Pai Tourism & Development

At one time, Pai was a peaceful market village populated by the Shan people, a group of native Tai who adopted some elements of Burmese culture. Though tourist season brings crowds that make Pai a little less peaceful, time still moves very slowly in Pai, making it a great place for hurried and harried Westerners to learn to slow down and relax.
In recent years, however, the focus of Pai has turned to tourism. Popular with backpackers for its casual, carefree environment, Pai has no shortage of inexpensive places to stay, restaurants, and places to buy keepsakes. Near Pai, explorers can find any number of spas and elephant camps. A little farther from Pai are waterfalls and several natural hot springs that vary in temperature anywhere from 80-200F (27-93C). Many area resorts divert hot water from these springs into pools and bungalows. Situated in a valley, Pai is a great central point from which tourists can venture out and visit some of the hill dwellers such and the Karen and Hmong peoples. Each Wednesday brings crowds of people from the surrounding villages to market. Tourists can also float down the Pai canal on a raft made of bamboo.
In recent years Pai has gained status as a Thailand tourist attraction and has added a number of improvements to accommodate visitors. Some of these improvements include: airport offering multiple daily flights, small and medium luxury resorts with a total of more than 350 properties, four new 7-Eleven stores, nightclubs with live music, bars and three new sets of traffic lights. During the off-season, Pai is still the quiet little town it once was, but with the arrival of tourist has come a rush of business investment and land speculation by both foreigners and Thais from larger cities. This has caused some degree of controversy between those who see the changes as a fundamental part of Pai’s future and those who lament the passing of Pai culture.
The tourist season of Pai runs from November through March and brings crowds of visitors. Before 2006, the majority of tourists to Pai were foreigners, and Pai is still quite popular with backpackers, but in the past few years Pai has seen more visitors from other parts of Thailand. The movies The Letter: Jod Mai Rak (2004) and Ruk Jung (2006), both Thai romance films the featured Pai, are credited with attracting visitors from other parts of Thailand.
Pai hosts a number of regular music festivals and an International Enduro Championship (a motorcycle sport). At the height of tourist season, the crowds become so dense that they cause traffic jams and electricity, water and fuel shortages.

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