Pai Travel Guide – A Not So Hidden Gem!
In this Pai travel guide we will explain briefly the history of Pai, how to get there, the climate, how to get around and more.
Pai took me by surprise. I had heard of the small town with the hippie concentration and expected the worst.
Sure there were more man buns than usual, and everyone felt the need to wear the Thai baggy pants more as a fashion statement than for any practical purposes.
Despite that though Pai was one of the coolest places I went to during my time in Thailand, for such a small place there is plenty to keep you occupied.
If you’re unsure if Pai is for you, this Pai travel guide will aim to answer some of the common questions that you might have about the area.
For ease of use in navigating the Pai travel guide then use the table of contents above. Clicking on the title will take you to the relevant information so that you can skip the parts that don’t interest you.
Watch this video or read this post to see what you can do in Pai.
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Pai Travel Guide Part 1 – Things To Know Before You Go
What is a Pai?
Some say it is a baked dish of meat, fruits or vegetables with a pastry covered top. Others swear that it is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Both are correct.
However, neither are relevant to Pai, the town in the north of Thailand.
The name is roughly 500 years old. In 1477 an invading Lanna army was marching to attack a Burmese army, during the battle two of the elephants fled. They were later found bathing in the river, which he named “Pai” which was the name of the elephant Chang Pai”.
These days the town is seeing a resurgence after some rocky years of corrupt policing during the early 2000’s. It remains a hot spot for the hipsters, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is beautiful and has a lot to offer.
500 metres above sea level.
Where is Pai?
Pai is in the far northwest region of Thailand.
If you were able to travel directly north then you would cross the border to Myanmar after only 37km.
You can see below that Pai is very close to the border. It is 86km to Chiang Mai as the dragon flies. However if you are travelling by road the actual driven distance is 128km.
Pai forms part of the renowned Mae Hong Son Loop which is, as the name implies, a loop. It is a very beautiful part of the country that people travel through on a loop road, renting motorbikes for the journey of roughly 600km over the course of 4-6 days.
What’s The Weather Like in Pai?
Pai can still be extremely hot, like the majority of Southeast Asia. The difference here is that unlike the south of Thailand, there is some respite for 4 or 5 months of the year during the night time.
Temperatures can drop to average as low as 15°C, with minimums being even cooler at elevation. This can make for some very cold mornings or nights if you do ride a scooter or motorbike.
It is generally considered that the best months to visit Pai are from November – January.
You can definitely visit outside of these times, but be warned that from late January to April the air quality is very poor in Pai due to the burning season.
I have visited during the burning season, and it can hurt your eyes a bit, it would be irritating for those with asthma, but Pai is still worth a visit. Just don’t expect great sunrise or sunset photos.
For a rough guide of all the months combined;
Average Rainy Days:
Dec – Feb only average about 1 day with rainfall.
August averages the most with 21 days of rainfall.
How Long Should I Stay in Pai?
If you have a 60 day tourist visa then I would stay 5-7 nights in Pai, on the assumption you want to relax a little bit. It is a really cool place, and there is a lot to do in the area.
If you want to come in and out, without relaxing and just do the most fun activities you can probably get away with 4 nights. This will also be my recommendation for those on a 30 day visa who also want to see southern Thailand and are short on time.
Alternatively, if you are on a long backpacking trip through Southeast Asia then you can have two separate trips through Thailand.
How to Get to Pai?
Although Pai does have an airport, it has ceased operations. It has had 3 different airlines over the years running flights to and from Chiang Mai, and each has abandoned the route or gone broke.
That leaves two ways to get to Pai. The most common is definitely the minivan from Chiang Mai, but others will arrive here on motorbike. The company Aya Services allow you to drop the bike at the other end in Pai for a small fee.
That is also one of the companies who run minivan services to and from Pai, from Chiang Mai. So once you’re done checking out the best temples in Chiang Mai, use the following methods to get to Pai!
The main way that people will find their way to Pai is with the bus or minivan. Both can be arranged from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal.
From here there are two options;
- Large Bus.
($3 US, $4.25 AUD, £2.25 , €2.75).
The large bus runs all day, roughly on the hour every hour, finishing at 16:00. To purchase tickets simply rock up to the bus terminal and buy a ticket for the day.
These buses take a lot longer and you won’t be allocated a seat, it is sort of a free for all. However for people who get carsick this might be a better option than the minivan.
฿150 / ฿200 for pickup services.
($5 US, $7.25 AUD, £3.75 , €4.50).
The minivan also leaves from the bus station, but you will get there a lot quicker. This ride can make people motion sick, given that there are about 700 turns on the way into Pai and the drivers are quite quick.
I took the minivan in both directions, and although I at one point did feel a bit odd, it never made me feel like I was about to vomit. It does happen though and I am not surprised after having done it.
If you want “door to door service” you can use a company like Aya Services and you only pay ฿200.
I think that is the best option available. It saves you getting to Chiang Mai Arcade bus terminal, which will cost you the ฿50 that you would save anyway, and it makes things a lot easier.
I put quotations around “door to door service” because at the other end I had to walk from Pai’s offices to my accommodation, so it isn’t truly door to door. Luckily Pai is so small you can walk most places quickly.
Scooter / Motorbike
The noble steeds are the quickest way to get to Pai. Depending on the bike, weather, how many stops you make and rider abilities it can take anywhere from 70-120 minutes.
If you want to do this by bike, Aya services can even take your bags for you in one of the minibuses that runs the route, then you pick them up at the other end. For those with just one backpack, you can take it with you if you prefer.
The costs for this vary depending on the type of motorbike you get. There is also a fee to do the trip one way, leaving the bike in Pai. However if you also ride the bike back to Chiang Mai (at a later date) then this fee is waived.
The scooter fee will be the rental cost/24-hour period, plus the drop off fee if required. A typical scooter or motorbike fee might therefore be between ฿200-500 depending on a range of other circumstances.
*Price and conversions are done at the time of publishing and are subject to change.
BOOK YOUR TICKET TO PAI HERE
How Expensive is Pai?
Pai is quite a cheap place to hang out in Thailand, as is common with the north of Thailand in general. Food can be had from as little as ฿40-60 for the basic Thai meals, and scooter rental is as low as ฿100 for an old scooter.
Accommodation at a good hostel will cost you roughly ฿200/night. This is a bit more expensive than somewhere like Chiang Mai that has a lot more competition, but they can be found cheaper on Agoda sometimes.
Even petrol is cheaper here than it is in the south of Thailand.
What Is The Currency?
As part of Thailand, you will be using the Thai Baht here (฿).
At the time of writing the conversion rate is;
- $0.03 US
- $0.05 AUD
Alternatively, 1 of each of the above currencies respectively will give you;
Pai Travel Guide Part 2 – Things To Know Once You Arrive
How to Get Around in Pai?
There is no ride sharing apps in Pai, and you won’t need them either. Everybody rents a scooter in Pai at some point, and besides that scooter, walking is the other way that you will get around.
Pai’s downtown area, or the central hub area as it is probably better described is small and easy to walk around. From its northwest corner to the southeast is about 700m in a straight line.
It only covers 2.07km².
Scooters are still required however to visit the nearby attractions. These range from being only 2 kilometres away, such as the white Buddha, to 50km away for things like Tham Lod Cave.
Scooter rental is cheap, with discounts given to those hiring for longer periods of time.
I recommend using Dragonfly rental.
The costs will be anywhere from ฿100 and upwards depending on the quality of the scooter and how long you rent it for. I got a very good scooter for ฿120/day over a 4 day period and it was in excellent quality.
You will want good brakes if you like to go fast on the mountain roads out to Lod Cave or the hot-springs out of town.
Where to Stay in Pai?
I can strongly recommend Juno hostel in Pai. This hostel is away from all of the noise that plagues a lot of the hostels that are on the walking street (just read the reviews of those places if you don’t like noise) and has excellent value for money.
You can’t really go wrong with any of the hostels here, but beware that the majority with the most central location have noise issues. Juno hostel is only 500m away, an easy walk still to the nightlife if you want it.
They even have free washing if you stay for more than a few nights. The two guys that run the place are super friendly.
For a more party like atmosphere try out Bodega Party Hostel, but don’t expect an early night.
La Mom Hostelo also has good reviews, with the exception of the noise that people don’t like, but it is very good quality and as central as you can get.
Where to Eat in Pai?
Pai is not short of restaurants to eat in. You will be walking around a lot at night time just finding new stuff to check out, but these are some of the places I ate during my time there.
This map is not necessarily my recommendations, just where I ate, with little notes that hint at the stuff on the menu and the costs when clicked on.
My favourites of the above can be broken down into a few sections.
Best Cheap Thai Food;
For those of you looking to save your coin and still get some tasty Thai food, eat at Charlie and Lek’s restaurant in the south of the city centre.
This is also the place to go if you want to eat healthy. I had a mixed garden salad that I struggled to finish, despite it being all vegetable, the serving size was very generous!
Best Place For Breakfast;
For me this was Cafe d’tist in the northeast corner of town. It was open early, usually by 07:30, they did eggs benedict which I was craving as I hadn’t had it in a long time and they made great coffee.
A lot of other “breakfast” places won’t even open until after 09:00 which is way too late for me.
Best Western Food;
I liked I’P Burger & Grill, which does burgers in combination sets that you can add or subtract things from. The burger I had was delicious and the price was good for the combination with chips and a drink.
I also liked as a lunch stop On Street Cafe, who made a massive roast chicken and avocado sandwich that hit the spot. They bake fresh bread every day so it is a good spot to go in the mornings as well.
I Love Coffee More Than Life Itself! Where Should I go!?
This was the place with the best coffee that I had in town, although two of the places mentioned above also had good coffee: Cafe d’tist and On Street Cafe.
Espresso bar is relaxed, cheap, delicious, and specialises in coffee only. It was an awesome place to chill after spending the morning on the scooter exploring. It is along the main street, so sit back and people watch.
฿70 for a double shot, beautiful.
Where to do Laundry in Pai?
I used the washing machine at Juno Hostel, free of charge. I had stayed for a few nights though, I wouldn’t try stay 1 night just to use their machine.
Otherwise, along the road that heads east and over the river are a number of laundry services that have good reviews and are also very very cheap.
Usually it will cost about ฿30/kg.
I can not vouch for them personally as I did not use them, but I walked past them both and saw plenty of people using them. If you are like me and have shirts that need to be air dried, both will be able to help.
I Need to Lift Weights, Any Good Gyms?
There are two gyms in Pai that you can check out.
Of the two mentioned, I worked out at Hommy Pai fitness club, but I would recommend Pai Fitness Home for people to use.
Both are cheap, with day passes being ฿30 for Fitness home, and ฿60 for Hommy Pai.
Both are pretty sub-standard, but it is all you have. Pai fitness home, which I did walk through but didn’t train in at the time is the larger of the two, with far more machinery and WAY bigger floor space.
It has old equipment, but a lot more of it.
Hommy Pai Fitness Club I only went to because it was walking distance, the floor space is non existent, the machines are oddly split over two floors, there doesn’t seem to be enough gear for everyone, and it just feels like it isn’t finished yet.
Things to do in Pai
In the interest of keeping this Pai travel guide short and to the point, I have made a separate post that further explains not only what to do in Pai, but how to do it, when to do it, and whether I recommend it or not.
Here’s a quick rundown of the activities that are covered in the other guide, which are the most popular attractions in Pai, in no particular order;
- Pai Canyon.
- WW2 Memorial Bridge.
- Land Split.
- White Buddha / Chedi Phra That Mae Yen.
- Yun Lai Viewpoint.
- Tham Lod Cave.
- Sai Ngam Hotsprings.
- Pam Bok Waterfall.
On top of these activities you could also be interested in;
I will explain further why those activities listed didn’t interest me in the other post. On top of this, you will of course have access to the generic Thai activities, such as: elephant sanctuaries, cooking classes, muay thai classes and massages etc.
- Avoid all of the waterfalls in the dry season. Seriously not worth your time.
- Don’t visit Pai canyon during the day. There is no shade and it can get very hot. It is best saved for sunrise or sunset.
- If you’re going somewhere on your scooter before the sunrises, wear a jumper. It gets properly cold once you start moving and you will be shivering.
- Head to Baanpai restaurant on the weekend and see if they have live music. They had an awesome guitarist there that made my meal so much more enjoyable.
Ok gentle ladymen, that is the end of the Pai travel guide.
Hopefully you have learnt at least three and a quarter things about Pai. It is a cool place with a lot to keep you busy. If you have any further queries or things you would like to see added to the Pai travel guide feel free to leave a comment.
The Browne Town.