Aaron Ramirez

5 minute read

I was originally lured to Pai, within the remote north of Thailand, to practice traditional Thai massage, but soon discovered a side of the town that I was never told about. The food, chai, and many other drinks here, are prepared so well, that they challenge the best of Penang, Malaysia, the widely accepted king of cuisine within South East Asia. I’ll be sharing the many dishes and drinks from Pai, that were able to awaken the dormant foodie within me.

The Best Dishes

Charlie and Lek: Fried Fish, with Red Curry Paste


Charlie and Lek uses the freshest ingredients, and this is demonstrated through the rich flavor of this lightly fried fish. Be sure to order any one of their great shakes as well.

Cost: $3.00

Baan Pizza: Agnolotti Pasta


Agnolotti is a type of ravioli, typical of the Piedmont region of Italy. This pasta is stuffed with caramelized pumpkin, and lightly covered in a butter and sage sauce. It is absolutely delicious.

Cost: $5.00

Good Life Cafe: Borscht


Not your typical Russian Borscht, but nonetheless, very good, and served hot. Red beets is what gives this soup its beautiful color. Be cautious of the chilies and garlic cloves, as I ate a couple by mistake. Ouch!

Cost: $2.00

Charlie and Lek: Massaman Curry with Brown Rice


The best massaman curry I ever had, which was devoured to the last spoonful. Creamy, yet not too thick.

Cost: $2.00

From the Streets: Mini Pancakes


Preparing mini banana pancakes


Mini quail egg pancakes


Banana pancakes served up in an environmentally friendly tray

This is my favorite treat in Pai. You have the choice of topping your mini pancakes with condensed milk, chocolate sauce, or honey. This sweet old woman can found along the same walking street that the minibus station is on.

Cost: $0.75

P&P Burger: Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Burger


Bacon and egg cheese burger


Some of the more interesting burger options

While not the best burger I have had, it was heaps better than the crap I’ve seen people wait in line for, within other countries. Yup, I’m a burger snob. If only I was willing to put my already abused stomach on the line, just to try one of the more interesting items on the menu, such as the crocodile burger.

Cost: $5.00

The Best Drinks

Art & Chai: Chai


Otto, hand preparing the chai spices


Otto, straining the chai directly from the pot


The perfect chai

Otto, the owner of Art & Chai, created his own unique chai recipe within Thailand. While the chai was being prepared for me, I had found myself already seduced by the aroma of all the spices simmering in the pot, before I even took my first sip. This chai has the perfect amount of spice, while not overly sweet. Will be made with soy, unless you request milk.

Cost: $1.75

Good Life Cafe: Chai

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The chai served at the Good Life Cafe, is as good as it looks.

This chai comes in as a close 2nd to Art & Chai’s. Other than its presentation, what sets this chai apart from the others, is how it is served completely unsweetened, with honey on the side. A draw to those who enjoy their chai very spicy with little or no sweetness.

Cost: $1.75

Good Life Cafe: Wheatgrass Shot


The Good Life Cafe, literally, has grass growing all over the walls, so it was too tempting for me to pass on a shot of their wheatgrass. Although it is sweet, if you happen to find the taste of the wheatgrass too overpowering, you can use the included cup of green tea as a chaser.

Cost: $1.50

Cafe D’tists (Hotel Des Artists): Cappuccino


In Thailand, if you need to satisfy your western coffee craving, you’re usually forced to settle for slurping down a cup of instant. This is why I was so happy to discover such a well crafted cappuccino at Cafe D’tists. Pair it with one of the many great breakfast options served at the cafe.

Cost: $1.30

From the streets: Jasmine Mint Tea


Hot tea, being served in bamboo from a street stand


Pai has no shortage on interesting characters

Served by what appeared to be a bison beanie wearing, hipster samurai; how could I not try the tea at this street stand? Surprisingly, it is actually pretty good. Unless you have a serious sweet tooth, be sure to ask for little or no sugar. Stand can be found on either one of the major walking streets.

Cost: $0.85, $0.50 for future refills

Cooking From Scratch

Home Made Pad Thai and Massaman Curry

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A fellow massage course student, making pad thai.Mr. Bann, not only trains us in massage, but also shows us how real pad thai is made.assaman curry spices, being prepared the old school way.Our homemade massaman curry

While I had the unique opportunity to learn to cook a couple traditional Thai dishes through my Thai massage teacher, Mr. Bann and his wife Joy, there is no lack of cooking courses available within Pai. Both Charlie and Lek, and a few other restaurants within Pai, offer the chance to make at least 3 dishes from scratch. This includes a visit to the market, where you’ll be able to hand pick your own ingredients. I tried about 4 different pad thais in town, and none could compare to what we made from scratch. The massaman curry on the other hand, while I found it to be delicious, was too spicy for even one of the locals.

Cost: $14.00 - $18.00 for a formal cooking course

Much More To Be Explored

During my two weeks in Pai, the number of restaurants appeared endless. I went to well over a dozen cafes and street stands–rarely was I ever disappointed. I would need to write a separate blog post, just to cover deserts. So if you ever find yourself in Pai, start with a few of the dishes and drinks that I recommend, then get curious, and continue on with some of your own exploring.

Happy dining!

Have you been to Pai before?

If so, please let me know about your favorite restaurant, dish, coffee, etc., in the comments below.

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