Why you have to Visit Pai. Go for 2 days, stay for 2 weeks.
I had never heard of Pai before I visited the north of Thailand. It was while sitting in the Giant Guesthouse in Chiang Mai chatting with a few new friends that the came up.
The common term I had heard about Pai from then on was “go for two days, 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 are so many things to do in Pai that I couldn’t leave!
I went to Pai for two days. Then I stayed for two weeks, and what an amazing place it was.
Pai is a place like no other in Thailand. It is backpacker friendly yet authentic. It is hardly talked about, yet so well known. It is a small town with nothing to do, yet so much to explore. Waterfalls, great food, an obscure canyon and really friendly people.
Here is my full guide for one week in Pai. Mix this with a few rest and recover days and you will easily spend two weeks here.
Waterfalls Near Pai
Exploring waterfalls is not only one of the best things to do in Pai, but one of my favorite activities in Thailand.
There are loads of waterfalls in the area surrounding Pai. To get out here you will need to hire a motorbike at about 150 THB per day, which can be picked up at one of many shops in town.
My favorite waterfalls to visit were Pam Bok Waterfall, Mor Paeng Waterfall, and Mae Yen Waterfall.
- Pam Bok Waterfall has a great 3-meter ledge which 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: sit up while you slide down the rock 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 to visit near Pai. 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! This is one of the most adventurous things to do in Pai.
Visit Authentic Ethnic Villages Near Pai
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.
Explore Pai Canyon
The Pai Canyon is one of the most popular things to do in Pai. It is located about 15 minutes north-west of the town. You can walk some trails around the top of the canyon or down into the canyon itself. The best time to visit is around sunset after you’ve finished exploring waterfalls for the day.
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!
Discover 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.
Chill out at some really, really cool bars around Pai
One of my favorite things to do in Pai is to just to chill out heaps of cool bars. You can find daily live music sessions at Edible Jazz, watch some awesome fire shows at Don’t Cry, or just chill out and enjoy the sunset at Sunset Bar Pai.
Another cool spot is the Pai Circus School. Some afternoons the guesthouse throws a barbecue with cold drinks. It is an awesome place to see the sunset from up on the hillside.
Motorbike the road 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 which 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
Eat Mushrooms (if you are looking for this)
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.
Don’t end up in the 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
The best way to get to Pai is from Chiang Mai. Most people take a minivan from the Chiang Mai van terminal. At the time of writing, a ticket cost 150-200 THB per person one-way. Be warned, the minivan has been known to make many travelers vomit along the way.
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.
Where to Stay in Pai
There are plenty of cool guesthouses are Pai. I personally stayed at the Pai Giant Guesthouse. The private wooden bungalows are on the budget end. Rooms are basic with a mattress on the floor, mosquito net over your bed and a hammock out the front. There is a great outdoor community kitchen where travelers can enjoy hanging out.
Another unique option is the Pai Circus School. This guesthouse is located up on the mountainside overlooking the village. It has a great sunset view, often throws fun communal barbecues and has cool circus equipment if you want to learn a few new tricks like fire spinning. You don’t have to be a circus geek to stay here!
Note: these are affiliate links to my preferred booking website Agoda. I personally use Agoda for all my bookings in Asia. It has the best rates and availabilities. Booking will send a tiny commission to The Lost Passport but will not affect the price you get.
Where to after Pai?