Pai is a gourmet delight
If you're serious about food, Pai is your slice of pie. With flavors sure to please any taste bud, and all within walking distance, your biggest worry this trip might just be how you're going to choose.
If this corner of Northern Thailand is one of your first stops, you'll probably enjoy the wide selection of local cuisine. If it's your last, your hungry stomach might be begging to visit another part of the world. Pai has both covered.
Early Riser? Most of the city doesn't begin to rub the sleep out of their eyes until just before 9am, but waking early (perhaps to catch the monk offering on the main road) allows you to enjoy one of the best rice porridge bowls I've tasted. Just across the road from 7-11 on Chaisongkram Road (Walking Street), you'll see a street cart and several tables. For 25 baht, you get a tasty local breakfast and the pleasure of sitting in the cool morning air.
Down the road heading east, just after the first stoplight, you'll see a decorated cafe called Pai Now (Black Canyon Coffee). There you can top off your porridge with locally grown coffee from the Pai countryside where beans are selected solely for Black Canyon - the Starbucks of Thailand. Or you can order a bagel sandwich or pastry to satisfy a different craving.
Party hard and sleep late? This is your town. Though several cafes are opening their doors at 9am, many others trail behind throughout the day. Make your way to Savoei on Walking Street and try the pan egg - a northern staple that's hard to find in other parts of the country. Resembling an open-face omelet (not the greasy Thai style) and served right in the hot pan with toast, you're sure to start your morning off right. Ms. Gaew will serve you coffee as well, but it's Nescafe. For some real espresso, make your way east, to Madame Ju, just across the street from Pai Now, after the stoplight.
Lunch is best grabbed at a street stand. To get a taste of some mouthwatering curry, stop into the market area across from the 7-11 on Rangsiyanon Road. Most of the stalls aren't open yet, but behind the third stand back, on the right hand side stands Ms. Ung. She'll greet you with a smile and ask you to sit. Order the yellow noodles with green curry (50 baht) and you won't be disappointed.
If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, go to the market on Ketkelang Road and eat at one of the stalls. Unless you speak a little Thai, you’ll have to point at something, but you may love what you get! If you do, be sure to ask them how to say it in Thai so you can order it again.
When 6 o'clock strikes, it's as if you've been waiting all day for this sleepy town to wake up, and it does not disappoint. Walking Street begins setting up for the long night with food stands from every part of the world. Try The Curry Shack in front of The Green Restaurant for 20 baht, the burritos located in the open lot across from Wat Pa Kam (not quite authentic, but with real, refried beans, it's quite tasty if you've been on the road for a while), the pumpkin spring rolls near 7-11, or the Burger Queen stand, which is rumored to be just short of amazing. I didn't try it, but word gets around this small town and I met several people who had returned several times.
When you tire of the street food, try the Khao Soi (another northern favorite) at Northern Thai Cuisine, across the road from Madame Ju, or take your taste buds to Greece at Mama Falafel (in the alley that is Wanchalerm Road). Aside from Bangkok, I had yet to see Greek food anywhere in Thailand, and the warm pita with homemade hummus quite literally made my mouth do a happy dance after six months without.
After you've walked off your dinner and checked out the town, treat yourself to dessert. You're in Pai, after all. Without a doubt, the best selection and most flavorful (and I tried many, just for you) sweets can be found at Cake Go-O on Rangsiyanon. Don't wait too long though, this adorable little shop with cozy whicker chairs in an imitation garden setting closes at 8pm.
If you missed your chance, the next best option is Madame Ju where you may have already enjoyed the coffee and picked out your piece of pie. For an afternoon craving, drive out of town toward Chiang Mai and follow the many signs to Coffee in Love where you can enjoy your dessert while taking in the foggy mountains surrounding you.
I'd suggest only getting your cake there and moving a bit farther down the road to The Container for your coffee. Also on the left side of the road, The Container has no English sign but you can't miss the bright colors and the egg-shaped swings covering the roof. While it's not the most memorable coffee you'll have, relaxing in a cushiony swing with a beautiful view of the Pai countryside will most likely stay with you forever.
Side note: The ultra relaxed atmosphere also means some cafes, restaurants and/or shops might be closed on any given day. If it looks good and it's open - stop in while you can!
Learn to Cook at A Taste of Pai: Located behind May World Travel in the same building as Savoei, Pai Cookery School has the cleanest equipment around, and the owner, Ms. Gaew, runs a busy restaurant so you know you’re learning from an accomplished chef. Pay 700 THB to learn six dishes during the day, or 600 THB for a night course of only four.
Eat Organic at Fat Cat: I learned of this place too late to try it for myself because the woman who owns/runs it was on vacation, but the reviews were beyond amazing. Whatever you choose to eat from her organic menu is then picked from the onsite garden. Expect to spend several hours waiting for her to pick and then cook your meal, but the place is cozy and the food is worth waiting for. It doesn’t get more organic than Fat Cat.