These days, the Memorial Bridge in Pai (Saphan Prawatsart Pai) seems to be a compulsory stop for tourists to pose for selfies, but the steel bridge and the original wooden structures that preceded it have an interesting history.
During World War II, the Japanese army used POWs and forced labour to construct a number of transport routes between Thailand and Burma. The most infamous was the Death Railway, but the route between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son was also strategically important. At the time, there was a rudimentary road linking Chiang Mai and Pai and the Japanese wanted to improve the roads and make them suitable for the troops and heavy vehicles that would be needed for the planned attacks on Burma, which was then a British colony. At the village of Ta-Pai, a wooden bridge was built across the Pai River with elephants used to bring the trees from the jungle.
By 1944, the Allies had the upper-hand and the Japanese army burnt down Ta-Pai Bridge as they retreated. Following the end of the War, locals rebuilt the bridge and it was strengthened and improved in subsequent decades. In 1973, severe flooding hit the Pai district and the bridge was destroyed. Local authorities in Pai requested permission from their counterparts in Chiang Mai to use the decommissioned Nawarat Bridge with the steel structure transported from Chiang Mai to Pai in 1975 and erected a year later.
Today, the bridge only carries pedestrians and is commonly referred to as the Memorial Bridge with the adjacent concrete road bridge on Highway 1095 the one which vehicles use to cross the Pai River. The steel frame of the Memorial Bridge may be strong, but the rickety wooden floorboards have seen better days and there are a few gaps where you need to be careful not to catch your footing.
A couple of vintage samlors provide posing positions for the selfie-obsessed and if you visit the bridge during the day there’s also a good chance you’ll stumble across local character and entrepreneur, ‘Jack Sparrow’. This Thai pirate won’t steal your valuables, but it will need a small donation for you to have your photograph taken with him.
Location: Pai Memorial Bridge is approximately 9km south of Pai at kilometre marker 88 on Highway 1095.