The town of Pai has evolved from a once haunt of backpacking hippes and intrepid travelers to a nice village with upscale accommodation, dining venues and music options, as well as a daily walking street where locals sell their food and crafts. While the surrounding mountains and jungles offer excellent chances to venture on a scenic trekking, mountain biking and trips to local hill tribes, there are a couple of attractions worth visiting, and one of these is the Pai memorial bridge.
The bridge history
The Tha Pai World War II Memorial Bridge, or Saphan Prawatsart Pai in Thai language, this antiquated-looking steel bridge is indeed a compulsory stop for tourists for a selfie or three, and is also an historical venue after all, though it is no longer the original one with a wooden structure that preceded the one you see now.
It was in 1943, during World War II, that Japanese forces started several projects to construct efficient troop, provisions and equipment transport routes between Thailand and Myanmar (then called Burma) as part of their planned attacks on Imphal and Kohima in British Burma. The most infamous of these is the well-known Death Railway, but the route between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son through Pai was also strategically important at the times. The road linking Chiang Mai and Pai was quite rudimentary and the Pai bridge at the village of Ta-Pai had been erected as part of road improvement projects by the Thai government with elephants used to bring the trees from the jungle, and the Japanese looked into its extension and improvement using Prisoners of War.
These attempts were abandoned in early 1944 when it was clear that the Allies would had the upper-hand and the scheduled attack on Imphal resulted in a defeat. The Japanese army then burnt down Ta-Pai Bridge as they retreated using the uncompleted road.
Following the end of the War, locals re-erected the bridge naming it World War II Memorial Bridge; the bridge was strengthened and improved and lasted a few subsequent decades until it was destroyed by the severe flooding hitting the Pai district. It was after this that the Pai authorities asked the Chiang Mai local government permission to use the decommissioned Nawarat Bridge, which was transported Pai in 1975 and erected a year later.
The bridge today
The commonly referred to as Pai memorial bridge that tourists visit today only carries pedestrians and runs alongside an adjacent concrete road bridge on Highway 1095 used by vehicles to cross the Pai river. Its steel structure is still strong, yet some of the rickety wooden floorboards are damaged and visitors need to pay attention not to catch their footing, though they get regularly repaired and patched up.
The bridge is indeed similar in structure to the more famous bridge over the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi. On the bridge are a few vintage samlors (three-wheeled bikes) that provide posing positions for photo shooting and selfies, and you get a nice views of the rice fields nearby. A popular local dressed as Jack Sparrow works his daily routine posing for photographs for a fee. On both sides of the bridge, there are local markets selling food and tacky tourist stuff, and a couple of coffee shops and hotels. Down on the river banks, a local company offers rafting activity along the Pai river.