831km (516 miles) NW of Bangkok; 135km (84 miles) NW of Chiang Mai

Halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the mountain road makes a winding descent into a large green valley carpeted with rice paddies and fruit orchards. Mountains rise on all sides, and on warm afternoons, butterflies flit along the streets. Here you'll find a village called Pai, named after the river that runs through the valley. Pai is a speck of a place with main roads (all four of them) littered with homegrown guesthouses, laid-back restaurants and bars, local trekking companies, and small souvenir shops. It has changed from being unknown a decade ago into one of the most popular destinations in North Thailand, known more as a place to kick back and relax than run around looking at temples and museums. It attracts mostly New Agers and gap-year students doing the Southeast Asian circuit (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia).

The Pai River itself is one of the main attractions here. Outfitters organize rafting adventures on some pretty raucous rapids from July to January. Trekking is also popular, with 2- and 3-day treks to Karen, Lahu, and Lisu villages. The adventurous can find a local map for self-guided hikes to nearby waterfalls and caves, but quite a few wayfarers just lounge in town living simply and enjoying the nightlife. In Pai, it seems every day is a lazy Sunday. Many local business owners are foreigners, or bohemian Thais, who come here for a slower pace than bustling Bangkok or Chiang Mai.