831km (515 miles) NW of Bangkok; 135km (84 miles) NW of Chiang Mai
Halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the mountain road makes a winding descent into a large green valley carpeted with rice paddies and fruit groves. Mountains rise on all sides, and on warm afternoons, butterflies flit along the streets. Here you'll find a village called Pai, named after the river that runs through the valley. Pai is a speck of a place with main roads (all four of them) littered with homegrown guesthouses, laid-back restaurants and bars, local trekking companies, and small souvenir shops.
The Pai River itself is one of the main attractions here. Outfitters organize rafting adventures on some pretty raucous rapids from July to January. Trekking is also popular, with 2- and 3-day treks to Karen, Lahu, and Lisu villages. The adventurous can find a local map for self-guided hikes to nearby waterfalls and caves, but quite a few wayfarers just lounge in town living simply and enjoying the nightlife. In Pai it seems every day is a lazy Sunday. Many local business owners are foreigners, or bohemian Thais, who come here for a slower pace than bustling Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Note: Pai was hit with devastating flash floods in September 2005. Flash flooding flattened the central market, and the overflowing Pai River claimed a few riverside bungalows. Over 20 -- mostly ethnic hill-tribe people -- were lost.