The Bridge on The River Pai
Pai is a sleepy little town in the mountains of Northern Thailand. If you are looking to travel off the beaten track, away from the hustle of the big cities, and simply wish to relax in peace and solitude for a few days, then Pai should definitely be your destination. In order to reach Pai, you should first fly to Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, one of the most colorful cities in South East Asia. After that you can either travel to Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son, which are big cities in the northern part of Thailand, and are connected to Pai via Route 1095. From either of these cities you will get connecting buses that will take you to Pai in about four hours, and the road travels over some of the most beautiful mountainside, covered with lush green vegetation, that you can find anywhere.
Once you reach Pai, you can settle in at one of the many comfortable resorts or guest houses that offer all the necessary amenities without going into extravagance. There are many vignettes of Pai life that will interest you, including a colorful Market gathering every Wednesday, as well as numerous elephant camps and waterfalls within walking distance from the town. One of its main attractions, and also one of the most enigmatic, however, is a quaint old metal bridge on the river Pai, which is supposed to have its origins in the World War II era.
A Bridge Too Far?
Fret not, for the bridge is not too far away from the town of Pai, and you can easily reach it if you rent out a cycle from one of the numerous cycle rental shops (cycling is the preferred mode of transportation in Pai). It is on the main highway, Route 1095, about 4 km to the south, in the village Tha Pai, which is also famous for its hot spring. It is a robust bridge constructed out of iron (you can see an iron plaque bearing the inscription “United States Steel Products Company 1930”) on one of the bridge spans. Pai residents claim that the bridge was constructed by the Japanese Army during World War II who were in the north of thailand, as a transportation route from Chiang Mai to Burma, and used it to transport forces, weaponry and provisions to as far inland as the River Kwai. However, there is some controversy as to its antiquity, for Hak Hakerson, a Bridge Inspector who worked for the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, has written an investigative article claiming that it was constructed at a somewhat later date. See details of bridge article here
Cross the Bridge When it Comes
According to Hakerson, the spans of the bridge were not erected by the Imperial Japanese Army, but by the Thai government around 1976; the Thai Tourism department authorities, on the other hand, claim that the spans originally belonged to the old Nawarat Bridge in Chiang Mai, and were removed in 1966 for reconstruction work. Hakerson also has a website for discussing the provenance of the bridge, and you can join the discussion if you are a bridge enthusiast. You can ask the locals about the history of each of the seven trusses that make up the bridge, and leave a comment if you wish. You can also upload close-up photos of the steel spans that will perhaps help resolve the mystery as to which sections were constructed at what period and how they were fitted together. Whatever the origin of the bridge, there is no doubt, however, that it offers a breathtaking view of the Pai River and the surrounding countryside. You can observe boats go lazily by or fishermen practicing their trade; in the evening you can observe a gorgeous sunset while sampling some delicious local fare.
If you go to Pai, do make a point of walking down the Pai Bridge, and soaking in the history of the ancient structure.