RTW Trip


Pai, Thailand: the latest town to be ruined by backpackers

Sitting in Pai, Thailand, I have a sense shame as a traveler by being associated with backpackers.  On the one hand, traveling breeds business opportunities and distributes money to places where there’s very little of either.  Backpackers have flocked to this town since Chiang Mai is more “touristy” nowadays, making Pai a busy little place.  On the other hand, the locals will start providing the things that sell to the tourists even if these things aren’t good for the people.  This can lead to situations like Pai where there’s weird perversions of culture.  It’s not the perversion of culture that has lead to the sex trade found more in Bangkok and Phuket, but Pai has been turned into a non-Thai town.  Backpackers complain about locations getting too westernized, so I was eager to see firsthand what all the fuss was about.
We’ve experienced this phenomenon in other cities as well such as Cusco, Peru and Cairns, Australia.
Locals are outnumbered by tourists

The town is basically bar after bar filled with backpackers

White people, white people everywhere.
For locations that are supposedly off the beaten path, why are these backpacker towns so damn full of tourists?  Cusco was shocking in this way too, where the entire town could have been in middle America I probably wouldn’t have known any different.  So far, the most authentic places we’ve been on this round the world trip have been to the large cities.  In Lima, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and Santiago it’s very easy to find local culture just by walking a few blocks away from any tourist attraction (you know you’re there when no one speaks English).  In Pai, even the street vendors understand English just fine, and many of the locals are fluent.
It’s hard to take backpackers seriously as people that get deep into the culture when this is the easiest town to travel yet.  If a local here doesn’t understand English, just ask one of the infinite tourists where or what something is.  Why did they come all this way if they just wanted to be with other westerners?
The food in this tiny Thai town isn’t Thai
Metal bar in Thailand
Because why wouldn’t there be a metal bar for Euros in a tiny Thai town? Obviously.

Breakfast in other countries tends to suck pretty bad.  In Pai, American breakfast is everywhere and often served all day.  The only place we could even find breakfast served in Bangkok was at McDonald’s, and that was to break up the monotony of eating hard boiled eggs every morning.  So I can understand that breakfast places would become popular in areas with a lot of western tourists.  I’ll give the backpackers a pass on supporting breakfast.  For the rest of it, no free pass.
European style cafes are everywhere.  There’s a reggae bar, a metal bar, and a dance bar all within a block or two of each other.  The popular restaurants are burger joints and Italian places.  There are even smoothie stands and street vendors selling pizza.  Oh, and there’s a god damn steak place here.  The entire country might have 100 cows total, and there’s a steak place in a small town in north Thailand.  The reviews for the steak restaurant are all terrible.  It’s not hard to know why: this isn’t their culture, and they don’t even have the beef to make good steak possible.
Basically there’s very little Thai food being served here, and that’s for an obvious reason: the backpackers don’t eat it.  These people travel halfway around the world just to eat food that’s available and better made back home.  You can’t make up something this stupid.
The WiFi is amazing here
Everywhere we go in Pai, the WiFi has been excellent and free.  And I mean excellent as in “excellent by US standards”.  By Thai standards we are in internet heaven.  Again, this didn’t just happen by accident.  We’ve been to several countries where the WiFi has been atrocious.  Good WiFi cropped up in Pai because people support places with good WiFi.  I’m not going to look down my nose at someone for wanting constant internet access.  I think it’s the greatest invention since the printing press and it should be considered a basic right for everyone, after things like clean drinking water/safe roads/police/etc.  But it’s really hard to believe that backpackers are striving for authentic experiences when this is yet another indicator they don’t engage with the culture itself.
God I love seeing tourists rent bikes they’ve never driven in places they’ve never been. There’s a good amount of tourists limping and heavily bandaged in Pai from cycle accidents. Darwin award material.

Backpackers just want their own culture for bargain prices, and are using 3rd world labor to accomplish that
That’s probably the most cynical view of the situation and certainly not true for some backpackers, but it’s really hard to argue with when you see these backpacker towns.  Hostels are just dorms where backpackers can mingle with their own kind for next to nothing per night.  Sure they are meeting other travelers, but these places are overwhelmingly frequented by other westerners who look and act the same.  Same styles of bags, same tattoos/piercings, same hair styles, same clothes, go to the same places… for people who claim to be so counter-culture or anti-establishment, it looks like they have a prescribed uniform and rulebook that they follow to the letter.
Maybe I just gave backpackers too much credit
The town had some charm to it now and then

My view of a backpacker was someone that blazed trails into unknown cultures that the rest of us could follow.  Someone that abandoned corporate culture back home to do something more meaningful than chase promotions.  Maybe some backpackers are like this.  It’s possible.
What I overwhelmingly see is a group of people who are failures back home who just want to get drunk every night and not actually experience the culture they’ve traveled so far to be surrounded by.  And when we get here and the locals think that all we want from them are burgers, beer, a room, and sex (all for incredibly cheap prices)… that makes me ashamed to be a traveler.  I came to Pai to experience small town Thai culture, only to find that the backpackers stomped it out and set up burger joints.



  1. John
    April 11, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    Extremely accurate. I traveled to Pai hearing that it was a beautiful hippie paradise, full of good weed, good food, and authentic Thai culture. Pai literally has none of that, or at least far less than everywhere else I’ve been to in Thailand. It is the last place in Thailand that I would visit again.

    • Galo
      December 23, 2018 / 9:35 am

      I’ve arrived less than three hours ago and already feel this way. It’s pretty gross.
      I’m going to give this place a chance and spend a few days in the outskirts, then I’m out.

  2. Irie Blazer
    April 22, 2016 / 4:58 am

    Sooo true!! You hit the nail on the head. I’ve been coming to pai for 5 years and it’s never been worse then now. the locals are complete sell outs they will do anything for a bit of money. and really do not care at all about the environment. it is now called pai City and the pollution is unreal. they have cut down the trees so much there is nothin left really to cut down. I am fluent in Thai an English being living in Thailand since my early 20s and married my wife who is Thai last year here. I’ve lived in Phuket, Bangkok, Samut prakan, pattaya, rayong, krabi, chiang mai and I have never ever seen such a pathetic group of stupid people in my life as the pai group. I mean literally people who cannot even find Thailand in a world map, grown ‘men’ who can’t even tell you where is Bangkok on a map and yet take it in themselves to cut down acres of jungle. the average iq in Thailand is 91. And you will never see a more stupid group then in pai.
    the funniest element is the fake cowboy Rastas. it’s hilarious. if u ever come to pai look for Cowboys or anything to do with ‘lasta’ (how the local spastic a try to say rasta) it’s really priceless. also the foreigners that team up with them all drunk as fuck.
    there is some posters of Bob Marley made in pai with lyrics from bob’s songs. the lyrics are so funny and completely wrong it’s hysterical but sad at the same time.
    in all avoid pai at all costs and pray it burns with the fire it is a parasitic entity destroying the rain forest for a penny. I hope the town burns down and leaves the mountains to recover.
    the waterfalls are dry now and the valley is a desert. hundreds of failed businesses dot the land scape and guess what good ol Somchai and pim are doing? building more houses! Hahahaj stupid twats.
    Die and burn in hell pai u piece of shit.

    • Sam
      December 24, 2018 / 7:13 am

      But how do you really feel …

    • Andrew S.
      December 24, 2018 / 8:43 am

      r u seriously blaming poor thai village people for taking advantage of stupid over privileged backpacking brats? if u lived in a house made of recycled wood and an aluminum roof, you wouldnt want to make an extra buck? why the hell should they not try to better their own lives? for the sake of preserving the idyllic “environment” that your over priviledged self has sought out so you can feel like youve broken the circle and live on the edge? go f*ck yourself.

  3. pbw
    November 24, 2017 / 6:37 pm

    I just spent two days there and it was awful with the all hippies and westerners. No Thai culture. I thought I was back in the States. The hippie girls are all rad feminists and bring their unpleasant attitudes with them. There is no hope for Pai, it needs to be destroyed now.

  4. Pedro
    January 1, 2018 / 3:05 pm

    I bet you’re a elephant-clown-pants-wearing, garish-jewellery-clad, hedge fund hippie like the rest of those idiots. Why do you even care about the town of Pai? Surely you don’t go there to just sit around in the town being negative and miserable? The whole point of this part of Thailand is to get off the beaten track and enjoy the wonderful natural world it has to offer. I’ve been motorbiking around the world, working as I travel, for over six years now; the only thing that annoys me more than the hippies are the hypocrites (usually Americans) who are too blind to see they are part of the problem themselves.

    • John
      January 3, 2018 / 2:48 pm

      Ooo, you mad!
      We went to Pai because we heard it was off the beaten track, only to find that it was the track. We left.
      I built my business and semi-retired 9 years ago at the age of 30. Pretty much the exact opposite of what you wrote.

      • Pedro
        January 5, 2018 / 3:22 am

        Yes, my rage is quite uncontrollable.
        Any urban area is by definition a “track”; the trick is to move away from the cheeseburger joints and towards the green stuff in the distance.
        Good for you, sir. Apparently Donald Trump is also a self-made man.

        • John
          January 7, 2018 / 4:57 am

          You were completely wrong about who I am, are nitpicking what a “track” is, and are talking about Donald Trump.
          You are talking about the above because you have no argument. I’ve been up and down a dozen mountains and SCUBA dove several oceans this year alone. I know what “the green stuff in the distance is”. Pai isn’t it. Pai is shit.
          Realize that you’re lashing out because I don’t like the town that you do. That’s OK! Just accept it and move on.
          Best of luck to you.

  5. February 13, 2018 / 2:43 am

    What a load of hoarse shit. The retardation is strong with his blogger.

  6. William Carter
    December 23, 2018 / 2:28 pm

    You say Pai is not Thai culture and becomes more westernised, but yet make the statement of WiFi being a basic human right. Surely you cannot get anymore westernised than WiFi. For the record I haven’t been to Pai yet.

  7. Jason
    December 24, 2018 / 4:06 am

    You really need to do more research before you post something like this.
    Most of your conclusions are very shallow. I have spent a combined year+ in Pai over the past, let’s call it 8 years. Yes, it’s touristy and there are a lot of idiots there, but apparently you did not make much of an effort to look for places to eat or things to do there. A lot of the street stalls at night serve Thai cuisine. A large number of the best restaurants in Pai are Thai restaurants, if you actually make an effort to look for them or ask a local, instead of being angry that there are burger and steak places among the Thai cuisine that you seemed to completely ignore. By the way, the burgers at Maya are actually amazing, irrespective of what country you’re in.
    The local Monday market is an amazing place to find all kinds of stuff, with almost no white people there, but I doubt you looked for anything like that, or asked around, again. Blah Blah bar, the metal bar you were aghast of, has been there for more than a decade, and is run completely by locals who are huge fans of punk. Yeah, it’s a punk bar, not a metal bar, but if you had actually known what you were talking about and done your research instead of clutching your pearls upon first look, you would have known that. (Yes, people who aren’t white can still be fans of metal and 80’s punk culture. Shocking.)
    I would suggest you actually do more work to understand a place before you try to blow it to pieces. I have a feeling this kind of anti-tourism reaction is probably your bread and butter, and the irony is not lost on me. I hope it’s not lost on you either.

  8. Taylor
    December 24, 2018 / 5:24 am

    “You can’t make up something this stupid.” – Are you referring to your blog?

  9. Bitter
    December 24, 2018 / 5:33 am

    Your kind is the reason pai sucks. I bet you aren’t even into chunky granola pffffft

  10. Sam
    December 24, 2018 / 7:16 am

    Rather than the travellers…look at the shallow locals that rape the land to squeeze the last dollar out of the visitors before it’s all spent and smiles fade … a more fake country I have yet to experience

  11. Josh
    December 25, 2018 / 1:57 am

    Thai and Chinese tourists not backpackers. I have a home there. Backpackers have the highest economic effect and lowest social and environmental impact of any sector of the tourism market according to academic studies. They don’t demand 5 star hotels, air conditioning, Pizza Hut, jetskis and so on and they don’t take package tours.

    • Spike
      October 22, 2019 / 8:21 pm

      And they abhor showering on a regular basis.

  12. tom
    January 19, 2019 / 9:22 am

    The moment a white person enters somewhere it all starts to get touristic. Everyone of you hypocrits telling people how cool pai was, made it to the place it was. Every degenerate hippie being here made it more and more popular, so you dont have a right to own this place. as soon more people come the infrastracture builds up…you cannot stop it, its ot like 1980.. people need attention and they post it on IG to get it and others will follow.. stop crying about it, you dont own this place.. the moment 10 of you entered you made this happen

  13. Maika
    March 5, 2019 / 8:44 am

    Dear John,
    Thank you for describing with the root causes of everything that made us feel very awkward if not sick here. I know that feeling of shame that you speak of for I felt the same and reading that we’re not the only one is a relief you can’t imagine. For the record and for all the granola-flavoured haters out there, we went to the Afternoon Market (not the Monday market, dimwit) and it’s a great place that makes you dream of what Pai could be if it weren’t so polluted in every way. True, some stalls on Walking Street do sell Thai food (sum tom, i.e. papaya salad, or black stick rice pancakes) but overall, it’s a monstruous display of all things burritos, falafels, lasagnas, burgers and whatnot. True again, there are some Thai restaurants but the food they make is Bangkok food (pad thai, pad see ew), the kind they don’t eat at home and so it tastes gross because it’s as typical to them as a burrito to an eskimoo. Yes, there are a few exceptions like the lovely Earth & Tone that serves beautiful food and with lovely local staff, but why deny the overwhelming reality? This place is Disneyland upon Hell. Don’t blame the locals for trying to make a penny. Open your bleeding eyes to what John described and watch to see the clone army with elephantis pants queue up at every burrito corner with their identical non-conformist (haha) suit. It’s gross and sickening in every way. FYI, this is written by someone who’s been travelling with Thai people to discover local joints and who comes from a real poor region where the arrival of the arrival of the Internet really meant everything to us. So yes, shut your trap, cos access to knowledge should be a basic human right. OK rant over. John, I will read your blog from now on. Thanks again for your honnesty and courage.

  14. Gemma
    March 30, 2019 / 10:20 am

    So you thought a town that everyone recommended was going to be off the beaten track? If you want off the beaten track you need to get off the beaten track!
    Couldn’t find anywhere that served breakfast except McDonalds?! It so easy to get breakfast, but you’re in Thailand, Thai people don’t eat American breakfast they eat Thai breakfast – so go grab yourself a bowl of noodle soup.
    What a load of rubbish

  15. Paul
    October 30, 2019 / 9:28 am

    Places like Khaosan or Pai are as authentically Thai in 2019 as the Curry Mile in Manchester or the Notting Hill Carnival are authentically British. Globalisation is a phenomenon that has been going on since time immemorial and this is just the latest incarnation. You do realise that lots of the ‘authentic’ Thai food has it’s roots in Euporean travellers bringing ingredients over after the Colombian exchange, don’t you? If you want to go somewhere less touristy in South East Asia, why not head off to West Sumatra, parts of Sulawesi or even Isaan. You’ve chosen a place straight from Lonely Planet first time travellers 101 and are complaining about others doing the same. I’ve even heard similar complaints in Ubud. There’s plenty of places in Asia where you can be the only foreigner if you like. Beware, though, you might find out that they have TVs and Wifi there too.

  16. James
    November 15, 2019 / 4:36 am

    Astonding levels of arrogance, stupidity and hypocrisy packed into such a small article. Pai was off the beaten track once. Do you know who changed that? Snobs like yourself……. looking for places off the beaten track. You as big a part of your perceived problem as anyone else. Fool.

  17. jake
    November 25, 2019 / 5:13 am

    This is the most idiotic article I have ever read. If you can’t have an experience that isn’t authentic, then maybe its YOU who isn’t a good traveler.
    Step outside of the main town and you can find incredible, local cuisine made by wonderful and kind-hearted people. But even the western food here that you seem to loathe so much is also made by Thai people who spend years and years perfecting their craft and have become incredibly successful in doing so.
    Places like Pai aren’t ruined by backpackers, they are ruined by snooty bloggers like you thinking that foreign countries and local people owe you some kind of “authentic” experience that you can brag and blog about.

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