in town is still one of its shining stars, thanks to a policy of not fixing what ain't broke. And though it's located by the river in the centre of town, Rim Pai Cottage still feels worlds away, far from the madding crowds (in high season) and with an unhindered lookout across the fields over on the other side of the river.
Call (053) 699 133, or visit RimPaiCottage.com.
Special to The Nation
Oliver Benjamin, author of "The Outsider's Guide to Thailand", can be reached at email@example.com