Kicking Back in Pai

Ahh, Pai. What is NOT to like about Pai? That's my question. 


Just a few hours, and a couple hundred turns, north of Chiang Mai, this mountain paradise was recommended to us from everyone we met who’d traveled across Thailand. It was usually referred to as “the place where you get stuck” or “the stoner’s paradise.” Everyone who mentioned it told us it was their favorite place in Thailand. 

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Right they were. 

Not only is Pai absolutely beautiful, but it’s become a haven for travelers and expats alike who’re looking for a more laidback place to set up shop for a while. With a stunning natural backdrop, plenty of daytime adventures to take, and seemingly endless restaurants and bars, Pai is an easy paradise. 

I have to be fully honest, Anna and I spent 5D/4N in Pai doing nearly nothing. It was fantastic, we regret nothing. That was all we wanted to do after what felt like forever of constant go-go. We put our feet up and said NOPE to everything other than food, the night market, and a few solid nights out with some German friends we met at our hostel. 

So, without further ado, here’s a solid list of things I can personally recommend and the things my less lazy friends recommended to me.

How to Get to Pai


Simple enough. You’re probably getting into Pai from Chiang Mai, which is the largest city in northern Thailand. You can hop a bus from Arcade Bus station, purchase tickets from just about any accommodation or tour center, and you’re set. They run about 5x per day and take roughly four hours. 

WARNING: This road is turns on turns on turns. 762 of them to be exact. If you get motion or car sick, dramamine is a great idea. 

You can also fly to Pai from Chiang Mai. Seems a bit like overkill to me since they’re so close but if you’re looking to go straight through the airport that is an option. 

Your last option is to motorbike. This is probably the best way to see the drive if you’re comfortable on a bike. It is also the most dangerous due to weather, the roads, and other drivers. Please only do this is you’re comfortable on a bike and WEAR A HELMET! So many people get into accidents on this road and you don’t want to cut your trip to Pai short before you even get up there. 

Where to Stay in Pai

These are all hostels, though I’m sure Pai has some beautiful, slightly pricier options if that’s what you’re looking for. I recommend checking Trip Advisor!

Jikko Harem

This was where we stayed. It’s located slightly off the Pai’s main area, but the wonderful staff who run the place will give you a lift into town whenever you want. It’s beautiful, clean, quiet, and the hostel chain owns two bars in town that you’ll get awesome discounts at. We were going to stay for two nights before switching to Common Grounds and just never did. Highly recommend.

Hostelworld Link

P.S. I think now they have a more central location, though we never saw it. 

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Common Grounds

Probably the most popular hostel in Pai, Common Grounds is the place to stay if you want to be right next to the action and get your party on every night. Definitely a bit pricier than some of your other options, but that comes with demand.

Hostelworld Link

Green Hostel & Skatepark

The other hostel we looked at. Looks beautiful and has fantastic reviews as well as a skatepark attached.

Hostelworld Link

Where to Eat in Pai

This is a toughie because where do I begin? You’ve got so, so many fantastic options in Pai, especially if you’re vegan/vegetarian. Without going into too much detail, here’s a solid list of where we went/where we were sent:

  • Earthtone Vegetarian Cafe**

  • Ganesh

  • Cafecito (Mexican)**

  • Om Garden Cafe

  • FatCat

  • Oasis Bar & Restaurant 

  • Pen’s Kitchen

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Where to Party in Pai

Let’s level here: if you’re headed to Pai it’s fair to assume that you’re looking to party, to smoke, to get a little twisted. 

If you’re looking to drink, there are endless options for you. Here are some we checked out and heard about:

  • C Bar**

  • Jikko Bar

  • Yellow Sun

  • Boom Bar

  • Why Not?**


If you’re looking for a little something more, there are two places you can go: Sunset Bar and Paradise Bar. We went to both to check them out, they’ve definitely got a lot of hype, and preferred the atmosphere at Paradise but the drinks at Sunset.

Warning: drugs are illegal in Thailand and you can 100 percent be prosecuted for purchasing/consuming them, regardless of how many people do it or whether or not a place is “chill” about it. In Pai, specifically, police raid the main drag and are stationed both near the bridge leading to Sunset/Paradise at night and at tourist hotspots like the Grand Canyon. They can and will search you if they suspect you!

Adventures in Pai

Heading to Pai to explore some of the natural beauties in the area? You’ve got plenty of options!

The trickiest element is getting from one or the other. The easiest way to zip around Pai is by motorbike. You can easy rent these in town or just ride yours around if you drove up on one. Your other option is a rental car, taxi, a tuk-tuk, or a tour, depending on what you’re trying to do. 

Some of your options for scooter rentals.

Some of your options for scooter rentals.


Some of Pai’s natural highlights include:

  • Pai Canyon (go for sunset)

  • Pai Hot Springs

  • Pam Bok or Mor Paeng Waterfall

  • Pai Piranha Fishing Park

  • Boon Ko Ku So Bridge


Night Market

Looking for something to do in the city? Explore Pai’s fantastic night market! You’ll find wonderful street food and tons of crafts, jewelry, and clothing lining the main walking street in Pai each night. 

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Phnom Penh

Warning: Some content in this post may be potentially disturbing.

Bustling Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a lively, exciting city full of character. Cambodian culture oozes from the cracks of the bustling city streets, from crafty stalls in the art deco Central Market to fried creepy crawlies in the many night markets. Although often overshadowed by Siem Reap, Phnom Penh is a must-see city of Southeast Asia.

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Getting to Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has an international airport for those flying in from far-off cities. Otherwise, buses and vans are also a suitable option. Coming from Siem Reap, we hired a van for the 6-hour journey. Our driver was two hours late, and the aircon wasn’t nearly high enough - but such is Cambodian van travel! There are plenty of companies that will book you in a van or a bus for less than $10.

For some reason, maybe the absurdly hot climate, Phnom Penh is known for pool hopping. We stayed in a hostel called Eighty8 Backpackers, which of course, had its own pool. When looking for accommodation, opt for one where you can take a dip in the scorching afternoon. You probably won’t want to be out during the heat anyway.

Understanding Cambodian History

Cambodia’s history is riddled with violence and instability. But now, Cambodians are happy to be at peace and eager to share stories about their country’s past.

Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge’s army emerged from the jungles of Eastern Cambodia where they had been building under the leadership of Pol Pot. They captured the capital, overthrew the government, and sought to return the country to an agrarian, socialist republic. The Khmer Rouge regime shut down Cambodian cities and imprisoned anyone who was seen as opposition to Pol Pot’s idea of the perfect society, including scholars, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and most professionals. pPrisoners were interrogated, tortured, and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. After which, they were trucked to unmarked “Killing Fields,” and brutally executed.

The Killing Fields

Phnom Penh’s main attraction is the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, otherwise known as The Killing Fields. “Killing Fields” are burial grounds throughout Cambodia where mass execution occurred under Khmer Rouge, killing between 1.5 to 3 million people. Choeung Ek is the largest known site in Cambodia where over 8,800 bodies were uncovered, thus adopting the overarching name of “The Killing Fields.”

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Visiting the Killing Fields is an emotional, but necessary experience for anyone visiting Cambodia. The $8 admission fee includes an audio tour, which is the best way to get the most out of your visit. The tour will take you through 18 spots around the fields, each with an accompanying narrative and a few sub-topics for those wishing to dig deeper. If you’re not rushing to catch a flight, take the time to listen to each story.

At the far end of the grounds, there is a pond you can walk around and listen to stories of survivors, or just be in your own head. The Killing Fields are provocative and potentially triggering, so prepare to have time to process your thoughts.

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The last stop on the audio tour brings you to the central stupa, a memorial for the unburied victims. Within the glass walls of the memorial are shelves upon shelves filled with skulls of those massacred at Choeung Ek. The lowest shelves are displayed with color-coded stickers indicating the cause of death drawn by forensic specialists, including the suspected tools. Being in the stupa with the remains can be both overwhelming and enlightening.

Be sure to donate a dollar or two to contribute a flower and incense to the memorial.

S21 Genocidal Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum is an accompanying experience to the Killing Fields, or perhaps an alternative for those who may find the Fields too triggering. S21 was originally a high school converted to a prison upon capture by the Khmer Rouge regime. Now, the grounds serve as both a memorial and an educational opportunity.

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The classrooms were converted into torture chambers, interrogation rooms, and prison cells. As you walk through the old eerie campus, you’ll find the rooms filled with meticulous records of the prisoners kept by the Khmer Rouge Regime. Thousands of images fill the walls of unjustly persecuted Cambodians. Over 14,000 people were brought to the prison, and only 7 are known to have survived. Spend some time observing the artistic depictions of what life was like in the prison.

Central Market

For a more upbeat, lively experience of Phnom Penh, check out the vivacious Central Market! The bright yellow art deco building is jam packed with shops and countertops full of Cambodian goodies.

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Browse the sparkling silver boxes, the wooden carvings, old war memorabilia, charming jewelry, flashy watches, and heaps of textiles! This is definitely the place to grab grandma a good souvenir.

Night Markets

You cannot miss a food market while in Phnom Penh. Check out the Sambath Tonle Bassac  Night Market for an authentic Cambodian night out. There are loads of vendors lined up along the Wat Botum Park where families gather to enjoy the late afternoon’s setting sun. Each cart has a full spread of oddities to throw on the grill - cucumber-stuffed squids, full-sized frogs, slimy garlic snails, and still-moving seafood!

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Jet’s Container Night Market is another great place to hit the town. There are a couple blocks of lively restaurants bumping loud music and selling cheap beer - popular with the young folk. Try a few things from one of the buffets and climb directly above to the dining area where you can join all the other market-goers across the whole market!

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If you’re still hungry, head to the Night Market (vaguely named) right next to the Children Park Koh Pich. The food stalls create a courtyard-esque seating area made up of straw mats and low tables. Grab some noodles and pop a squat, or just wander around the maze of shops and listen to some local performers on the full-size stage!

Vibe Asia

Vibe Asia is an amazing 100% plant-based vegan restaurant on Street 446. This three-story cafe offers vibrant, filling meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Head to the top floor for a table in their cozy “rooftop jungle” among hanging plants and straw cushions.

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You can leave with a smile on your face knowing that 10% of Vibe’s proceeds are donated to the Good Vibe Foundation, bringing healthy vegan food to children around Cambodia! Check them out at https://goodvibefoundation.org/ for more information!

Laid Back Langkawi

Getting to Langkawi

If you’re in Penang already, Langkawi is just a boat ride away, albeit, a long, uncomfortable boat ride away. The boat only leaves from the Swettenham Pier twice a day, so be sure to book ahead of time.

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The boat is almost always full. It seats all 80-100 passengers below deck in tightly packed, 4-seater rows. There is barely any airflow and the windows are small, making for a rough 3-hour ride. Definitely take some dramamine if you get sea sick. The boat brings you to the Kuah ferry port. Most accommodation is on the west part of the islands, only a 20-minute Uber/taxi ride.

We stayed at the Honey Badger Hut Hostel. It’s a bit out of the main downtown area, but it’s quieter, supremely relaxing, and has beautiful lighting in the afternoon.

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Private rooms are uniquely built a-frame huts scattered around the property, making for a boutique resort vibe.Except for the resident cows that hang out with you around the patio at night, who are very friendly nonetheless.

Things to Do in Langkawi

Whether you’re here to cross the famous SkyBridge or just kick back on the beach for a few days, Langkawi is perfect to slow down for a little bit. The easiest way to get around is on a scooter, which can be rented anywhere on the island. We rented ours from Vila Thai, the big green hostel on Jalan Bohor Tempoyak. 

BE AWARE THAT SCOOTERS ARE DANGEROUS. This doesn’t mean you can’t use them, but BE FKN CAREFUL. We ended up at the local Langkawi hospital at 2 in the morning. Everyone’s fine, but just be careful on scooters.

SkyBridge

The SkyBridge is certainly the most popular attraction on Langkawi, so expect crowds and long queues. It’s on the north part of the island, about 25 minutes from downtown via scooter. BE AWARE that Wednesdays are scheduled maintenance days, so the the skycar doesn’t open until noon - which we didn’t realize until we got there at 10:30 in the morning.

First, buy a ticket for the skycar which will take you up to the top of the mountain. The ride up is beautiful and will make your fingers tingle at the shear height of the cabs. You can opt for a glass bottom car for a few extra bucks, but the regular ones give you spectacular views anyway. 

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Then at the top, you can buy a second ticket to take another cab across to the bridge for $10, or you can just walk for $5. The walk includes a LOT of stairs, which is fine getting to the bridge. But the walk back will be a sweaty one.

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The bridge is stunning. Predictably amazing views of the island and surrounding water, but stunning nonetheless. There are some areas of the bridge built with clear panes of glass so you can see through to the forest below. It’s a bit exhilarating to trick your body into stepping out onto the glass, but makes for cool pictures if you can brave it. The far end of the bridge has more beautiful views, so make sure to go all the way to the end.

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There are a bunch of shops and food options in the base village as well. You’ll have plenty other attractions to fill your day with if you so desire. Otherwise, if you’re just there for the sweeping blue skies and gondola rides, head to the Seven Wells for the afternoon instead.

Seven Wells

The Seven Wells are equally frequented by locals and tourists alike. They’re right nearby the SkyBridge on the north part of the island, so it’s the great stop for an afternoon dip. The place is like a naturally occurring waterpark. The slippery orange rocks create a network of smooth waterslides, complete with pockets of deep pools to float around and relax in - a perfect hotspot to cool off on any day.

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Scarsdale’s Fish Restaurant

If you’re already on the North side of the island, do NOT miss the opportunity to get fish and chips at Scarsdale’s. It’s right on the beach, and they make some awesome fried Dory.

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Great spot for a sunset dinner. Or show up for lunch, grab a beer and spend the afternoon soaking in the sun out front.

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Beach

This is where you’ll want to head to for some adrenaline-based activities. They have banana boats, parasailing, jet skiing, or plain old sunbathing for the slower-paced beachgoers. There are a bunch of dive shops and snack shacks along the beach, too.

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Head here for a stunning sunset, and stick around for the late-night fire dancers. Bars along the beach will set out mats and little tables around the main performance area for audience enjoyment. Feel free to order some snacks, fruity drinks, or even a hookah for the show.

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Digs on Langkawi

  • Scarsdale’s Fish Restaurant - reference above.
  • The Kasbah on Langkawi - amazing burgers, outdoor lounge seating, and all around chill vibes.
  • Thirstday Bar and Restaurant - modern vibes with outdoor seating on the beach, plenty of cocktails and legitimate pizza options
  • Yellow Beach Cafe - A yellow restaurant on the beach, surprised?
  • Honey Badger Hut Hostel on Langkawi - they have cool huts for private rooms and friendly bovine pets.
  • Vila Thai - huge hostel with big dorms, and they have scooter rentals and massages available even if you’re not staying there.

More Pictures!