by Carmel on January 10, 2014 · 16 comments

“Wait, did that say piranha fishing?”

We were in our apartment in Chiang Mai, scrolling through a blog about Pai, Thailand, our potential next destination after Chiang Rai. Suddenly the word “piranha” came leaping out of the screen at Shawn. I scrolled back up to a photo of a girl sitting near a pond fishing.

“Yep. That says piranha fishing,” I replied, my face scrunched up hoping he’d just drop it. He didn’t. We read on and it turned out to be a fishing park located miles outside of the main town of Pai and we’d need to rent a scooter to get there. We don’t ride scooters – phew, crisis averted. Upon further investigation, though, we find out there are accommodations at the fishing park. Later that evening during dinner, I admitted that I had done some reading on the bungalows at the fishing park and all the comments were not only positive, but glowing. I really had no reason to say no, other than my debilitating fear of all wildlife, so that night we booked a bungalow for two nights.

Pai is a small town in Northern Thailand, near the Myanmar border, about 80 km from Chiang Mai. Despite the relatively close proximity to Chiang Mai, the minivan ride takes about three hours thanks to the winding roads through the rolling hills. The drive up is spectacular…if you can stomach it. Thanks to our anti-nausea meds, we were able to handle the ride out there.


Beautiful, but may cause vomiting and/or death, depending on your driver

Arriving in Pai, it’s hard to tell what’s so special about it. We had heard stories that it was overrun with hippies and tourists – it was. But we’ll never really know if there is much more to the town other than an inordinate number of white people in elephant-print pants because only 15 minutes after our arrival, the wife of the owner, and chef extraordinaire, came to pick us up. From the second we climbed into the cab of the truck and she was blasting Blondie (“Union City Blues” too, not just some single), I knew I would like it there.


View from “our” spot on the couch

The fishing park is only about 10 km outside of town, but it feels like a whole different world. We immediately noticed how quiet it was. I have extremely sensitive hearing and at times, it’s a major stressor during our travels. Immediately, I felt my shoulders relax. The owner, who we dubbed “Piranha Dave”, is originally from Australia, but when his friend arrived in Pai ten years ago, he was told he needed to come right away. He never left. After being up there for a couple of days, eating his wife’s wonderful cooking, and talking to his sassy and curious daughter, I understood why.


This was our view for about 24 of our 48 hours at the Piranha Fishing Park

We were shown our bungalow and, although it’s not sealed up tight to keep the creepy crawlies away as I prefer it, it was very clean and I never saw anything worse in our room than a snail, which even I can handle (especially when it’s fried up in some garlic butter). It’s hard to see in the photo below, so I circled the enormous spider living outside our bungalow. It looks like it’s on the roof of our bungalow, but it’s really right off the path leading to our door. Mr. Spider and I had a little talk about him staying where he was and me not spraying him with poison. We got along just fine.


Our bungalow and neighbor

The better part of our first day was spent sitting in the communal area reading and drinking cheap gin and tonics (for me) and beers (for Shawn). Between chapters, we watched people fish for what turned out to be not piranha, exactly, but pacu, a primarily vegetarian, larger relative of the piranha. There are also some massive cat fish and other fish in there, which we were able to feed slices of bread to later in the evening after all the fishing was done.

The second day, we forced ourselves to leave the property. Shawn had seen a sign coming in saying that Mor Paeng Waterfall was only 2 km away. We figured we could easily walk it – this should be the time you’re thinking, “oh boy, they did it again.” And you’d be right. It was somewhere around 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) and after walking uphill for a half hour, we started to seriously doubt the 2 km sign. After being barked at by a couple of angry dogs, avoiding a couple dozen chickens and roosters, and startling a pig eating in the grass near the road, I was about ready to give up and go back to my fishing oasis. But we pressed on another kilometer, despite my foul mood and our sweaty backs, and made it to the waterfall.

There is a natural water slide in the falls that a group of people were using to fling themselves into the cool water, but the pool below wasn’t looking deep enough to tempt me to try it out. We watched for a few minutes before settling down on a rock for a rest and quick (cold!) dip in the water.


Near the top of the waterfall


The “pool” of water where the slide ends


View from our little perch

By the time we returned to our bungalow, we were ready for some cold drinks and more reading. Eventually, we managed to get ourselves off what we had decided was our couch and try out some fishing.


Dang…I think I see someone across the pond trying to take our couch!

According to the rules, it is illegal to fish for piranha without a cold beer and although I’m sure there’s a way around this rule, we didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so we obliged.


Look mom, I’m fishin’!


Reloading the pole with bait, trying not to gag

The bait is foul. It’s a mixture of bread, fermented fish, and coconut. It smells as bad as it sounds. You have to squeeze a golf ball-sized portion onto this round basket-like thingie on the line (as you can tell, I’m practically a pro at fishing), and attach a piece of bread on the hook. Then cast off and wait. And drink beer. And wait some more. Then finish your beer and as you’re waiting for your next one, realize those sneaky fish have taken all the nasty bait from the basket thingie and you have to get your hands dirty again. So you drink some more beer.


Smelly fish bait…also attracts dogs

Earlier in the day, we watched a girl catch three fish in an hour. Although the “cool” season (only 80-85 degrees instead of 90-95) means fewer bites, there was still hope. We waited until dusk when apparently the fish are nearest to the top of the pond. After an hour and a couple buckets of bait, we had only gotten a couple of bites, but no fish were to be seen. Lucky for us, it was dinner time, so we happily retreated back to our couch and returned to doing what we do best – eating, drinking, and reading.


What a delicious ending


Pai Piranha Fishing Park
During high season, the bungalow we stayed in is 700 baht/night (about $21/night) and it is the cheapest of the bungalows. We liked it because it was also very private, but had no kitchen (not a big loss in my opinion – see food photos above). Pick up and drop off from the bus station in town is free – be sure to know which station you are arriving at so you can inform Dave.

Fishing is free for all those staying at the park, but you must purchase the bait, which is a minimal cost. Check out the website for more details.

Mor Paeng Waterfalls

If you plan to visit the waterfalls, especially coming from town, it’s advisable to rent a scooter, or at least a bike. If you’re staying at the fishing park, you can walk it, but it’s most definitely not 2 km.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) January 10, 2014 at 8:38 am

As you know, Pai was/is one of our favorite places in Thailand (and really, anywhere) so I’m glad you guys got to have a taste of it. It’s true that it’s full of hippies and not at all “real Thailand”, but I still loved it so very much from the wonderful food to the beautiful views to how everything in the town is so g-d adorable. I think part of why we liked it so much is because we were there during low season and so although there were tourists there, it was a lot more mellow and laidback and less aggressively western.

We made our way to that waterfall too (though road a motorcycle most of the way). I found the water way too cold to tempt death with the terrifying natural slip and slide… probably for the best!
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Carmel January 14, 2014 at 1:45 am

It is an adorable town, from what we saw. There’s a really good vibe there (how hippie AM I??).

Yeah, the water was a little intimidating and the slide looked fun, but it was so crowded, I could see nothing but disaster striking!


Rika | Cubicle Throwdown January 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm

I would have definitely gone all waterslide-styles on that waterfall, AFTER someone else tried it out first 🙂 Sounds like a nice retreat for you two! Nothing wrong with a couple days drinking beers and tackling some books.
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Carmel January 14, 2014 at 1:46 am

It was SO nice to just sit back in a quiet, relaxed environment. The only problem we had was there was a half-moon festival nearby with bumping music that thankfully ended on the early side.


Andrew January 11, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Sounds like a great place you found. We also visited that waterfall on our trip to Pai, and like yourselves decided against the water slide. Living dangerously with Piranhas and giant spiders though! 🙂
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Carmel January 14, 2014 at 1:47 am

That was about as dangerous as I wanted to get. 🙂


Kim January 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm

That looks like a lot of fun but THAT SPIDER!!!!! I don’t know if I could have handled it. The last time I encountered a spider that big was in Peru and it was in our hotel room. I literally wrapped myself up in my sleep sack and fell asleep in tears.
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Carmel January 14, 2014 at 1:48 am

Like I said, if that thing had gotten anywhere NEAR me, it would have been a different story. It was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen. We saw a couple that were almost that close when we were in Laos, but haven’t been in their direct path yet. Ugh…gives me shivers just thinking about it. I’m am SUCH a baby. I feel your pain.


Maddie January 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

We never made it out to Pai and I kind of wish we had now, it looks lovely (despite being overrun by hippies!). The fishing looks fun and as bloomin usual the food pic has been drooling with envy 😉
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Carmel January 15, 2014 at 1:04 am

Well, there’s always the next time!


Kellie January 16, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I think I was a little bit sick in my mouth just reading about the bait. I’m actually very impressed with your fishing knowledge. I like the idea that you have to drink beer whilst fishing, least it give you something else to do.
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Carmel January 16, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Your response was appropriate. It was gross. Thankfully Singha took away some of the sting.


Tyrhone January 18, 2014 at 7:26 am

We went to Pai. And that crazy windy road you’re talking about, we drove it on a scooter! Sarah had to get off the back sometimes because it couldn’t make it up some of the extreme hill bends. You guys shoudl give scootering a go if you can find somewhere quiet, it is a lot of fun.

The piranha fishing looks really chill though, which suits 30 degrees more. Did you have the dozens of locals on the road side making smoking gestures? Initially I thought they were all trying to bum a smoke from me, turns out they were offering me opium!
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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:16 pm

We might, but we’re completely inexperienced with driving any kind of 2-wheeled motorized vehicle, so the idea still freaks me out a bit. I seem to remember your post about getting to Pai. It was a pain in the butt for you if I remember correctly…

Honestly, we didn’t see a lot of people outside the fishing park and just the folks who lived near the waterfall, so no opium offers. Shawn did get offered pot and cocaine while we were walking to dinner in Siem Reap, though. Plenty on offer there!


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