Everything you need to know for visiting Pai, Thailand
November 17, 2023
Pai, Thailand. Have you heard of it? Nestled in the mountains of Northern Thailand, far from the bustling streets of Bangkok and the tourist crowds of Phuket and Chiang Mai, lies a little hippie haven that goes by the name of Pai. I visited Pai for 3 weeks during my 1-year trip through Asia and collected all the things that I think that you need to know for visiting Pai, Thailand in this blog post. I am going to take you on a journey through Pai, from how to get there to the best things to do and places to eat, work, party, and stay. Enjoy!
A short introduction to Pai, Thailand and my thoughts
Pai is a little paradise with a cozy, laid-back vibe and offers a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. There are waterfalls, mountains, rice paddy fields, temples, viewpoints and plenty of coffee bars waiting to be explored. Pai is no longer a hidden gem these days. Actually it is quite a busy and small hippie town, but nevertheless Pai is a fun and relaxed place to visit.
How to travel to Pai?
Pai’s relative remoteness is part of its allure. To reach Pai, you’ll need to embark on a scenic journey, either by minivan, motorbike, or car. The most popular route takes you through a winding road known as the “Pai Highway.” If you’ve got a stomach for hairpin turns and breathtaking mountain vistas, it’s a ride you won’t forget. The road from Chiang Mai to Pai has a total of 762 curves, so do yourself a favor and take any type of motion sickness pill. You can also opt to get one of those menthol inhalers in any 7-11 store! You can thank me later 😉
I took a minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai and a private car from Pai to Chiang Dao on the way back. For the return trip, I found a private car to be nicer than a minivan and besides, it saved a lot of time to take a car directly to Chiang Dao, instead of traveling to Chiang Mai first and transferring there.
Below I’ve described some transportation options for traveling to Pai:
– Traveling by minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai
The most common way to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai is by minivan. There are two types of minivans, one with airconditioning and one without. Both vans can get quite cramped and due to the zig-zag nature of the roads, I recommend to book the air-conditioned one.
You can book a minivan to Pai at almost every travel agency or ho(s)tel. I recommend to book your tickets online instead. This saves time and you are guaranteed a ticket.
Time: about 3-4 hours. Costs: around 200-250 THB per person.
– Riding a motorbike from Chiang Mai to Pai
Riding a motorbike from Chiang Mai to Pai is one of the most popular ways to travel to Pai. The scenery, combined with the thrill of driving the Pai Highway is an exhilarating feeling. Note that this route is not suitable for everyone. It can be though and some driving experience is recommended. Furthermore, you should have an international drivers license and insurance. While it’s not necessary in order to rent one, you may get stopped by the police and have to pay a fine. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some accidents on the road, so I do recommend you to think well about this.
Time: about 4-5 hours. Costs:Aya Service is a great travel agency in Chiang Mai where you can rent a scooter to Pai (you can also leave your scooter in Pai if you like). Prices start at 140/180/200/500 THB for a motorcycle per day and 100 THB for 1 piece of luggage drop op in Pai.
A few tips for renting a motorbike in Thailand:
Have an international driving license, valid identification and insurance
When renting a scooter, make photos of the scooter and renting agreement
Be mindful of your gas (and be aware where you can fill up)
Always wear a helmet
Always let trucks and buses pass you
Directions to Pai: From Chiang Mai take the north exit out and head north towards road 107. Follow the signs to Mae Rim and then the signs to Pai. After about an hour you will see a sign for road 1095 (Pai), turn left and follow road 1095 all the way.
Tip: if you decide to travel by scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai, consider riding the Mae Hong Son Loop, a roundtrip including destinations like Chiang Mai, Pai, Baan Rak Thai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, Mae Sariang and Doi Inthanon National Park.
– Booking a private car from Chiang Mai to Pai
If you’re looking for a convenient way to travel to Pai, hiring a private car is a great option. The perks of traveling via private car is that you can leave whatever time you want and that you can stop if you get nauseous from all the curves. This option is the most expensive, but also the most comfortable 😉
Time: around 3 hours Costs: between 2.200-3.000 THB for 1 private car including gas and a driver.
Tip: use the search box below to find the cheapest and most comfortable ride to Pai:
Pai is a compact town and one of the best ways to explore its nooks and crannies is by foot or by renting a scooter or bicycle. If you’re not keen on two wheels, tuk-tuks and songthaews (shared taxi trucks) are readily available for hire.
If you are interested in renting a scooter in Pai, I can recommend ‘Pai River Scooter‘. Here, I’ve rented several times a scooter during my stay in Pai.
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What is the best time to travel to Pai, Thailand?
The best time to travel to Pai, Thailand, largely depends on your preferences and what kind of experience you’re seeking. The cool and dry season from November to February is the most popular, with comfortable temperatures, clear skies, and pleasant weather for outdoor activities, but chilly evenings. The hot season from March to May offers warmer temperatures and lush landscapes, making it great for hiking and enjoying waterfalls. If you appreciate the serene beauty of Pai during occasional showers, the rainy season from June to October, while less crowded, can provide a more tranquil experience, but it comes with the possibility of road closures due to heavy rains.
I visited Pai in October and found the rain showers not too bad. The roads were not closed either. The only pity was that the waterfalls were not very impressive to see.
The best things to do in Pai, Thailand
Now that you have probably (almost) arrived in Pai, it’s time to dive into all the incredible activities this little haven has to offer:
– Explore the Pai Canyon
For me, the most fun thing I did in Pai was exploring the Pai Canyon. Known for its narrow, cliff-hugging paths and breathtaking views, the Pai Canyon is a must-visit. This area was great to photograph with my drone and camera. Entrance is free and there are some shops and restaurants at the property.
Tip: Pai Canyon is especially popular to visit at sunrise or sunset. If you don’t like crowds, avoid these moments. In addition, Pai is great to visit during the rain as there is hardly anyone there. The photos are the proof 😉
Visiting the Tha Pai Memorial Bridge in Pai, Thailand, is a journey into the region’s historical and cultural tapestry. The bridge is surrounded by lush greenery and the Pai River below. Built during World War II, the Tha Pai Memorial Bridge stands as a poignant reminder of the town’s wartime history. The weathered wooden planks and rustic charm of the structure create a picturesque scene against the backdrop of Pai’s serene landscape. While crossing the bridge, I’m sure that you will feel a sense of connection to the past, imagining the footsteps of those who traversed it in a different time. The bridge is not merely a physical crossing, but a symbolic link between the present and the historical narratives embedded in the heart of Pai.
– Do a meditation retreat
A retreat at Wat Pa Tam Wua, nestled in the serene mountains of Pai, is an immersive journey into mindfulness and self-discovery. You can get here by taking the yellow bus at 11am and take it back at 8 am from monastery. This ride costs around 120 THB per person. This forest monastery offers a respite from the distractions of modern life, allowing you to cultivate inner peace through silent meditation, teachings from resident monks, and simple communal living. Everything is free, but you can make a donation. You can decide how long you would like to stay at the monastry (a day, 3 days, 10 days or even longer).
– Watch the sunset at Two Huts Pai or just visit for a drink
On your way to Pai Canyon, you can make a quick stop at Two huts Pai, a cafe perched on a gentle hill. The view from Two Huts offers a front-row seat to the Pai Valley. It’s beautiful. This cafe is also a great place to watch the sunset. It’s a tranquil and romantic setting, perfect for unwinding, taking stunning photographs, or simply basking in the natural beauty that makes Pai so enchanting.
Tip: Two Huts Pai is a must-visit spot for anyone in search of an idyllic sunset in this charming corner of Northern Thailand.
– Visit the Santichon Village
Santichon Village is a captivating blend of Yunnanese Chinese culture and Thai charm. Strolling through Santichon’s charming streets, you’ll encounter traditional Chinese-style architecture, vibrant red lanterns and captivating tea shops.
Tip: don’t miss the chance to savor delectable Yunnan cuisine, like their famous homemade goat cheese or sip a cup of freshly brewed Chinese tea.
Learn to cook delicious Thai dishes by joining a cooking class. This is a fun way to not only enjoy a meal but also take home a new skill.
– Stroll over the Kho Ky So Bamboo Bridge
If you have visited the Pam Bok Waterfall, you can continue your drive to the Kho Ku So Bamboo Bridge. This bamboo bridge, stretching gracefully over rice fields and serene waters, offers a unique way to explore Pai’s rural landscape. The bridge connects to a picturesque temple, providing a glimpse into the local way of life. It’s a perfect spot for leisurely strolls, photography, and a peaceful connection with nature.
Tip: on the way to the Pam Bok Waterfall and Kho Ky So Bamboo Bridge (left photo), you will cross several places where you can stop for a drink. Coffee View is one of them and the view was to die for (right photo)!
– Attend a Yoga or Meditation Retreat
Pai is also known for its yoga and wellness retreats. Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a novice, there are many options available to rejuvenate your mind and body.
– Capture the ‘I AM PAI’ letters
Capture a moment with the iconic “I AM PAI” letters! Positioned against a backdrop of Pai’s serene beauty, these letters have become a symbol of wanderlust and adventure. This photo opportunity is a nice way to commemorate your visit to Pai.
– Stroll through Pai Walking Street
During the day, explore the Pai Walking Street, a vibrant and bustling market where you can shop for unique handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs.
– Explore the Pai Night Market
The Pai Night Market is a bustling hub of activity in the evenings. Here, you can sample a wide variety of delicious street food, shop for local handicrafts and enjoy live music and entertainment.
– Attend Local Events and Connect with the Pai Community
Check the local events calendar to see if there are any festivals, art exhibitions, or music events happening during your visit. Pai often hosts creative and cultural gatherings that are worth experiencing. Engaging with the Pai community, for example this Facebook Group, can enhance your Pai experience.
– Watch the sunset at Wat Phra That Mae Yen
Visit the Wat Phra That Mae Yen temple, also called Big Buddha Pai, which is perched on a hill and offers panoramic views of the town and surrounding valleys. A great place to see the sunset in Pai!
– Spend a few days in Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is a great place to visit from Pai and to do a VISA run in Myanmar. This is a part of Thailand that not many people go to, but there is plenty to do. It is also a great way to enter into Myanmar if that is on your journey!
– Watch the sunset at Yun Lai Viewpoint
Watching the sunset at Yun Lai Viewpoint in Pai, Thailand is a magical experience that leaves a lasting impression. Perched high in the hills, this viewpoint is not very well-known, but offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Pai Valley. As the sun begins its descent, the sky transforms into a mesmerizing canvas of warm hues, casting a golden glow over the landscape. For me, it was a serene and romantic spot to unwind, capture some photos and simply marvel at the beauty of nature.
Tip: the road to Yun Lai Viewpoint is quite steep, keep this in mind if you are not very good at scooter riding (yet).
My favorite places to eat in Pai
Pai offers a variety of dining options. Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Pai:
Pai Night Market: This bustling market comes alive in the evening, offering a wide array of street food stalls and vendors. Try local dishes like khao soi and pad Thai.
Tea Tea’s cafe and bakery: One of the cheapest places to eat well prepared Thai food. I visited this cafe multiple times during my stay in Pai. Despite the cafe having the word “bakery” in its name, bread is not their main product. So don’t be fooled by this.
Cheese Madness: This restaurant offers everything you need: Cheese and wine (and weed if you like). The absolute most amazing cheese toasties I’ve had on my whole south east Asia trip.
Na’s Kitchen: A popular spot for authentic Thai cuisine and stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Don’t miss their massaman curry!
Fat Cat: A tree house offering Thai and international cuisine. Make sure to try the egg avocado toast and a coffee.
Witching Well: Known for its laid-back atmosphere and organic, vegetarian/vegan-friendly menu. They serve tasty salads, sandwiches, and Thai dishes. Make sure to try the Chicken pesto sandwich!
Café de Pai: A cozy café serving excellent coffee and a selection of baked goods. It’s a great place to relax and people-watch.
Earth Tone: A vegetarian and vegan restaurant known for its creative, healthy (and gluten free possible) menu. Try their Buddha bowl and fresh fruit shakes.
Baan Pizza: A great place if you love pizza, including vegetarian options.
The best places to work in Pai, Thailand
I was pleasantly surprised at how fast and reliable the wifi was in Pai, considering its location in the mountains. With an average internet speed of 20 Mbps, I was able to publish articles and upload some images. If you’re a digital nomad seeking a spot to hunker down and get things done while enjoying the Pai vibe, consider these work-friendly locations:
The Pedlar: situated in the city centre of Pai, so easy accessible. The Pedlar offers excellent Wi-Fi, great lunch and a laid-back atmosphere. A bit pricy, but the food and coffee is delicious. Good table and chairs to work, but it can be crowded and noisy here, as the space is quite small.
Om Garden Cafe: Great coffee shop and restaurant. It was perfectly tranquil and shaded for dedicated work time. There are lots of nooks and crannies to settle down for a few hours. The menu and prices are reasonable, the staff is friendly and the garden has a nice atmosphere. The wifi was strong and reliable.
Silhouette by Reverie Siam: This restaurant is located downhill of Pai. Situated in the Reverie Siam Hotel, the restaurant serves all-day meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Good tables and chairs to work.
Khaotha Cafe: Another cafe situated downhill of Pai. It’s small and there are not many comfortable tables to sit and work, but the coffee is probably the best you can get in Pai. You can choose what kind of roast you want for your coffee and they have options for non-dairy milk, including pistachio milk. Try their Honey Americano Frappe!
The best places to party in Pai
Pai isn’t just about serenity; it knows how to throw a good party too. While it’s not as wild as places like Phuket or Bangkok, there are still several places to enjoy a good night out in Pai. Here are some of my favorite places to party in Pai:
Sunset Bar: this is a popular spot to watch the sunset and to listen to live music. You can enjoy great views of the surrounding mountains, a swimming pool and a lively atmosphere. I myself am not a fan of taking drugs abroad, but Sunset bar is known for mushroom shakes. I thought I’d mention it 😉
Don’t Cry Bar: this bar features a blend of live music, fire dancing performances, and a cozy ambiance. It’s known for its creative cocktails, beer pong tables, pool table, and is a fun place to unwind in the evening. It’s an after hours place, so I recommend visiting Don’t Cry Bar after 1:00am or 1:30am when everything else closes.
Spirit Bar: this bar is located next to Paizy Bar and is a hidden gem! The bar is known for its Full Moon Party-style events and late-night dancing. It gets cozy from 8pm onwards. The bar sells great coctails, happy brownies and even some jewelry.
Bebop Bar: Bebop Bar is a small, but nice place where you can enjoy live music, cocktails and beer. It’s an excellent place for a relaxed night out. The music is not too loud, so you can still talk with your friends.
Paradise Bar: this bar is set up facing the paddy fields with the mountains in the backdrop. It’s a great place to watch the sunset, play pool and enjoy some drinks. The bar also organise regular events like a fire show and karaoke night. The bar also provides happy shakes and magic brownies.
My favorite places to stay overnight in Pai
No matter your budget, Pai has plenty of accommodations. During peak seasons, accommodations can fill up quickly, so it’s a good idea to book your accommodations in advance to secure the best options. I’ve stayed about three weeks in Pai and tried several budget and mid-range accommodations. Here are my favorite places to stay overnight in Pai:
– Budget Accommodation
I myself have stayed at JJ&J Garden Pai. It was a quiet place, surrounded by nature and there was a swimming pool (in the sun). There are both private rooms and dormitory rooms are available. It’s possible to have dinner at the property and throughout the day you can get free coffee, tea, fruits and water. If you decide to stay overnight here, it’s recommended to rent a scooter, as the property is located a bit out of the center and there are a lot of dogs around, which some might find scary.
I’ve also heard good stories about Buzzas, another hostel in Pai. It’s located in the south of Pai in the middle of rice paddy fields, it has a beautiful swimming pool, large common area and the rooms are cleaned every day. It has both dormitory rooms and private rooms. Easy to meet other travelers and you can walk within a few minutes to the night market.
– Mid-Range Accommodation
I’ve also spend several nights in Pai Flora Resort and The Countryside Pai. I can recommend both accommodations. The rooms are large, property was clean, breakfast was good and staff was helpful. Both accommodations offer private rooms (and dormitory rooms) and are located a bit outside the city centre, so perfect if you’re looking for a more quiet place.
– Luxury Accommodation
For those looking to splurge, Reverie Siam offers beautiful rooms and a serene atmosphere. It’s an excellent choice for a romantic getaway or a luxurious escape.
Another great option is the Pai Village Boutique Resort, a little oasis in town. Here, you can find private and luxurious bungalows, a lovely pool area, nice places to sit and relax, a well-maintained garden with ponds and little waterways and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The ultimate 3 days, 2 nights itinerary for visiting Pai, Thailand
Day 1: Arrival in Pai
Arrive in Pai, either by minivan from Chiang Mai or by your chosen mode of transportation.
Check in to your accommodation.
Stroll down Pai Walking Street, a vibrant market with local crafts and street food.
Rent a scooter and drive to the Tha Pai Memorial Bridge
Continue your way to the Two Huts Cafe for lunch and wonderful views.
Then head to the Pai Canyon for a short hike and take in the stunning sunset views (choose sunrise or daytime if you prefer quietness).
Enjoy a relaxing evening at the Pai Night Market. Try various street food dishes, shop for local crafts, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere.
Day 2: Nature and Culture
Have breakfast at a local café like Om Garden Cafe or Witching Well for a great start to your day.
Visit the Tha Pai Hot Springs for a morning soak in the natural hot springs. Don’t forget to explore the surrounding gardens.
Enjoy lunch at one of the local restaurants, trying traditional Northern Thai dishes or Cheese Madness if you love cheese as much as I do 😉
Do some yoga, strolling through town or participate in a cooking class.
Head to Wat Phra That Mae Yen, the hilltop temple. It’s a bit of a hike, but offers breathtaking panoramic views. Watch the sunset here.
Explore the nightlife in Pai. Start with a visit to the Don’t Cry Bar for fire shows and live music.
Day 3: Outdoor Adventures
Rent a scooter or bicycle to explore Pai’s natural surroundings. Consider visiting Pam Bok Waterfall, Mor Paeng Waterfall, Mo Paeng Waterfall, Kho Ky So Bamboo Bridge, depending on your interests.
Explore the surrounding countryside and lush landscapes.
Stop for lunch at a local eatery or one of the street food vendors you encounter.
Visit the Santichon Village and continue your way to the Yun Lai Viewpoint to watch the sunset.
Return to Pai town and spend your last evening at the city centre.
Day 4: Departure
Depending on your departure time, use your last morning to enjoy breakfast at your accommodation or at a local café.
Take a last stroll through Pai Walking Street to pick up any souvenirs you might have missed.
Check out of your accommodation and depart from Pai, either by bus or your chosen mode of transportation.
Some last tips for visiting Pai, Thailand
Visiting Pai, Thailand, is a unique and enjoyable experience, but it’s important to be prepared for a visit to this laid-back town in the northern mountains. Here are some useful tips for a successful visit to Pai:
Expect Limited ATM Access, bringCash: Pai is a small town and ATM availability is limited. It’s a good idea to carry enough cash for your stay, although some guesthouses and businesses do accept cards.
Pack Accordingly: The weather in Pai can vary, so pack layers, including light clothing for the daytime and a warm layer for cool evenings and nights, especially in the cooler months from November to February. Pack light, comfortable clothing and don’t forget your sunscreen and insect repellent. The weather can vary, so it’s a good idea to have a light jacket for cool evenings. Not sure what to bring? Have a look at my 1-year packing list for traveling in Asia.
Respect Local Culture: Embrace the local customs and be mindful of the peaceful, spiritual atmosphere that pervades Pai. Don’t disturb the monks and dress modestly when visiting temples, also if it’s just to watch the sunset from at Phra That Mae Yen.
Cherish the Journey: Don’t rush through your stay in Pai. Take the time to absorb the laid-back vibes and cherish the moments. The best way to enjoy Pai is by slowing down and appreciating the simple pleasures of life. Pai is a place to relax and unwind.
Respect the Natural Environment: Pai’s natural beauty is the key attraction. Respect the environment by disposing of your waste responsibly and avoiding any activities that may harm nature or animals!
Traveling to a country with a different currency? Avoid ATM transaction fees and pay in local currency with a Wise Visa Card or Revolut Maestro Card. I have been using these cards for several years and have saved a lot of money as a result. I recommend bringing both bank cards with you when you travel.
In Pai, Thailand, time seems to stand still and each moment is an opportunity to connect with nature, fellow travelers and yourself. Whether you’re a nature lover, adventure seeker, foodie, or simply in search of a break, Pai has something for you. Immerse yourself in the magic of this little Thai gem and you’ll find yourself enchanted by its tranquility and freedom.
If you have any questions about the above mentioned information, please let me know in the comment section below. I’m happy to help you. Safe travels!
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