Mae Chaem is a small town in northern Thailand. It has just started to pop up in guidebooks, and Travelfish has a small amount of information on the place.
But in our research of Mae Chaem before we went, the most interesting information we found was from a website asking whether Mae Chaem would become the next Pai. At the time this didn’t mean much to us as we had been to neither Mae Chaem nor Pai.
Now we have been to both. Please, please, please do not make Mae Chaem into the next Pai! Pai is a horrible place where tourists (and I mean that word in the most pejorative sense I can muster up) outnumber the locals several times over. We had one great experience in Pai (at Thom’s Elephant Camp) and one horrible experience (we got salmonella poisoning from some street chicken), but it was the atmosphere of the town that turned us off.
We hate Pai.
But we love Mai Chaem. We love the quiet streets. We love the locals who are happy to interact with you, and go bat crap crazy when you try to speak Thai. Seriously, sputter out a few words and the locals adopt you.
We loved the tiny little hole-in-the-wall lunch place where we got khao man gai (chicken rice) and noodle soup for lunch every day. We loved the kids who played with us. We loved the green rice fields. We loved the amazing wats (Buddhist temples) set in the middle of the rice fields, or up on a hill top, or at a spring that produces the drinking water for the whole area. We loved the morning market. We loved the festivals we attended there (Mothers’ Day was national “bike for mom” day—not sure how biking helps mom out, but it must!). We loved visiting the local schools up in the hills as well as in the city. We loved the fact that at the edge of town there is a place to get surprisingly good cake!
We love Mae Chaem.
We spent two weeks there in all and explored the area fairly well. It was my intent to write a guide to Mae Chaem. To explain exactly how to get a hotel. Exactly where to eat. Exactly how to get transportation to see the surrounding area.
But I am not going to do that. I will just do this. I will tell you to go to Mae Chaem. Spend some time there. There are homestays and hotels. There are restaurants. There are amazing hikes and bike rides to take. And there are wonderful people.
Just go. You will be able to figure everything out once you are there.
Seriously go. And if that seems too vague for your comfort, if you want everything pre-booked and pre-planned, then go to Pai. You will probably love it.
But for those who are explorers rather than just consumers, GO TO MAE CHAEM! And go quickly before the place turns into Pai!
I know why I travel to places like Mae Chaem. I know that I learned and grew all while having a wonderful time because travel.
I have no idea why I went to Pai, and I kind of wish I hadn’t gone because salmonella.