If you’re planning a trip to Northern Thailand then chances are you’ll eventually make it to Pai. It’s the most popular tourist town in the north and is the perfect place to relax for a few days. There are also plenty of things to do in Pai, and the surrounding countryside, so if you’re keen to ditch the cafés and shopping for a few hours you’ll have a few optoins.
Things to do in Pai
There are a few things to do in Pai (the town), so I’ll mention those first and leave the longer trips for later.
Go for a Stroll
Pai is quite spread out, meaning there’s a decent amount to explore on foot. I went for a big walk one day, which took me across the river to the more bucolic side of Pai (in the general direction of Pai Circus Hostel — check that out if clowns are your thing). There are lots of places to stay over there and some nice countryside views.
The best thing about strolling around these parts is there are lots of places to stop for a drink or something to eat — it does get hot so you might want to do some café hopping to get out of the sun. You can walk or bike around these areas — renting a bicycle for a few days would be a good idea if you’re staying in this area and want easy access to town.
The Night Market
The streets of Pai (a few of them at least) come alive at night. One of the best things to do in Pai is to go for a slow stroll and try some of the delicious food on offer. You can find pretty much anything, and the portions are generally small, meaning you can try a few different things. There are other things to buy too and it’s worth going for a wander even if you’re not planning on spending any money.
Yip, relaxing really is one of the best things to do in Pai. It’s the kind of place that people tend to linger longer than planned. Part of the reason is that towns like Pai are rare in Northern Thailand. You get plenty of similar places in the south (particularly on the islands) but travelling around northern Thailand is a different experience. It’s always good to spend some time in a quaint tourist town to recharge the batteries.
Eating and Drinking
In my opinion, the best thing about Pai is the town itself, and a big part of that is the number of cool places to eat and drink. I ate at a few different places and I really liked The Curry Shack (some of the best and cheapest curry I’ve had in Thailand) and a few others which I can’t remember anymore. Go for a walk when you’re hungry and you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Things to Do Outside Town
You’ll likely want to get out into the countryside when visiting Pai. I took a tour to the places below (more on that later) but you can also rent a motorcycle. Be careful with that though — the roads are steep and winding and many tourists lose their lives on them. There are also plenty of cops around giving fines for not wearing helmets / not having the correct licence.
There are a few different waterfalls close to Pai — I’m not entirely sure which the best ones are but you’ll likely see one if you take a tour. I visited Pam Bok Waterfall as part of my tour and it was a nice, if fairly low-key, spot.
Pai Canyon is a popular spot to see the sunset. It was very crowded when I was there, and people were taking risks getting photos close to sheer drops to the valleys below.
There is one point in particular where people queue up to get photos — you can see how dangerous it is in the photo below. There’s also a very narrow bit of path connecting the first bit with some other tracks — I walked across but it was pretty dodgy. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before some dies at Pai Canyon — be careful and don’t risk dying for a photo! Luckily you can easily see this place without putting yourself at risk.
There are a few viewpoints scattered around the countryside near Pai. The one I visited (I can’t find the name) seems to be included in most tours and it gives you a nice elevated view of the area. There are also a few shops up there if you feel like eating some strawberries (or something more exotic). I also just read about Yun Lai Viewpoint, which seems popular — the view looks similar to the one from the Big Buddha below.
The Big Buddha
This is another common stop on the Pai day tours, but it’s close enough to town to walk or bike there if you need to. It’s an OK place, nothing too special though.
Tham Lod Cave
I specifically chose a tour that went to Tham Lod Cave, as I’d heard it’s one of the most interesting places to see near Pai. It was a long drive to get there in an uncomfortable songthaew, but the cave itself was worth the journey. You’ll join a local guide who takes you through various sections of the cave — some of it is steep and it’s very dark (as you’d expect), but it’s doable for most people. The tour also includes a short boat ride through the cave.
Pai is home to a couple of different hot springs — the one I visited wasn’t particularly exciting but I guess you know what you’re going to get from a hot spring!
The Land Split
I didn’t actually visit this place, but I heard it’s one of the best things to do in Pai. I’ll be getting another travel blogger to write about this place so stay tuned for that. From what I can tell it’s just a big crack in the ground with an organic food shop nearby.
If you’re confident on a motorcycle (and have your licence / insurance sorted) it’d be a fun way to explore the general area. You could visit more waterfalls and scenic spots and it’s cheap to rent motorcycles in Pai.
I think I paid 650 baht for my tour, which included entry to all attractions and lunch. It was a good deal but it was a little uncomfortable travelling around in a songthaew all day. If you want to splash out a bit more you could hire a car / driver for the day. That’d also give you the freedom to go exactly where you want to go and spend longer / less time at certain places.
Getting to Pai
I’m going to assume you’re travelling to Pai from Chiang Mai, in which case it’s very easy to get to. Head to the Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai and buy a ticket for the minivan (people will point you in the right direction). It costs around 150 baht and takes around three hours. There are no big buses plying this route so minivans are your only option (unless you splash out on a private transfer).
You buy the tickets in the small office and you can choose your seat (minivans usually tend to be luck of the draw, meaning you could end up in a cramped seat in the back). I chose the very front seat (up by the driver) there and back and had heaps of legroom — probably the most comfortable minivan rides I’ve had in Southeast Asia!
Where to Stay in Pai
There are so many hotel options in Pai, both in the centre of town and on the outskirts. I stayed at Pai Yard Guesthouse, which is a 10-15-minute walk from the centre (in the opposite direction to the river). It was such a peaceful spot and the room was flash considering the decent price (450 baht). The owners were really friendly and it was the perfect place to relax for a few days. I guess the walk helped to burn off all that food I ate too!
Are you planning a trip to Thailand? Check out all my other posts (I’ve been to Thailand several times now and have written a lot about it!).
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