15 Awesome Things to do in Pai, Thailand
The common thing I heard about Pai before visiting was that you would “go there for two days and stay for two weeks.” I hardly knew anything about this secluded village in the mountains. I doubted I would actually be around that long. However, I soon discovered there were so many things to do in Pai that I could hardly leave!
I went to Pai for two days, then I stayed for two weeks, as so many other travelers ended up doing. In that time I motorbiked around the region, explored the best waterfalls around Pai, hiked the canyon, chilled out in a great jazz bar, and found some epic mushrooms.
My travel friends were right, Pai is an amazing place to visit. Now I’m going to share a whole heap of my experiences with you so that you get the absolute best experience!
Oh, and would you like an awesome guesthouse with private rooms under USD 20 per night? Of course… Check out the Pairadise Guesthouse. Cheesy name, awesome stay. Thank me later.
Top Things to do in Pai
Pai is like no other place I’ve found in Thailand. It is backpacker-friendly, yet super authentic. It is hardly talked about, yet so well known. It is a small town with nothing to do, yet has so much to explore.
Pai has stunning waterfalls, great northern Thai food, an obscure canyon, and really friendly people.
You can be swimming at one of the top waterfalls in Pai in the morning, hiking the canyon by lunch, then back in town watching a fire show for dinner. When you think you’ve seen it all, hire a motorbike and explore the mountains! Here are my top activities in Pai to keep you busy for a week (or two).
1. Explore the Waterfalls in Pai
One of the best things to do in Pai is to get out and explore the waterfalls. The waterfalls in Pai are some of my favorites in all of Thailand. They are only moderately sized but secluded in the jungle with some fantastic swimming pools. It’s a great way to escape the heat.
My favorite waterfalls in Pai are; Pam Bok Waterfall, Mor Paeng Waterfall, and Mae Yen Waterfall.
These three waterfalls are actually located a bit further out of Pai’s town center. You will need to hire a motorbike to visit them. Motorbikes can be hired for about 150 THB (USD 5) per day from one of the many shops around the center of town.
Pam Bok Waterfall has a great 3-meter ledge that you can climb up the side of. The water is deep enough that you can jump off the ledge and into the waterfall below. This waterfall is a bit more difficult to get to due to the poor quality winding road, however, it is still located just 8km from the town of Pai.
Mor Paeng Waterfall is the easiest waterfall to reach from Pai and has the most people. The waterfall has a few levels to explore over a short hike. The rocks are slippery so beware. There is actually a big rock which you can slide down and into a cold freshwater pond at the end. Warning: slide down sitting up to avoid hitting your head. The Mor Paeng Waterfall is about 12km north-west of Pai and is easily accessible by motorbike.
Mae Yen Waterfall is the most difficult waterfall near Pai to visit. There is a 2.5hr jungle hike each way to and from the waterfall. Get your hiking shoes ready. When you arrive there will be hardly any other people around, and the swimming hole there is fantastic!
2. Visit the Ethnic Villages
The area surrounding Pai is home to ethnic villages in the mountains. The people out here are from the Shan culture (From Myanmar) or Lisu culture (from Yunnan).
If you want to visit an ethnic village but avoid the tourist traps, you should hire a motorbike and continue west along the road past Pam Bok Waterfall. I’m not sure of the village names, but you will come across the ethnic cultures out this way. The further you get from Pai, the better.
3. Go Hiking in Pai Canyon (Kong Lan)
Pai Canyon is one of the most popular places to visit in Pai. Some compare Pai Canyon to the Grand Canyon, however that is probably overstating it. Nevertheless, it is still a stunning attraction to visit.
There is an easy walking trail that leads around the top of the canyon. Here you will see the steep 30-meter cliffs which drop down to the bottom of the canyon, and get a nice view looking over the countryside. There are some more adventurous hiking trails that lead down into the canyon. I suggest wearing some sturdy shoes if you plan to explore further.
While the Pai Canyon is open all day, the best time to visit is around sunset. It makes for a great way of wrapping up a day exploring the waterfalls in Pai.
Pai Canyon is located just 15 minutes north-west of the town. The canyon itself is only a 5-minute walk from the carpark which is located along the main road.
4. Eat Khao Soi
Khao Soi is the famous creamy, spicy, crunchy, chicken noodle soup from the north. However, in Pai, it is just that much better. Get a bowl at one of the many local restaurants in town for about 80 THB, and you will probably order a second.
A bowl of Khao Soi comes with a few condiments such as onion and chili. Be sure to add these in to bump up the experience.
When you’re done, make sure you wash all that creamy soupy goodness down with a cold bottle of Leo. This is my favorite beer in Thailand too!
5. Visit the WW2 Memorial Bridge
The WWII Pai Memorial Bridge is no longer the original, that was destroyed by a huge flood back in 1973. However, historically the WWII Pai Bridge was a significant transport route for the Japanese in their invasion of Myanmar. While visiting the bridge you will be able to read further historical information about its use.
The bridge is also a great viewpoint over the river which runs through the outskirts of Pai. We were fortunate enough to see a farmer cross the river with his herd of buffalo.
6. Relax in Tha Pai Hot Spring
A trip to the Tha Pai Hot Springs (also called Pong Nam Ron Thapai) is one activity for the winter you won’t want to miss. These natural hot springs are located approximately 8 kilometers south of Pai in the Huai Nam Dang National Park. Being part of the national park means that the surroundings are a beautiful natural forest.
There are a series of pools here ranging in temperature. The highest temperature is up to 80 degrees Celsius which is more suitable for cooking eggs than taking a dip. But don’t worry there are cooler pools too.
As the Tha Pai Hot Spring is in the national park, a 300 THB entry fee applies for foreigners. The hot spring is open daily from 7am to 6pm.
7. Relax in the Sai Ngam Hot Spring
There are actually two hot springs in Pai. The lesser-known one is called the Sai Ngam Hot Spring which is located approximately 15 kilometers north of Pai. As fewer people know about it, you can totally avoid the crowds.
The water here doesn’t get as hot as the Tha Pai Hot Spring. Instead of 80 degrees Celcius for cooking eggs, the Sai Ngam Hot Spring has one large pool which remains at a fairly comfortable 34 degrees Celcius.
The Sai Ngam Hot Spring also has a 300 THB entry fee for foreigners. The hot spring is open daily from 8am to 6pm.
8. Visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen
Wat Phra That Mae Yen is also referred to as the Big White Buddha on the hill, and is visible from around most of Pai.
To get to the top you will need to climb all of the 353 stars. While that may be a tiring and sweaty accomplishment, you will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. It is particularly beautiful to visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen around sunrise and sunset.
Wat Phra That Mae Yen is located about 2 kilometers to the east of Pai’s town center. It is possible to walk, but the climb up the mountain may warrant a motorbike.
9. Try Tubing in Pai
You may have heard of the infamous tubing in Vang Vieng with the raging parties out in the jungle. Well, it’s actually possible to go tubing in Pai too. Like most things in Pai, it’s a little more relaxed here.
For about 300 THB (USD 10) you can rent a tube and get taken about 4 kilometers up the river to a drop off location. The ride back to Pai along the river takes about one hour, depending on how strong the water is flowing.
Tubing in Pai is only permitted in the dry season, or very start of the wet season. During heavy rains, the current is too strong and not safe for tubing. You can book a tubing trip from most hotels or from some tour agencies in town.
10. Wander Pai’s Walking Street
Pai has a great walking street much like those you will find in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. At night you will find that the main street through Pai fills with lots of stalls offering food, clothing, jewelry, and other souvenirs.
If you’re not keen to buy any take-home souvenirs, then just go for the food. You are bound to meet lots of other travelers in this fun and social atmosphere too.
11. Party at one of the Top Bars in Pai
Another one of my favorite things to do in Pai is just to chill out or party up at one of the many bars in Pai. You can find daily live music sessions at Edible Jazz, watch some awesome fire shows at Don’t Cry, or just kick back and enjoy the amazing sunsets at Sunset Bar Pai. If you want to turn it up later in the night, make sure you pop into Ting Tongor Bamboo Bar for a proper party. The bars in Pai with a party vibe get going at around midnight.
Another cool spot is the Pai Circus School. Some afternoons the guesthouse throws a barbecue with cold drinks. It is an awesome place to watch the sunset from up on the hill.
12. Hang Out at a Cafe
There are quite a few cool cafes in Pai where you will find backpackers lazing about escaping the heat. With the digital nomad trend on the rise there, these cafes typically offer great wifi and allow you to work for an extended time. With good food, and good coffee, there’s no better reason to take a lazy day in true Pai style. Check out Cafecito for good coffee and Latin food, and the Pedlar for good coffee and bakery products.
Found another great cafe in Pai? Please let me know in the comments section below!
13. Motorbike to Chiang Mai
The road from Pai to Chiang Mai, route 1095, is known as the road of 762 turns. This 120-kilometer route, which winds its way through the mountains, is a paradise for motorbike adventurers.
After leaving the highways surrounding Chiang Mai, the road to Pai passes rice paddies for a while, then makes its way into the mountains and through the forest. The ride from Chiang Mai to Pai is a great way to see a stunning part of Northern Thailand. An area that seems to be endlessly green.
The ride from Chiang Mai to Pai (or vice versa) takes about 5 to 6 hours one-way.
Note: it is best to motorbike the road from Chiang Mai to Pai in the dry season. During the wet season, it can rain quite hard out here.
Love motorbike adventures? Check out my huge Vietnam Motorbike Route
14. Mushrooms in Pai
I will not label what type of mushrooms these are, but they are great. Some of the best you will find in Asia.
Mushrooms in Pai grow in abundance in piles of Elephant poo. Ask around and you shall find the source. Having a few mushrooms while lazing out on the grass in Pai is an incredible experience. However, take my advice and don’t do it at night.
15. Eat Northern Thai Food by the Pai River
How does a laid-back afternoon eating traditional Northern Thai food while sinking a few cold beers by the Pai River sound? Perfectly Pai if you ask me.
Just 1.5 kilometers south of Pai town centre you’ll find a great little restaurant called Northern Soul Pai. They serve up amazing boran (ancient) style northern Thai dishes which you’ll struggle to find elsewhere. Food appears seemingly simple, yet loaded with flavour. You’ll be wondering how the heck you’ve never heard of this before.
Of course, you can always opt for their Khao Soi. Or do as I do, get both!
Walk, cycle, or motorbike down there. Here’s their exact location you can’t get lost.
Don’t end up in Pai Hospital
With all these things to do in Pai, there must be a few accidents along the way. Be careful, don’t end up in the hospital like I did.
During my trip to Pai, there were so many hospital incidents. The hospital in Pai must be one of the busiest in Thailand I had come across on my travels. Here are a few things to avoid:
- I was bitten on the eyeball by some bug. The bite got infected overnight after scratching it. The next day I spent 3 hours in the hospital with a hose under my eyelid flushing out the infection
- A friend had a bug crawl down his ear and make a nest. Back to the hospital to flush it out with water and tweezers before there was a colony of bugs down there.
- A mosquito bit an elderly woman at our guesthouse and gave her with Dengue Fever. She blackout and collapsed while walking and ended up in the hospital for a week to recover.
- Another friend crashed a motorbike while it was raining and cut his right eye open. Stitches and two days in the hospital
Given how dangerous Pai seems to be, I recommend getting some travel insurance. Check out World Nomads for a free quote. You can customize the cover to suit your trip including your destinations, duration or cover, and activities.
How to Get to Pai
Minivan – the most common way to get to Pai is by minivan from Chiang Mai. At the time of writing, a ticket cost 150-200 THB (USD 6) per person one-way. You can check ticket and timetables here.
Note: the minivan is notoriously known for making travelers vomit along the way as the road is so windy. Do not travel with a hangover.
Motorbike – Adventure travelers might consider hiring a motorbike in Chiang Mai for a week or more, then riding out to Pai. The road to Pai is one of the top motorbiking roads in Thailand, and an experience you will not forget.
Flight – as of 2019 Bangkok Airways offers flights from Chiang Mai to Pai (landing at Mae Hong Son airport). The flight time is approximately 45 minutes, making it the fastest way to get to Pai.
Where to Stay in Pai
There are plenty of cool guesthouses around Pai, and probably more opening up all the time. Here are a few great options to consider:
Budget – Pai Circus School is a party vibe hostel located on the mountainside with a great view overlooking the village. Pai Circus School often has great barbecues and offers plenty of cool circus toys if you want to learn a few new tricks like fire spinning.
Mid-Range – Pairadise Guesthouse has comfortable private bungalows with a fan (USD 20 per night) or air-con (USD 30 per night). This is my #1 pick in town.
Luxury – Pai Island Resort may not be located on an island, but it will make you feel like you are. Rooms are kitted for total luxury with Super King Beds. Check out the prices on Agoda, they’re quite often discounted to half price!
Where to Next?
There are so many amazing destinations to visit in the north of Thailand. Pai is just one little part of this region.
You could return to Chiang Mai to explore the ancient temples and the old city center. When you have seen the city, continue on with these top places to visit near Chiang Mai, they’re all within a couple of hours of the city center.
Another option is to head further north to Chiang Rai. This is Thailand’s northernmost province, and feels more off the beaten track than Chiang Mai Be sure to read my super detailed article with loads of tips on what to do in Chiang Rai!
And, if you’re finished with northern Thailand, then be sure to check out my huge Thailand travel guide. This guide will give you an overview of the entire country, from islands to mountains and beaches to hot springs. There are loads of useful resources for your trip.