The 12 best things to do in Pai

Sawadee Pai! This is the perfect destination to unwind after the busy city life. When you enter this green town in northern Thailand, you immediately experience the laidback lifestyle. People here live day by day, and if it doesn't work out today, there's always tomorrow. As you look around, you'll see rice fields glistening in the sun and have a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding Pai. Travelers from all over the world visit Pai, and it's a place where many backpackers make a stop. Despite the crowds, Pai still maintains the same laidback atmosphere as before. It's a delightful place to relax in nature, and many people end up staying longer than expected for good reason.

How to get to Pai?

The easiest way to get to Pai is from Chiang Mai. Many travelers spend a few days in Chiang Mai first and then head to Pai from there. The road from Chiang Mai to Pai is a 130-kilometer route through the mountains, taking you along 762 curves. Regardless of the mode of transportation you choose to reach Pai, the views are beautiful.

By car

Taking a (rental) car to Pai is the fastest option, and takes approximately 3 hours. Along the way, you'll have beautiful views and plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the scenery. Another advantage of traveling by car is that you'll stay dry if it starts to rain in the mountains.

By scooter

Riding a scooter to Pai is an adventurous journey. Before renting a scooter, it's important to be aware that you officially need an international motorcycle license. An international driver's license is not sufficient. In many places you can ride a scooter up to 50 cc with your regular driver's license, but scooters in Thailand are typically over 100 cc. Despite these rules, you can often rent a scooter over 100 cc with just a regular driver's license in Thailand, but you may not be insured for accidents, and if you encounter the police, you could receive a fine. One advantage of this fine is that it's often valid for three days. This means that if you get stopped again within three days and show the receipt of your previous fine, you can continue without paying.

We rented a scooter and rode from Chiang Mai to Pai, which was an exciting but occasionally nerve-wracking experience. We went in early October, at the end of the rainy season. We noticed the rain mostly in the mountains, where it often started pouring. The raindrops were quite large and stinging. At times, we had to stop because we couldn't see anything due to the rain. Fortunately, it often rains only in the mountains, and as you are back down in the valley, it's dry again. Our tip is to bring a long-sleeved poncho since longer sleeves flap less in the wind on a scooter. Another tip is to bring a face shield that covers your face, so you can see better in the rain. Despite the rain, we found it to be a beautiful journey. It's nice to stop occasionally, have something to eat and drink at a local restaurant, and enjoy the magnificent views. The scooter ride takes approximately 4 to 5 hours, depending on how often and how long you stop. It's essential to start early to arrive in Pai before dark.

There are plenty of rental companies in Chiang Mai where you can rent a scooter. When traveling with a backpack, it's convenient if you don't have to take it with you on the scooter. You can ask your accommodation if you can leave your backpack there until you return. Most accommodations are okay with this, possibly for a small fee.

You can also rent a scooter through Aya Service and have your backpack delivered to Pai for 3 dollars. It's not necessary to rent a scooter from Aya Service to have your backpack transported to Pai; you can rent a scooter elsewhere and drop off your backpack only.

If you're traveling to Pai by minivan or car and want to explore the area on a scooter, you can easily rent one for a day or a few days in Pai. There are plenty of companies in Pai that rent scooters, and you'll pay around 4 to 12 dollars per day. Keep in mind that you often need to provide a copy of your passport and a deposit of around 60-80 dollars. Some companies may ask for your actual passport, but we recommend not giving it, as this is not officially allowed.

By minivan

You can also take a shared minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai. The journey takes approximately 3 hours. This is a popular option, as we often saw minivans with tourists passing us while we were on the scooter. You can book a minivan through 12go Asia or Bookaway, and it costs around 6 dollars per person.

Overnight stay in a mountain village

For those who find it too long to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai in one day or for those who enjoy immersing themselves more in local life, staying overnight in a mountain village is a great option. We made a stop in a mountain village on our way from Chiang Mai to Pai and stayed here in a motel. It was really cool to experience the atmosphere in this local village! In the evening, we had noodles at a supermarket across from the motel with a very kind woman, chatted with local construction workers, and enjoyed some drinks.

What to do in Pai?

There is plenty to do around Pai, and you can certainly keep yourself busy for several days. We've gathered all our tips for you!

1. Walking over the Memorial Bridge

This bridge is impossible to miss when you arrive in Pai and plays a significant role in history. During World War II, the Japanese aimed to create a route from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son to attack Myanmar, which was a British colony at the time. In 1941, a bridge was built over the Pai River to establish this route. Elephants were employed to drag trees from the jungle to Pai, and local residents were forced to work on the bridge's construction. Around 1944, the Allies were gaining the upper hand. The Japanese abandoned the bridge and set it on fire. This caused problems for the locals because they couldn't cross the river, which was necessary for the import and export of goods. The residents began using makeshift boats made from tree trunks to cross the river. The bridge was eventually rebuilt because it had become too important in the daily lives of the local population.

Today, the Memorial Bridge is only used by pedestrians, and there is a concrete bridge next to it for cars. The Memorial Bridge has become an important historical monument in the city, as it commemorates the events during World War II.

2. Visit the Pai Walking Street Night Market

The Night Market is a vibrant and colorful market in the main street of Pai. Very cozy for an evening stroll! In the evening, the street is closed to cars and scooters, and you'll find numerous stalls with street food, souvenirs, local art, clothing, and jewelry. You can try local dishes such as sticky rice, Pad Thai, Thai curries, and delicious freshly squeezed juices. While wandering around the market, you can enjoy live music from musicians in the region. The market is every evening on the main street between 6 and 10 pm.

3. Enjoy the beautiful views at Pai Canyon

The Pai Canyon is known for its narrow sandstone gorges stretching across the valley. You can walk along narrow paths over the gorges and enjoy beautiful views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Wear sturdy shoes, as you'll be walking on narrow paths, and the sand can be slippery. The sunset from Pai Canyon is stunning and therefore quite popular. Many people gather every evening to witness it. Access to the Canyon is free.

How to get there?
It's about a 10-minute drive from the center of Pai to the Canyon. Along the way, you'll also pass the Memorial Bridge, making it a convenient combination. For the more adventurous, you can also hike there, which takes approximately 1 hour.

4. Walk across the Bamboo Bridge

This 800-meter-long bridge is a beautiful tourist attraction in the vicinity of Pai. You walk across the bridge amidst rice fields and can enjoy the stunning green mountains around you. Especially during the rainy season, you're guaranteed lush greenery. The Bamboo Bridge connects local communities, allowing locals to make offerings at the nearby temple. That's why you'll often see monks walking across the bridge.

The Bamboo Bridge is open during the day, and it's best to go early to avoid the crowds. The entrance fee is around 1 dollar.

How to get there?
The Bamboo Bridge is just outside Pai. It's about a 25-minute drive, and you can also easily reach it by scooter. The Bamboo Bridge can be conveniently combined with other attractions from this list.

5. Find refreshment at the Pam Bok Waterfall

Pai has several beautiful waterfalls, and the Pam Bok Waterfall is one of them. There's nothing better than seeking refreshment at a waterfall on a hot day. The waterfall is hidden behind large rocks and is mostly shaded throughout the day. With little sunlight reaching the water, it's a great place to cool off. You'll pay around 1 dollar at the ticket office in the parking area. From the parking lot, it's about a 10-minute walk along a forest path to the waterfall.

How to get there?
This waterfall is approximately a 20-minute drive from Pai, near the Bamboo Bridge, allowing you to conveniently combine these two attractions.

6. Visit the Mo Paeng Waterfall

Another waterfall worth visiting is the Mo Paeng Waterfall. You can also find delightful refreshment at this waterfall on warm afternoons. The waterfall even features a natural slide! You can slide into the water smoothly along the slippery rocks. The waterfall is free, and it's about a 1-minute walk from the parking lot.

How to get there?
This waterfall is approximately a 20-minute drive from Pai, and there is ample parking space available for your car or scooter.

7. Heat things up even more at the hot springs

Pai is situated in an area prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. In the Pai region, tectonic plates move against each other, creating cracks in the Earth's crust. These cracks can lead to hot springs as the warmer underground water flows to the surface.

At the hot springs in Pai, you can relax and enjoy a few hours, especially on a cooler day!

Sai Ngam hot spring

The Sai Ngam hot spring is one of the more popular hot springs. The hot spring is nestled among green trees and consists of three tiers. The temperature of the hot spring is pleasant, especially on a somewhat cloudy and rainy day. You'll pay around 5 dollars entrance fee and 0.25 dollars for a scooter. The hot spring is open every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There are wooden benches by the hot spring for seating, and there are toilets for changing and a small stall where you can buy food and drinks. The hot spring is also quite popular among locals, making it lively and bustling.

How to get there?
The entrance to the waterfall is well-marked with signs. At the hot spring entrance, you'll see a barrier where you can purchase tickets. From the ticket office, it's about a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) drive to the hot spring. It's an adventurous road with many curves and steep hills.

8. Visit the Wat Si Don Chai Temple

This is one of the most beautiful and unique temples in Pai. The temple was built approximately 700 years ago and was the first temple in the province. It is adorned with stunning golden and wooden elements. Inside the temple, you'll find colorful paintings narrating the history of Pai, and there is a large Buddha statue. Definitely worth taking a look. The temple is open every day from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

How to get there?
The temple is about a 10-minute drive from the center of Pai by car or scooter.

9. Enjoy the view at the White Buddha

The White Buddha is a large Buddha statue situated high among the green hills, overlooking the town. Among the local population, the statue is known as Wat Phra That Mae Yen. Before ascending the stairs to the Buddha statue, you stand in a large square where a temple is also located. After 353 steps, you reach the enormous Buddha statue. The climb is more than worth it, as you'll have a stunning view over Pai! The White Buddha statue is free to visit and open every day from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Note that as a woman, you should cover your knees and shoulders during your visit.

How to get there?
The Buddha statue is a short 10-minute drive from the center. It's a steep uphill road as the statue is located in the mountains. There is ample parking space for cars and scooters on the square below the statue.

10. Go on the river!

Tubing is a popular activity to do, floating leisurely on a rubber tube down the river with a drink in hand. In Pai, you can book various tours that drop you off at a starting point, from where you drift downstream. It's a fun activity to do during the dry season. Unfortunately, during the rainy season, the water level is too high and the water is too rough, so we couldn't do it. If you still want to be on the water during the rainy season, rafting is a good alternative due to the rough water and rapids. Several organizations offer rafting, such as Pai Adventures and GetYourGuide.

11. Tham Lod Cave

This cave is one of the most impressive in the region. In the cave, you can marvel at beautiful stalactites, bats flying around, and ancient cave drawings. The cave has three interconnected parts. You can choose to explore the cave on foot or by water, which flows through the cave. You do this on a bamboo raft, and along the way, you can frequently disembark and climb wooden ladders up into the cave. This allows you to see a much larger part of the cave than if you were walking. You can easily arrange for a guide at the cave entrance. For a group of 1 to 3 people, you'll pay around 4 dollars for a guide. If you also want to use the bamboo raft, it's 11 dollars for a group of 3 people. Guides carry oil lamps to avoid disturbing the cave-dwelling animals too much. Most guides may not speak English very well, so Google Translate can be a helpful tool to communicate with your guide.

Just before sunset, 300,000 birds fly back into the cave, where they retreat for the night. This is a very cool and unique moment! If you want to experience this, it's best to go to the cave in the late afternoon and ask your guide if you can wait for this event.

How to get there?
The cave is more than an hour's drive from Pai. You'll drive through beautiful green mountains, and it's advisable to make occasional stops to enjoy the views.

12. Stay outside the city center

During our travels, we really enjoy exploring less touristy activities. When we notice that most travelers stay in the city center, we look for interesting options outside the center. That's how we found a charming spot in Pai. We stayed at the Him Naam Pai Resort, where we were the only guests at the time. We slept in a small, well-maintained cottage with a view of the river, the memorial bridge, and the mountains. We booked it on the same day, which earned us a discount, and we paid 13 dollars per night.

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About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
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