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Pai is known for dirty backpackers, relaxing rice fields and a nauseating 3-hour minivan ride winding around a thousand curves through the hills.
About three hours away from Chiang Mai, the small mountain town has long been a hub for budget travelers to hang out, check out, spend days in cheap hostels, rent motorbikes to explore the nearby hot springs, and waterfalls, and canyons, linger over plates of vegetarian fare and fresh coconuts, read in hammocks overlooking the rice fields, drink bottle after bottle of Thai beer, and enjoy simply doing nothing.
The first time I went to Pai almost nine years ago was during my first-ever visit to the country and I ‘splurged’ for a bamboo bungalow complete with a mosquito net for about $15. I had never stayed in a bamboo bungalow or slept under a mosquito net and it all felt very exotic in this little mountain bubble where all there was to do was leisurely explore, eat, relax and enjoy yourself. I noticed geckos on the ceiling of where we were eating, got our motorbike stuck in mud down a rural road and caught a ride back into town with a jeep full of Israelis, ate fried rice and bar-hopped every night.
It was a popular place to go from Chiang Mai but still very basic. There wasn’t then what I would consider a true boutique hotel in Pai. The bars weren’t cool; they were pieced together and all seemed to be painted with rasta colors. The food wasn’t incredible, but standard standby Thai dishes (which are still pretty good) along with a smattering of health food options. There were more people with dreadlocks than I had ever seen in one small town.
I loved it.
Since then, I’ve since gone back to Pai five more times and always thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Several years ago I learned of a boutique hotel, Reverie Siam, being built along the river with rooms going for more than what my measly rent was for a month. I didn’t see how it fit with the low-expectations backpacker crowd – as long as there was beer and perhaps something to smoke they were happy. I’ve since come across the hotel through a number of people and now finally stayed.
I loved it.
Staying in a basic room while exploring Pai’s outdoors is completely fine. But staying at the more stylish Reverie Siam within the hippie Pai vibes highlighted one of the things I appreciate most in Southeast Asia – you can enjoy 5-star surroundings right after digging into a $2 plate of food. You rent a motorbike for transportation for $8 a day then spend $80 for a special meal. The range of what you can experience – and what it costs – is so much broader than most other places.
Situated just a few minutes from the center of ‘town’ along the river, Reverie Siam feels worlds away from Pai’s nightly walking street and dingy bars. The name draws on the owners’, a Thai-British couple, goal to create a dreamy property that blends Thai touches with more Mediterranean-style villas, manicured gardens, their love of jazz, a lost old world elegance, and excellent food and drink. And it works.
You’ll find a lot of hotels in Southeast Asia that call themselves ’boutique’ even when they offer nothing special. Reverie Siam is the real deal, down to the old-fashion medicine jars filled with fresh flowers in the room, the gramophone in the corner and the crystal decanters in the candlelit bar. They all also manage to be very nice and fancy (for Pai) without being serious or stuffy.
The 18 individually-styled rooms are situated into between two pools and mature gardens giving everything a sense of intimacy and exclusivity even if you aren’t staying in one of the standalone villas.
If you go to Pai and stay somewhere else (there are now a lot of cute options in the area) still treat yourself to a drink or dinner at Reverie Siam’s restaurant, Silhouette Bar. You will not regret it – particularly if you have been in Asia for a while and miss cheese and wine as much as I do!
Not only is the open-air space charming, especially in the evening, but the food is bomb. Go for the chef’s board of cheese, charcuterie, olives and nuts along with some tapas to share, and a bottle of wine or prosecco. You can get your fill of phad thai and smoothie bowls somewhere else – here you’ll indulge in European dishes that you can’t find elsewhere around Pai and Mae Hong Son. (Which I think makes it taste even better…like eating foreign fare in the middle of nowhere in Chiang Dao.)
Rooms at the Reverie Siam boutique hotel in Pai start at 2,950-5,900 baht in the low season (which is typically around March – October) and go up by 1,000-3,000 in the high season (around November – February). Rooms can be booked through the hotel’s website and include breakfast. You’ll probably be arriving in Pai on your own or via minivan. The hotel is less than 1.5 kilometers away from the minivan dropoff point on the walking street. Contact the hotel about being picked up or when their free shuttle will be around to get to the property.
If you’re looking to pair your stay in Pai with more boutique stays in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, you can contact and book through Secret Retreats, a collection of independently owned boutique hotels across Asia of which Reverie Siam is a member.
Note: I was a guest of Reverie Siam for another project but liked it so much that I wanted to share about it here!