Situated in the far northern Thailand, Pai is definitely one of the country’s most beautiful destinations to visit!
It’s becoming increasingly popular year on year as more and more backpackers are willing to brave the long windy road up there.
Steeped in natural beauty, glorious mountains and even a waterpark (more on that below) it’s a destination you really can’t afford to miss on your route through Thailand!
So sit back and enjoy our fully fledged Pai travel guide on not just the best things to do in Pai, but also everything else you need to know like how to get there and how to make the most of your stay!
First up ...
It’s worth being aware that there is only one road in and out of Pai and it is a little long … and windy ….
Okay, it’s incredibly long and windy!
It's definitely one of the more sickening journeys to take in Thailand, but trust me it’s worth it!
The route winds ever higher and higher through the gorgeous mountains and you have some really great views along the way.
They’ve also widened and improved the quality of the road in recent years so it’s definitely getting better.
That being said, buses do still seem to race their way up there (even trying to overtake on dodgy bends) so just be aware that you may want to take some motion sickness tablets if, like us, you struggle with journies like this.
Now that’s been said, here are your two main ways of getting to Pai:
Most people (like us) get a minibus to Pai from Chiang Mai.
There are no big coaches that head there, it’s literally a minibus company that leaves every hour.
You travel with a company called Prem Pracha and you can purchase your ticket either online or at the bus depo Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station.
The trip takes around 3 hours.
This route literally goes in and out of the mountains ....so it’s very twisty/turny and the chances are you will feel really sick (we did)!
They stop half way through for a toilet/coffee break and you will need to grab the fresh air.
Your other option is to get a “local” bus that takes around 4 hours- It’s around 75 baht and you can buy your tickets at the Arcade Bus Station too.
To ensure you get a ticket, I recommend booking your ticket online here.
I really wish that this was the option that we chose as we love riding mopeds in southeast Asia, and I’m sure the journey would have been a lot more enjoyable.
Your best option would probably be to find a hostel or hotel in Chiang Mai that is willing to hang on to the bulk of your luggage for a few days while you head up to Pai.
Then, go and speak to local moped/scooter rental firms and check they are happy for you to ride up to Pai.
It’s best to pack light for the trip as you really won’t need very much stuff, and it will make the drive there more enjoyable if you’re carrying less luggage.
For tips on choosing the best daypack for Thailand and also what else to take with you, check out my ultimate Thailand packing list.
Yes, you can get to Pai from Chiang Rai, however it entails going to Chiang Mai first!
Simply put, mopeds are your best shout!
This is the thing that most people do in Pai, and you’ll soon realise why when you see the hundreds of signs offering moped rental for as little as 100 baht for 24 hours!
One thing to note, that the cheaper the moped, the lower quality.
Whilst this is fine if you are just driving around to local places, if you want to venture to some of the more far out places that I will speak about below, including hot springs and waterfalls, the roads include steep hills which a low cc moped, just will not bring you up!
So it’s always best to fork out the extra few Baht to get a decent quality moped (treat yourself, you’re on holiday after all!)
P.S. Don’t forget to always wear your helmet and carry a raincoat with you (gotta love that Thailand monsoon weather!).
Pai is literally filled with wonderful places to stay, that’s what makes it such a great place to visit.
Especially compared to busier cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
One important thing to note when booking your accommodation is that taxi services are limited.
Well, not limited, but it’s basically a set fair of 100 baht and you book a taxi from the main street, so it’s just awkward.
Most accommodations are within walking distance, so keep this in mind when booking.
Ours was a 15-20 minute walk with bags which wasn’t exactly ideal.
We stayed in a place called Pai Phu Fah Resort and we stayed here for two nights.
This is right in the middle of the Pai countryside, away from the centre and you are housed in little wooden huts/bungalows.
The views that surround you are amazing and you can see green rice paddies and one of the big Buddhas in the distance.
As such, I would highly recommend it! (Check it out here).
There are different types of bungalows for different price points.
But we chose one with aircon because aircon is essential everywhere in Asia: It came in at less than $USD10 per night each for a private bungalow.
We paid for breakfast at the resort, which was super cheap, but if it’s included then that’s a bonus.
The guy who runs/owns this resort was wonderfully helpful and when we left he dropped us into town to the bus station instead of having to walk with our bags again.
Here are a few other great options to choose from …
Now onto the good part … what you can expect to get up to in Pai.
You will be pleased to know that most of the top things to do in Pai are FREE (minus your own spending money of course).
So, without further ado, let’s get stuck in …
I have to include this because it’s probably the best street food market I have been to in Thailand!
It’s cheap and the variety is crazy.
Bradley and I ate so much food we struggled to walk home (no jokes!)
Pai also loves its avocado, so it is truly an avocado lover's dream (me!).
There are dishes to suit everyone, from meat lovers (bbq ribs to die for), vegetarians (fried mushroom and sweet fritters- delicious!) and vegans.
The only problem will be choosing what to eat; either way I recommend you eat the street food each night.
We didn’t get sick and everything is visibly clean and well prepared; which is surprising as we got sick in a few places in the south of Thailand.
This street food market is located in the centre of Pai, though the town is tiny anyway, so it’s hard to miss.
You’ll walk past lots of food establishments then you’ll enter the food market- yum!
Stalls start setting up at around 5 pm, so I recommend heading in at about 6ish.
Read Also: Our Epic Trip Planning Guide!
I remember being super intrigued by this and I had seen pictures of my friends here so I was excited to visit.
Well, it’s exactly what it says on the tin … a canyon right outside of Pai!
It offers some beautiful views and it’s pretty easy to find; you park your moped (for free) and walk up to the canyon (for free).
It’s also one of the most amazing places to visit in Pai for sunset.
There are plenty of side trails leading off from the main viewing area and surrounding woodlands which are great if you just want to relax and even do some bird watching.
There are a few epic waterfalls in Pai, however my favourite was Mo Paeng.
Because it doubles as an all-natural waterslide!
Mo Paeng Waterfall is located about 10km west of Pai past Santichon, so it can take about 20 minutes to reach by moped.
It’s fairly popular so you can expect to see some people there.
It is possible to climb up this waterfall and slide down, but it is really slippery.
I opted not to, but Brad climbed.
It’s a pretty stop and a nice place to get some photos, though the final part of the road up to it is in pretty bad shape so be prepared for a bumpy ride!
The Pam Bok waterfall is another one you can visit at certain times of the year when the water level is high enough.
And though you may already be fed up with waterfalls in Southeast Asia, what’s great is that Pam Bok is pretty unique!
Well, it’s located in the middle of a cave and you can jump into the pools below from the cliffs on the rock!
It’s also about 10km from the main Pai town, so about a 20 minutes drive; just in the opposite direction to Mo Paeng.
Though it’s such a random attraction, I ended up loving this place more than I should have!
This is clearly a tourist-made area but it’s so cute.
It’s on your way to the Pai Canyon, so you may as well stop off since it won’t cost you anything either.
In season, they grow strawberries here, but it was “off-season” when we were there.
However, they sell the most delicious strawberry wine I have ever tasted, and strawberry vodka which is equally as nice; we even bought some for Bradley’s parents as a Christmas gift.
As well as getting tipsy, you can get pictures on big, bright oversized plastic strawberries, grab a coffee or a strawberry smoothie, or even swing into the air on a mini ride.
It’s a random place, but that’s what makes it so unique! I doubt you will have ever visited somewhere like ‘Love Strawberry Pai’ before.
Okay, this was probably one of my absolute favourite things to do in Pai; mainly because we drove past it randomly and thought “what’s that?”.
It’s not a waterpark in your traditional sense...rather it’s a massive swimming pool filled with massive inflatable courses to try and tackle and a big massive “bouncy” water slide to climb on top and slide down.
We were intrigued, so we pulled over to find a price.
It didn’t even look like it was open...no one was there.
We put our bags in some random lockers (that had no locks) and headed towards what looked like a bar.
There was a guy there and he told us it was open. I can’t remember the exact price...but I’m pretty sure it was around 150 baht.
We thought at that price, “we are going in!”
And in the end, we had SOOO much fun, with a whole assault course all to ourselves!
It was amazingly fun and so cheap, they even had super clean showers and toilets to clean yourself afterwards.
There is so little information about this place online….they don’t even rank for their own business name, so I can only give you the address, Pai 58130 Pai, Thailand and you should use Maps.me or Google Maps to bring you there.
It did advertise “pool” parties, with shots, drinks, DJs, the whole shebang and I reckon they would be quite fun, but I think they are only for a certain season.
I really hope this place stays open because if you have the chance to go, you will love it!
There are quite a few different places that offer hot springs near Pai.
Some at hotel resorts that are reasonably priced, or some literally in the woodlands.
The first one we chose was in the woodlands, which always makes it more natural and appealing!
Sai Ngam is located in a national forest park, so you pay an entrance fee of 20 baht as you drive into the park.
There are limited signs, but just keep driving on the long, STEEP road that awaits you and eventually there will be a sign for the hot springs.
You can park up for free (always lock your bike with a chain) and head into the hot springs. They are literally just outside and there are three pools; all extremely refreshing, lovely and warm.
These hot springs are regarded as the quieter ones and cheapest- they cost 20 baht, which is pretty much 50 pence (GBP).
They were quite busy when we were there, but not crowded, so I can recommend going before 2pm!
After you’ve relaxed in the pools, you can pop to the one restaurant there for super cheap and delicious Pad Thai or iced coffee. (Approx 75 Thai baht for both).
Which was handy for us as it quickly started teaming it down as soon as we got dry!
Just 8km south of Pai, you have another amazing set of hot springs, perfect for relaxing in after a busy day exploring the rest of Pai.
Or perhaps recovering after a big night out the day before …
If you’re not a fan of hot springs that are too … well … hot, then this place could be good for you.
They have a string of different hot springs, with each one below being cooler than the one before.
So it’s sort of like Goldilocks, simply try them all and pick the one that juuuust right!
There are big Buddhas basically everywhere in Thailand.
If you’ve read any of our other guides on Thailand, you’ll soon realise that we are always talking about big Buddhas!
Well, what distinguishes the one in Pai from the rest is that it’s white (I know right, who would have guessed with such a name!?).
It’s one of the nicest spots to visit in Pain because it's quite high up; in fact, you even have to park up and walk the final 350 odd stairs up to the statue in order to bask in the views in all their glory.
Because of the lengthy walk, it’s best to visit the White Buddha statue either very early or at the end of your day, not long before sunset.
If you do venture up in the middle of the day, take some water and sunscreen!
Also note that this is a religious site, so you’ll need to be covering up certain body parts at the top.
Unsure of what to wear? Check out Bradley’s guide on what to wear in Thailand.
Though there are so many great Pai attractions to visit, I can confidently say that some of my favorite memories from here were our time spent out on the moped.
Compared to elsewhere in Thailand, Pai seems so much less crowded, so as soon as you head out of town the roads are virtually empty.
Plus, the scenery is spectacular, with lush green fields and rice paddies almost everywhere.
The roads are also in pretty good shape, at least by Asian standards, so the roads are nice and smooth and you aren’t as worried about suddenly hitting a massive pothole!
There are a bunch of places in town that rent out mopeds, charging anywhere from 100 Thai baht per day and upwards.
You can usually get a better price if you’re willing to hire for multiple days; and we often find that your hotel/hostel offers the best rates.
That being said, before you head out make sure that the bike is in good condition and that they give you helmets for everyone riding.
For more Information about what to look for, check out our guide on renting scooters in Southeast Asia.
If riding around on mopeds on jumping into waterfalls all sounds like too much effort for you, why not have a go at some leisurely tubing down Pai River?
You start your journey a few kilometres up-river from Pai, where the current slowly drifts you back down to town.
Just like in Vang Vieng, you can even take a couple of brewskies with you for the ride, so it’s best to have a good quality waterproof sack to carry this and any valuables.
The whole way down you get to enjoy breathtaking views of the Pai countryside, a truly serene experience.
Just be sure to wear sunscreen and take a hat and glasses, as it does get VERY hot out there in the middle of the day!
Located in the heart of the Pai valley, Fluid Swimming Pool has quickly become one of the most popular spots for visitors of all ages!
Because it’s one of the best (*ahem*, cleanest) places to cool off at in Pai!
This large open-air swimming pool is very modern and they even serve a wide variety of tasty Wesetern dishes, so it’s the perfect place to stop off at for lunch in the middle of the day.
Alternatively, you could take the whole day to relax here and unwind with a good book.
Find out more on their website here.
As discussed earlier in the post, the accommodation that we stayed at was a bungalow just outside of the main part of town.
I can highly recommend it (check it out here) as it was an experience in itself!
Our bungalow was located in the middle of rice paddies, with wonderful views in all directions!
Imagine watching the sunset over the paddies, enjoying a book and a cocktail at the on-site bar!
Or having your breakfast and morning cup of coffee as it’s rising once again.
True bliss and easily one of the most romantic things to do in Pai for couples.
Many hotels and hostels in Pai offer yoga.
In fact, the woman running our accommodation was a foreigner who was staying there for a few months whilst taking a break from her usual life to practise yoga every day.
Well, who can blame her!
There are few better spots in Thailand to do yoga, as Pai is much cooler and calmer than other parts of Thailand.
If your accommodation doesn’t offer yoga, then there are a few other places in town you can try, such as:
Lastly, but certainly not least, one of the best things to do in Pai at night is to go for a good old fashioned booze up in town!
There is a big backpacking community in Pai these days, and there are plenty of cool bars and restaurants serving great food, cheap drinks and cool music late into the night.
For much of the year, Bamboo Bar is one of the hottest (literally) places to head to in Pai.
It starts getting busier here after midnight as, on the shores of Pai River the team lights a big bonfire!
Many choose to stay until the sun comes up (if they can last) so it’s definitely not for the fainthearted!
Now that we’ve covered what to do in Pai, it’s time to answer any other questions you might have!
So here are a few more top Pai travel tips to help you on your way ...
Hells yeah you can!
If you want to take the stress out of visiting Pai, then this looks like your best choice of tour.
Sure, it’s a little pricier than booking everything on your own, however it includes a custom 1 to 4 day itinerary, as well as private transfers to and from Chiang Mai and Pai.
You can book through Klook, who you’ve no doubts already come across.
If not, then simply put they are the best tour provider in Southeast Asia based on our experience, and they offer by far the most competitive prices.
Based on our experience, I can confidently say that the best time to visit Pai would be between November and February, as during these months the chance of heavy rain is much lower, as are the daily temperatures.
I think 3 nights is a pretty solid amount of time to spend in Pai, 2 nights if you are pushed for time.
1 night really wouldn’t be enough to see absolutely everything; plus it’s a lot of effort to get the whole way up there with the winding road.
The prices in Pai are very inline with what you might expect elsewhere in Thailand.
You can get great accommodation for no more than 300-400 baht per night (even less if you are on a strict budget).
Local restaurants and stalls on the night market are very cheap.
That being said, it’s easy to go over budget as you walk down the strip and smell all the tasty foods being offered!
Many of the best things to do in Pai are actually free, and those that are paid aren’t too bad.
And transport to and from Pai costs just 200 baht each way (more on that at the start of the post).
So all in all, what with accommodation, transfers, activities and food, you can expect to spend somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 Baht for 3 nights in Pai.
That includes seeing most of the great Pai activities listed above, as well as eating well and staying in half decent accommodation.
For us, we had already been to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai before visiting Pai, so it was time to head back south again to Bangkok.
In fact, Pai was the last big stop for us on our 3 week Thailand itinerary, perhaps that’s why I have such fond memories of it.
If you haven't yet visited then of course, these are the 2 posts you’ll want to check out next:
So there you have it!
Pai really is a wonderful place and it’s got such a wonderful atmosphere in the evenings.
You can easily stroll into town, grab a cheap drink, or head to a bar then watch the stars in the sky.
Do you have any other recommendations to add to our list of top things to do in Pai? Then just comment below!
Other guides to read: