One morning sipping my brew at a coffee shop in Chiang Mai's remote Mae Chaem district, which has the potential to be developed into a tourist destination, patrons at the table next to me asked their friend, a local politician, whether there are plans to turn Mae Chaem into a new Pai, the popular tourist hang-out in neighbouring Chiang Rai province. I almost spilled my coffee. I wished they were just kidding.
I have heard that kind of talk before. It is a simple idea, but in many places it has led to big changes.
Pai was formerly a small town on the northwestern edge of the country famed for its tranquility, serenity, easy lifestyle and kind people. When I first visited there 20 years ago, all it had to offer were a handful of simple guesthouses, drab restaurants and trekking tours operated by tribal people. Pai has come a long way since. Today it is a dream destination, a kind of sanctuary for tourists who love to hide away in the mountain town and enjoy the slow pace of rural life and be among kind people. I know of bloggers using the word "utopia" to describe their stay and experience in Pai.
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