Pai used to be a peaceful market town where Shan people (an ethnic Tai group with roots in Myanmar) lived (formerly called Burma). Nowadays, Pai is mostly supported on tourism. It is home to several hot springs and is mostly a hippy attraction. The town is popular with travellers because to its laid-back vibe and plenty of inexpensive lodging options, gift shops, and dining establishments. There are spas and elephant camps around the town. There are several waterfalls and natural hot springs outside of the city that range in temperature from 80 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 39 °C). Some resorts use hot water from the hot springs to fill their public pools and private bungalows. Pai’s location at the base of the mountains makes it a popular starting point for travellers who want to walk and visit hill tribes including the Karen, Hmong, Lisu, and Lahu. The town’s Wednesday Market, which draws sizable crowds of local villagers and tribal people from all around the Pai Valley, is another noteworthy feature. The Chinese village of Santichon, which lies on the outskirts of the town, also draws tourists.
Pai has recently gained significant infrastructure improvements, including an airport with multiple daily flights, nine 7-Eleven locations, several small- to medium-sized luxury resorts totalling more than 350 lodging properties, numerous live music venues, beer bars, and three sets of traffic lights. Both farang (Western Caucasians) and urban Thais have reacted by investing in businesses and speculating on property. While some see these modifications as ushering in a new era of wealth for Pai, others lament the loss of the old practises and culture of Pai.
Numerous visitors are present throughout the peak travel months of November through March. Prior to 2006, international visitors dominated, but Thai visitors are increasingly making up ground, especially after Pai appeared in two well-liked Thai romantic comedies, The Letter: Jod Mai Rak and Ruk Jung. When it’s tourist season, Pai has traffic bottlenecks, a lack of electricity, water, and gasoline, as well as a spike in visitor numbers.
In addition to holding an international Enduro competition, Pai hosts music events. It’s close to Pai Canyon (Kong Lan).
More than 5,000 years have passed since human habitation began in the Pai area of today. Approximately 2,000 years ago, the Lua (or Lawa) Tribe dominated much of what is now northern Thailand, and some of their descendants still reside in communities within 20 kilometres from Pai.
A hamlet that is now known as Ban Wiang Nuea was established around 800 years ago, roughly 3 kilometres north of where Pai is located today. In 1251 AD, Shan immigrants from what is now northern Myanmar established Ban Wiang Nuea. People at that period were mostly shut off from news from the outside world as a result of the region’s isolation and isolation, which made them less interested in the politics of Lanna and the rest of Thailand. When the first inhabitants from Chiang Mai came in the 14th and 15th centuries, that radically altered. To strengthen and reaffirm Lanna’s geographical dominance, it was part of Lanna policy at the time to despatch throne-loyal subjects to the empire’s outposts. The outcome was a fight over territorial domination in the Pai region that ultimately sparked a number of conflicts. The Shan warriors were ultimately routed by the Lanna forces in 1481, forcing them to flee to Myanmar. The Lanna prince gave the Shan families permission to remain in the area where they had long before established dwellings, farmed their land, and raised their families. They also received some degree of cultural and social autonomy under Lanna kingdom law and rule. As a consequence, Ban Wiang Nuea was transformed into a community that was firmly separated between a “Shan” half and a “Lanna” part by a wall.
The colonial powers France and England, who had already established their hegemony in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, began paying more attention to the region that is now Thailand in the second half of the 19th century. The royal family pushed Northern Thais from provinces like Payao, Lamphun, and Nan to immigrate to those places in order to increase Siam’s power and influence in the northern border region. Conflict ensued once more, and at Ban Wiang Nuea the last battle between Lanna Thai and Shan was fought in 1869. Lanna warriors eventually overcame their Shan adversaries, and the fighting resulted in the complete destruction of the hamlet. The entire community was completely destroyed by fire. The residents’ subsequent efforts to reconstruct left Ban Vieng Nuea with every building that is there now.
By the late 19th century, there was already a “road” (which may take a week to travel) between Chiang Mai and Pai. This community, which went by the name of Ban Wiang Tai, eventually grew into the Pai of today. Many of the new immigrants decided to establish themselves in the region near the routes that connected it to Mae Hong Son.
In order to assist their planned attacks on Imphal and Kohima, the Japanese started a number of initiatives in 1943 to establish effective troop and equipment supply routes between Thailand and Myanmar. One of these initiatives was the development of the current road from Chiang Mai to Pai and the patchwork of trails on to Mae Hong Son, in addition to the well-known Death Railway via Kanchanaburi. It is now unable to verify the way of crossing the Pai River, which is located about 10 km south-east of the City of Pai. After the war, a bridge was built there and misnomerically dubbed the “World War II Memorial Bridge.” It appears to have been built (and twice expanded) as part of Thai government initiatives to upgrade roads. When it became clear that the modifications could not be finished in time for the planned attack on Imphal, the Japanese attempt to build a road connection between Chiang Mai and Pai and then on to Mae Hong Son was abandoned in the early months of 1944. After their terrible defeats at Imphal and Kohima, the Japanese did use the incomplete road as a route of escape.
The Route 1095 road connecting Chiang Mai, Pai, and Mae Hong Son was first constructed by the Thai government in 1967, although it wasn’t paved until the early to mid-1990s.
Pai’s recent history is characterised by waves of migration: in addition to the old Shan and Lanna waves, Karen immigrants arrived in the 18th century, Lisu and Lahu people from southern Chinese regions arrived in the early 20th century, Muslim families from Chiang Mai started arriving to establish trading businesses around 1950, a group of Kuomintang fleeing Mao Zedong established a community in Pai in the early 1960s, and, finally, a new wave of refugees from the Syrian conflict arrived in Pai