Some know Thailand for its famous coastlines. Some know it for its immersing nightlife. While some know Thailand for its thriving culture. But is that all, you ask? Certainly not I can assure you, so let’s change a few mainstream perceptions with this blog, shall we?
Thailand tourism has been at the forefront for all these reasons and maybe a handful more. But very few people actually go out of their way and explore the real beauty of our country out there. Much like an undiscovered jewel, Pai in northern Thailand shines with an innate nature that other tourist-savvy destinations rarely do.
That’s right, Pai, a small town in the Mae Hong Son Province of north Thailand. It’s no surprise that this place is yet to stand out on Thailand tour packages that the touts sell. Many who have been there would even classify it as a village. They wouldn’t be wrong, as even though it categorizes as a town, there is a unique low-key backcountry feel to the place.
Before we dive into what Pai is all about, let us break it down for you!
Where exactly is Pai?
Pai is a picture-perfect town located adjacent to the Myanmar border situated between the famous cities of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. The picturesque town gets its name thanks to the serene Pai river flowing right through it.
The sparsely populated town is surrounded by seemingly endless mountain ranges, and it is this very setting that has appealed to backpackers for a long time. Pai seems to have its own time zone – really! What I mean is that life really slows down when you are here. So if you are a tourist who is looking for a vibrant, pacy city blooming with people, it is best you keep away from Pai.
Much like the other parts of the country, Pai is a tourism-dependent city. Having said that, it is unlike any other Thai city you will ever go to. That is because here, nature takes the center stage. But before I get to what Pai has to offer, let’s look at how you can actually reach this town.
Getting to Pai cannot be easier
Reaching Pai has actually become easier over the years. A few years ago, the place remained largely accessible to just backpackers. But this has changed as rapid developments saw Pai become a tourist haven for many. The road to Pai is a rather popular one, as it is known for its 762 curves across the paved route. So guess what, you might just need some motion-sickness pills for yourself! Like much of Thailand, there are actually a few ways to get to Pai.
- By bus
Perhaps the most famous option to reach Pai, you can choose a regular bus that takes around 4-5 hours for the journey. Buses ply from both, Chaing Mai and Mae Hong Son and the fares can vary between 70-100 Thai Baht.
Another option is to travel in the more comfortable mini-buses, which take up to 3 hours for the journey and they cost you around 150-180 THB.
- Rent a car
As we explained in one of our previous blogs, renting a car is a rather easy task in Thailand. You can easily rent one for yourself from the neighbouring cities of Chaing Mai or Mae Hong Son, provided you have all the necessary documents.
Keep in mind – This can cost you upwards of 1500 Baht, but it will give you the ultimate freedom to drive on one of the most scenic routes of the country.
- By motorcycle
The good thing about Route 1095 (connecting Pai with Mae Hong Son) is that you will not encounter maddening traffic like most other major cities. So you can very well go out and curb your need for adventure by renting a motorcycle for yourself for this journey. Apparently, this is a pretty famous route for motorcyclists and you may actually find quite a few to keep you company, but please also take care of yourself and ensure someone knows which way you are going and ensure you are able to reach out to someone in scenarios where you may need help.
Be prepared to shell out around 700 THB for this experience though and if you enjoy scenic rides, this would be a very worth it trip. You can google Route 1095 on youtube and you will see plenty of people GoPro their journey.
- By plane
There are actually very few flights running on this route previously. You can check out Nok Air and Airasia that use to run flights from Chiang Mai to Pai. Historically, these flights varied according to the season and demand, however, for now, please do check with the respective airlines before making any concrete plans.
When would be the best time to visit Pai?
Pai has slowly but surely found its own fame in the hearts of travellers, which is evident in the busy season. November to February is the so-called ‘in season’ and you will struggle to find any lodgings if you turn up without prior bookings.
For a more memorable visit, I recommend that you come here either in March when most of the tourists have receded, or in the monsoons months (June – September). That is the time this place really shows its true hues.
Top things that you should do when you are in Pai?
Let’s say you have managed to reach Pai or have successfully booked a bus for yourself to the little town. What can you expect from the place? What is Pai really about? Well, in a nutshell, it is about taking it slow and truly immersing in the nature that this place offers. Let’s understand this better with an elaborate list of what you can do and explore in your time there:
1. Visiting the 3 famous waterfalls – Mae Yen/ Mo Paeng / Pam Bok
There are actually quite a few waterfalls tucked away in the lush forests in and around Pai. The most famous of these are Mae Yen, Mo Paeng and Pam Bok. Of these, Mo Phaeng is the most accessible and is also known as ‘slide waterfall’ because of a few sections along the falls from which one can slide down.
2. Pai Canyon- The Grand Canyon of the east
Some foreigners like to call it Pai’s ‘Grand Canyon’. While not as huge as the one in the States, the Pai Canyon actually makes quite an exciting place to be at! There is a steep 50m drop on both sides of the ridge, and you have to be careful with your steps here. That aside, this place is an absolute must to experience an exquisite sunset.
3. Chedi Phra That Mae Yen – The White Buddha Temple
Temples are an important part of Thailand tourism and Pai is no exception. Commonly known as the White Buddha Temple, you have to get past an easy climb of 353 stairs to reach the top. Expect to see some amazing panoramic views of the little town from the top, while the temple itself is quite a sight to see!
4. The Land Split in Pai
Originally caused due to an earthquake in 2008, this site has been successfully transformed into a tourist hub. You can see Pai farmers selling local produce in the form of fruits and different teas at the entrance. Be sure to enjoy a long walk to the summit or just choose to spend a lazy evening here laying in the hammocks, but to be honest, this may be a skip for some
5. Hot Springs In Thailand – Tha Pai or Sai Ngam
You might wonder what is this doing in this list for a coastal country like ours, right? Well, hot springs are quite a rage in Pai Thailand, especially when it cools down around here. Ditch the saunas in the hotels in Pai and head to Tha Pai or Sai Ngam, the two of the major hot springs in town.
The Tha Pai Hot Springs are the more easily accessible of the two, but you will have to pay a steep fee of 300 THB to visit the springs. On the contrary, Sai Ngam (commonly known as Secret Hot Springs) makes for a more exhilarating journey through the hills of Pai. To add to this, a relatively inexpensive entry fee of 20 Baht does make the difference.
6. Stroll down the 800 meters Boon Ko Ku So Bridge
Immerse in a soothing walk on an old bamboo bridge running through rice paddies and mountains till as far as you can see. The bridge is 800m in length and it leads to a small beautiful temple at the end. Be sure to have good shoes on and a water bottle with you for a visit here.
7. Tham Lod Cave – Lang River
Loosely translated to ‘The cave where the river runs through, the Tham Lod Cave is around 50km from Pai. You can actually make an adventurous one-day trip on a rented vehicle, which would bring you to a site that is still fairly untouched by tourists. As a bonus, get a ride on traditional bamboo rafts that run on the Lang river flowing right through the caves!
8. Shop and eat at Pai Walking Street
To quench your desire for some local indulgence, head to the rather famous Pai Walking Street. The colourful street is home to numerous carts and shops selling fresh food, local delicacies, handicrafts and even some souvenirs. Given its proximity to the city centre, this one is hard to miss.
9. Plenty of Cafes & Galleries if you are tired of nature
The mountain ranges, the gorges, the waterfalls and the sublime 360 views. Pai has got it all! And it doesn’t just stop at that. The place oozes a tourist-friendly culture with its cute little cafes, artsy galleries and local bars spread around the entire town. Whether you’re looking for a hidden cafe with a subtle vibe or a rather famous one that sells some great coffee, cafes in Pai are plenty, all to suit your personal taste and there is always something for everyone. Here are some of the cafes that you can check into.
10. Chill out and sit back Nightlife in Pai
Thailand tourist places and their nightlife are almost synonymous, aren’t they? This city surely does not let you down in this department. Although a slow-paced backcountry town in the day, Pai springs to life in the night. Be sure to check out local pubs which range from a loud raunchy atmosphere to mellow-jazzy vibes in terms of the overall feel. Thou I must say, the situation now did pretty much affect the scenes, there are still a couple of them such as Boom Bar and Yellow sun bar are still around which you can check into as Pai district is relatively small.
So that’s about it for Pai and I hope you will look forward to visiting the place on your next trip here!