If you’re planning to visit Thailand, Pai is a destination that can not be missed off your itinarary. Nestled in a valley surrounded by green rice paddies and a mountainous landscape, Pai is the perfect rustic destination to unwind and really enjoy some me-time. There’s an abundance of natural beauty in and around Pai with some really amazing and authentic Thai food for you to chow down on in the most wonderful, chilled setting. Plan your trip with ease using this awesome travel guide for Pai, Northern Thailand.
- How to get to Pai, Northern Thailand
- When to visit Pai
- How to book accommodation in Pai
- Where to stay in Pai
- How to get around Pai
- Things to do in Pai
- Things to see in Pai
- Where to eat and drink in Pai
- A slice of Pai heaven
How to get to Pai, Northern Thailand
Now, if you have made it as far as Chiang Mai, you may as well take the 3-hour bus ride into the valley of Pai – I promise that you won’t regret this decision. It’s definitely the easiest and most accessible route as there are regular buses running daily and it’s the quickest option, you can check the timetable and book online too. If you suffer from motion sickness, it might be worth popping to the pharmacy to pick up some travel sickness tablets before you combat the 762 bends on this wonderful journey.
☆ Read: How to get to Pai from Chiang Mai ☆
When to visit Pai
There are 3 seasons in Northern Thailand; Cool, Hot and Rainy. After visiting Pai in both September and December, I would suggest that the best time of year to visit Pai is during the cool season as it is sunny during the day with a cool breeze, and the temperature drops to about 10 degrees at night. My advice would be to chuck on a jumper at night though as you’ll definitely feel cooler after spending the day in the sun.
Cool season: End of November – March
Hot season: April – Beginning of June
Rainy season: June – November
Peak: October to February with the busiest period being Mid-December to Mid-January. Be aware that during this time accommodation prices can almost double due to the high demand.
Off Peak: March to September means that due to low demand accommodation prices will be cheaper but pick somewhere sheltered as if you choose to visit in these months as it will be humid and some days very wet. Also, be aware that March is the least favourable time to visit as the farmers hold out burns, so the air will be very misty and polluted.
How to book accommodation in Pai
Another option, which is what I usually like to do when arriving in a new place, is to book one night somewhere online before you arrive and then spend the day exploring your other accommodation options for the duration of your stay. You can usually haggle a good price and some of the really nice places are not listed online – we all know that sometimes the photos online can sometimes be misleading.
Most people don’t give themselves enough time when visiting Pai, I would suggest staying for one week so that you can fully immerse yourself in all of Pai’s glory!
Where to stay in Pai
You can choose to stay up in the hills where you will have a stunning view of Pai down below, by the river in a cute hut or in the hustle and bustle of the main walking street. Whatever you choose, there’s an abundance of accommodation options in Pai for every type of traveller and all budgets.
Budget Backpacker || The Pai Circus School
This cool budget accommodation is located at the top of a hill, behind and above the river in Pai. It hosts a large grassy area for practicing a whole host of circus acts including hula hooping, Diablo, poi spinner, juggling and much more. There are huts to chill in with hammocks and the small swimming pool overlooks a view of Pai below.
Dorms beds: 160 – 200 TBH (3.50 – 4.50 GBP) dependant on the number of people in the room, quality of the bed, fan or A/C plus shared or en-suite bathroom.
Private room: 260 – 900 TBH (6 – 20 GBP) dependant on comfort, number of people per room plus shared or en-suite bathroom.
☆ Compare prices and read reviews by checking: Agoda || Hosteworld ☆
Average Sleeping Quarter || Baan Pai Riverside Resort
At Baan Pai Riverside Resort you can choose to have your own cottage or villa that overlooks the river. Each individual cottage/ villa has its own hammock on a balcony which is perfect for chilling and reading a book in the serenity of the resort’s location. All have private shower and bathroom but some only contain a fan, you can choose A/C which isn’t needed in the cool season due to the cooler evenings.
Double room: 400 – 860 TBH (9 – 20 GBP) depending on a fan or A/C, mountain or river views.
Family room: 1600 TBH (39 GBP) for a river view, TV, AC and 2 beds
☆ Compare prices and read reviews by checking: Booking.com || Agoda ☆
A Taste of Luxury || Pai Village Boutique Resort & Farm
Pai Village Boutique Resort & Farm is located along the banks of the Pai river and just a short walk to Pai Walking Street. Guests have free access to the resort’s private farm, which is located less than a 5-minute drive away. There is also traditional Thai massages available at The Mamalon Massage on site. To gain the full Pai relaxing experience, you can relax at The Baan Pai’s landscaped Koi pond garden.
Double cottage: 2600 TBH (60GBP) which includes a balcony, A/C, en-suite bathroom with toiletries and a safe deposit box.
☆ Compare prices and read reviews by checking: Booking.com || Agoda ☆
The Bank Breaker || Pai Island Resort
You can expect 5 star standards at Pai Island Resort with access to an onsite wellness centre and laundry service. The grounds are lush and green with an on-site bar, restaurant, and coffee-house with awesome tasting coffee.
Villa: 8200 TBH (190 GBP) Spacious villa with an extra-large double bed! Offers a private patio, large en-suite bathroom with towels and toiletries, TV, and A/C plus much more. As an added bonus, a really good breakfast and dinner are included.
☆ Compare prices and read reviews by checking: Booking.com || Agoda ☆
How to get around Pai
Pai itself is pretty small, too small to need a Tuk-Tuk or taxi to transport you around. You can reach all of the main streets by foot or by bicycle which is safe (as long as you can ride a bike!) as there’s minimal traffic flow.
If you want to get out and see some of the sights, I would recommend renting a moped or motorbike as the best way to explore the surroundings of Pai. There are many rental shops along the main strip to choose from and you can bargain on the price based on how many days you wish to rent the bike for. I would always recommend choosing a Scoopy 125CC which is an automatic moped and costs around 200-250 TBH (4-6 GBP) for the day.
Things to do in Pai
If you just want to chill and take in the Pai vibe, you can hang around the main Walking Street where you can get everything you need to sustain and enjoy your travels plus there are some great souvenirs to choose from if that’s your thing.
Pai Walking Street
In the centre of Pai there is a colourfully chilled market which comes alive at around 5.30pm each night. There are also a few shops to browse along Pai Walking Street if you are looking for some Souvenirs. At the market, expect to find a range of handmade jewellery, Pai embellished items, funky purses, books, bags plus much more. However, it is smaller than Chiang Mai market so do not expect to do your essential weekly shop here but expect to find unique items that you cannot buy anywhere else in Thailand.
It’s also worth walking away from Walking Street towards some of the back streets where Burger Queen and Cross Tattoo are as there are a few cool shops that sell vintage items at a really reasonable price. I bought some Levi shorts and a varsity jacket that was real leather for around 200BHT (4.50GBP).
Pai Cookery School || Learn to cook Thai food
For anyone that doesn’t know, Thai food is my all time favourite so being the avid master chef that I am, I booked into a Thai cooking class in Pai. I chose the Pai Cookery School as they were reasonably priced. Starting in the morning, they take the class to a local market where you are educated on the veggies and herbs and the food for the class is bought fresh there and then. We choose 4 dishes to cook; a curry, another main, a side dish and a dessert. I wanted to learn how to make a Massaman curry which wasn’t on the list but they accommodated this ask and that what I cooked! The classes are small (there were 4 people in mine) so you become friendly with your peers and we all ended up sharing our dishes as you get to eat each one that you make. If you don’t manage to eat it all, you can take it away and save for later plus they give you a book with all of the recipes in, not just what you cooked. I can honestly say that it was well worth the money which I think was around 700 BHT (16 GBP) for the morning/ half day session. Go book and cook.
Get a tattoo in Pai
Now, the decision to get a tattoo is not to be taken lightly so choose carefully, especially in a foreign country. I had a traditional Thai bamboo tattoo at Cross Tattoo Studio which takes a little longer than your normal machine but I was so happy with the result. If you’re considering getting a tattoo in Pai, you can read more about my experience here.
Things to see in Pai
If you’re feeling brave and want to explore the Pai surrounds, then jump on your scooter, motorbike or bicycle and check out some of the sites listed below. I have summarised them in the order I visited, make sure you plan your route before you leave as you may get lost! Also, I should mention here that you should wear or bring some clothing to cover your shoulders and knees to respect the dress code at the Temples and take your swimsuit.
Mo Paeng Waterfall
Mo Paeng Waterfall is the closest to Pai centre – roughly a 20-minute scooter ride. It’s best viewed in rainy season or just after a heavy rainfall.
Yun Lai Viewpoint
Approximately 5km from Pai Walking Street and only 15 minutes from Mo Paeng Waterfall.
Coffee in Love
This roadside coffee shop is a great pit stop to get your caffeine fix and is the cheesiest attraction in Pai.
Pam Bok Waterfall
Pam Bok Waterfall is approximately 15 minutes from Coffee in Love and contains a nice deep pool of water with a long, dropping waterfall. A lovely place for a swim, especially in rainy season.
Approximately a 20-minute drive from Pam Bok Waterfall, you can spend an hour or so exploring the many canyons across the valley or choose to end the day here watching the sunset.
Wat Phra That Mae Yen || Temple on the Hill
Being only 5 minutes from Pai, you can either choose to stop here last for sunset or you can fit this one before (or after) you’ve grabbed a coffee at Coffee in Love.
Other places to visit in Pai, Thailand:
- Bamboo Bridge
- Pai Land Split
- Memorial Bridge
- Sai Ngam Hot Spring
Where to eat and drink in Pai
If you’re looking for some good food, tasty drinks, and some music to chill to then Pai is the place to be. You won’t find a ‘party-party’ nightlife in the centre of Pai but if you head to the hills there tends to be some specialist nights in places like the Pai Circus School Hostel.
The Jazz House AKA Edible Jazz Pai
This place was definitely my favourite hang out in Pai. I am not sure if it was the special tea’s on the menu or the live Spanish Guitarist that played his mesmerising music each night but I kept being drawn back to The Jazz House. They have a range of seating areas and hammocks to sit and enjoy the atmosphere – best enjoyed at night with the candles and cantina lighting adding to the ambience.
Although not Thai Food per say, this burger joint was a top haunt for me when I was craving something more ‘normal’ to eat. If you want a break from curry and rice then head here for a really good, homemade burger and some chunky chips with yummy ‘Burger Queen’ sauce. The coolest part is whilst you wait for food they have old-school board games to play with and a wall where you can add your own personal piece of graffiti art. Expect to pay around 100 TBH (2.30 GBP) for a stand-alone burger but it’s worth it – I recommend the Hawaiian burger with extra BBQ sauce.
The Curry Shack
If you’re looking for a good, hearty Thai meal then look no further than The Curry Shack. It’s perfectly located just off the main walking street where the market starts to fizzle out which means you’re in main area but slightly tucked away down a quiet side street. You can choose from a few authentic curry dishes for around 60 BHT (1.40 GBP) – with meat and vegetarian options available.
Market Food Stalls
If you wish to savour a few Thai delicacies then head to the market in Pai where you can find an abundance of food options for a menial price. Large corn on the cobs, kebab meat doused in Thai sauces cooked on the BBQ spit, curry’s of all colours with rice, all manner of Pad Thai (of course) and Colin’s favourite – ‘Chicken Pop’ which is a little pot of popcorn chicken served by the bubbliest, crazy Thai lady. There’s also a range of desert options if you’re still hungry or just have a sweet tooth, I also recommend the hot chocolate on the cooler December evenings to warm you up from the inside.
A slice of Pai heaven
And there you have it, a summary of one of my favourite destinations in the world. That’s a big statement I know but every time I go back I feel like I am home. Whilst I was traveling back in 2010, I had heard so many good things about Pai but didn’t have the time to visit. Looking back, I really wished I had changed my travel plans as I am sure it was a lot more untouched then but I eventually made it in 2014 and fell in love.
Many people say that Pai has become overcrowded, too touristy and has lost its charm but I think it’s just as magical as it’s always been. I hope you go and fall in love with the place and please let me know what you thought, your favourite activities and anything new that I have missed off so that I can try them out next time I go.