A trip to Pai
When visiting Northern Thailand, a trip to the magical Pai is highly recommended.
This pretty postcard town is located about 3 hours North-west of Chiang Mai.
It is easily accessible & well worth the long & windy drive!
Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai
The trip to Pai from Chiang Mai is very straight forward. Most hostels & hotels (as well as numerous tour operators) will have ready to go packages you can purchase. This will usually involve a mini bus picking you up straight from your door, dropping you to central Pai & then bringing you back on a chosen day.
The price – around 150-200Baht each way.
Alternatively, you can take yourself to the main Chiang Mai bus station. Located just ten minutes from the old city; Here you have two choices.
Take a shared mini-bus, air-conditioned for your comfort & costing around 150Baht each way.
The drive to Pai has over 700 bends, so if you suffer from travel sickness, beware! Mini-buses are known to be one of the worst for the onset of travel sickness. Be prepared & take a remedy before you board if this is your choice of travel!
There is one Songthaew (Common Chiang Mai red truck -but this one is white!)
that leaves Chiang Mai for Pai per day. Holding up to 8 people. It does some sort of delivery & tends to run regardless of having any passengers!
The bus station will deny all knowledge of its existence as they want you to book onto their private buses!
It departs Chiang Mai bus terminal at 7.30am at the cost of 80Baht!
When coming back from Pai to Chiang Mai, this same truck will appear at the bus station at around 10.30am, make yourself known to the driver, he will leave for Chiang Mai at 11am.
Again, the bus station will deny knowledge of this truck.
Hire a moped!
The journey may be long, full of bends & a little nervy, but it is incredibly beautiful!
Being on a bike will allow you unlimited amounts of stops to take in the views, is far less likely to make you feel sick & can be just as cheap (for 2 passengers sharing 1 bike).
There are rental companies that will take your luggage on the bus for you too, meaning you don’t have to leave it anywhere or struggle with it on a bike.
The road is full of hazards, as many in Thailand are, so if you do choose to go by moped; keep your eyes on the road at all times, leave early to avoid the blistering heat, take plenty of water, ensure you have a full tank of full AND that you stop & fill up at the gas station when you spot it, you won’t make the drive on one tank.
You will need to show your international driver’s license at the checkpoint on route, this is unavoidable! If you don’t have one, expect to pay around 400baht in fines.
Accommodation in Pai
As with most well-known tourist spots in Thailand, Pai is no different, with hundreds of hostels & hotels to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
If visiting in high season (November to February) it IS advisable to book in advance, it can get very busy & hostels have been known to become fully booked.
Many hostels have bungalow style accommodation. These huts on stilts are comfortable & uniquely quirky!
A mosquito net comes as standard as Pai is full of bug life!
It is ideal to be near to the town centre of Pai, it is small but has all the favourite local hang outs in close proximity.
Hiring a scooter in Pai is amongst the cheapest you’ll find across the whole of Thailand, at around 80-100Baht per day, scooting around by moped gives you plenty of freedom. Accidents ARE common, so keep your eyes on the road & don’t drive under the influence of alcohol, pile on three people or drive too fast!
The addition of a scooter can make staying a little further away from the centre more appealing.
The cost of accommodation is around the same as other tourist spots of Northern Thailand such as Chiang Mai.
For around 300Baht you can bag yourself a private bungalow, a shared dorm is usually around 150baht.
More premium accommodation is available too, if you want to splash out & experience luxury, it is available & you’ll feel like a queen,
from private hot tubs to fresh spring water, the luxuries are there for the taking.
One of the most talked about backpacker hostels of Pai is Circus Hostel.
This place is buzzing with hippy vibes, creativity & a welcoming feel.
It boasts a salt water pool overlooking the scenic mountains & plenty of cute little bungalows in neat rows, very picturesque!
Circus hostel gets its name for a reason, it provides circus style activities that are free for its residents.
A slack line, Acro-Yoga & Juggling are amongst regular offerings! Many volunteers pass through Pai, providing their skills to residents in return for accommodation. Could you bring anything to the table?
Circus hostel is also a great place to socialise, with a reputation that ripples afar, it attracts many like-minded backpackers.
It hosts a pool table & pool side bar, creating great evening vibes that provide a great social hang out. Circus hostel also has a non-resident facility fee, so if you just want to go along & enjoy its classes, pool & good vibes, you can!
Pai by night
In the evening, Pai becomes even more magical. With a night market that has a relaxed vibe & plenty of bars & restaurants, taking a stroll down the main road & exploring is an all-round unforgettable experience.
It is hard to put into words, the essence of Pai. The locals have such a relaxed energy. Everything thing is calm.
Except the lively bars! They are far from calm! If you want to party, Pai will cater for this too. With a few selected bars staying open until late,
you can dance the night away with other backpackers!
Start the evening with a wander down the food market, fuel yourself before heading to the ‘Spirit bar’,
this little bar is hidden away down an art covered alley off of the main road, with live music & tasty cocktails, décor that creates a magical vibe & comfy seating,
you may find it hard to leave!
When you do, head to the right & work your way along the bars, they slowly start closing from midnight.
A couple stay open much later, with ‘Don’t cry’ finally shutting its doors at around 4am!
Other hot spot bars for backpackers include the other ‘sunset bar’ which is located just out of town, famous for its extra special fruit shakes that turn the world even more magical!
Valhalla is out in the sticks, despite only being a ten minute drive out of the centre, it feels like you are in the middle of the jungle!
The entrance involves walking across a thin tree beam over a river, up some muddy steps & into a very undeveloped, natural environment known as Valhalla!
Sit in a hammock, enjoy a drink & chat with the group of locals who live there.
It is an experience not easily forgotten!
A very untouched part of Pai that is worlds apart from the western world.
The shakes are also of the ‘magical’ variety at Valhalla, so unless that’s what you are signing up for, steer clear!
Open mic night at the Art in Chai is an evening full of travelling talent. Art in Chai opens its doors to travellers & locals alike to share their talent, open mic style.
From written word to vocal performances, Pai attracts big talent so witnessing open mic here is a real treat!
Tuck into a tasty beverage, snack or dinner & enjoy the performances!
Top daytime adventures
Pai Hot springs!
Located just a 20 minute drive out of central Pai, the hot springs are
Hiring a moped is the easiest way to access the springs, unless you book onto a set tour that will take you to a number of places via mini-bus.
Before you arrive, a small fee will be paid to get into this national park area, then when you arrive at the springs, you’ll need to show your ticket, so don’t throw it away!
These natural hot springs are incredibly beautiful. Set amongst the jungle, the warmth of the water holds you like a hot bath!
You could spend hours just floating, sitting at the water’s edge & relaxing in mother nature.
A great experience not to be missed being so close to the centre of Pai!
The drive to Namlod cave is much further than the springs (which are actually on route), just short of 90 minutes at a steady pace.
There are a number of tours that will incorporate the cave visit too, if you’d rather travel in the comfort of a mini-bus! They are very cost effective & easy to book through the hostel or a tour operator in town.
Namlod cave is a weird & wonderful adventure!
With a choice of 1,2,3 or 4 caves to explore, select your package at the entrance & your personal guide with lantern will lead the way!
Explore the caves close by your tour guide, you can’t do anything but stay close, for you simply cannot see anything without the light being provided from the lantern!
You are quickly plunged into pitch black darkness if you fall behind.
Exploring the caves can take anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on how many you have paid for, outside of that, there isn’t much to do in the area so you’ll head out.
There are designated shelters that you can sit & eat a packed lunch if you wish, so if that’s something you’d like to do, come prepared.
Toilets & basic refreshments are available on site.
If travelling by moped, be sure to take a rain jacket & something warm. Driving into the mountains can get chilly.
Getting caught in a storm without a jacket is uncomfortable to say the least!
The drive by moped is totally worth the chilly spots, the scenery is stunning.
There are pit stops along the way for re-fuelling & coffee, there is even a giant human driven Ferris wheel to play on! It’s a real challenge to get it moving with 4 passengers!
Located just 20 minutes form the centre, Pai canyon is easily accessible. Hire a scooter & take your time sitting on the canyon edge taking in the vast views as far as the eyes can see!
Some parts of the canyon can be tricky to reach & are not for the feint hearted! If heights are not your thing, play it safe with the wider parts of the canyon & you’ll be just fine!
Pai canyon is particularly beautiful at sunset, sitting & watching the sun go down, with the moon rising one side & the sun disappearing the other, it’s a beautifully natural sight that makes this experience one not to miss!
When & why to visit Pai
In summary, Pai really does have a lot to offer. From caves, hot springs & canyons, to magical markets & hippy vibe bars, chilled jazz or backpacker parties.
Accommodation to suit all standards & travel that is cheap & accessible.
Pai is a must see if in Northern Thailand.
There is a popular saying amongst travellers about ‘getting stuck in a Pai hole!’
Reason being, no matter how long one intends to stay in Pai, they seem to get a little stuck, if onward travel hasn’t previously been booked (or even if it has), Pai has a unique way of capturing hearts & extending the intended stay for many.
For an extra magical experience, visit out of Smokey season & out of high season. The surrounding mountain outline is just beautiful to see & the smoke in burning season makes it difficult to appreciate.
Low season creates a much calmer essence in the heart of Pai, but if busy is your thing, high season will do just fine.
High Season – November-February
Burning season – February-March