If you’ve been to Thailand before, you’ve probably heard of the small town of Pai. It is located north of Chiang Mai and is a perfect destination for a trip from Thailand’s capital of the north and the stronghold of digital nomads.
How to Get to Pai?
There are different ways to get from Chiang Mai to Pai.
- Vans drive every half hour between Chiang Mai and Pai. They cost about 180 Baht, so about 4.50 Euro. However, the track is curvy and the five hours of driving can be quite long if you get car-sick easily.
- Alternatively, you can also ride a scooter or motorcycle. However, you should be an experienced driver and be aware of what you are getting into. Unfortunately, scooter riders who overestimate their driving skills or misjudge the situation around the next corner. There are regularly people dying on these roads. Therefore: Take enough time to avoid being tempted to drive fast, enjoy the scenery and make several stops. There are numerous hot springs and waterfalls along the way, so you can easily ride the whole day. You can either drive your own scooter or rent one from Aya Service, for example. They also have vans that drive between Chiang Mai and Pai and take your luggage with them. One piece of luggage per scooter is included.
- And for completeness, I’d like to mention you can also get there with a private shuttle. But this costs 2,000 Baht (about 45 Euro). It probably is the safest option, but also the one that a local would not choose. And we want to live like locals, don’t we?
How to Get Around in Pai?
If you came by scooter, of course, you can also ride it in Pai. This is the most practical way. Otherwise I advis,e you to rent a scooter on the spot. Almost all the sights are not within walking distance and it would be a pity if you missed them because you are dependent on group tours. Group tours are also quite expensive and you are generally not as flexible. In my opinion, a scooter is a must.
Pai itself is rather small and the small main street of the touristic city centre, also called Walking Street, can be easily explored by foot. In the evening it turns into a street food mile where you can really surrender to culinary delights.
What to See in Pai?
Pai White Buddha
The White Buddha is a bit of a must for Pai visitors. Situated on top of the mountain, you have a fantastic view of the valley and Pai itself. During sunset, it can be really crowded here.
So I set the alarm clock unusually early to see what the atmosphere is like at sunrise. And behold: My travel companion and I were the only visitors. There was only one lonely monk, immersed in prayer, who did not even move during our stay. And to see the sun rising behind the Buddha was more than worth getting up early!
This is the place I probably liked best in Pai: The Canyon. You balance over the red cliffs, left and right gorges and, in the distance, the fertile valley of the plain. Beautiful, but at least as dangerous. I only read afterward that it is also called Death Canyon.
A breathtaking sunset is guaranteed here, plus you get the thrill. Even though I have seen some Asians with flip-flops, I would clearly advise you to wear sneakers or hiking boots! And, please, listen to your guts! If you are afraid, maybe you should be content with the view you have at the entrance. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone and make it to the end of the canyon just for the sake of it. Because you might not.
Admission is free, by the way.
There are several hot springs around Pai. I went to two different ones.
The first hot springs I visited were Pai hot springs. They are located just 7 kilometers from the town and, when I was there, the entrance fee was 300 Baht.
The coolest feature of these hot springs is that you can either bring or buy eggs and boil them in the hot water. To do so, go to the furthest pool (the one in the following photo), which is the hottest, and place the basket of eggs in the water. I waited around 30 minutes and the eggs were still pretty liquid but eatable. And it’s definitely a fun experience.
During my second stay in Pai, I went to the Sa Ngam Hot Springs. These are on the way to Lod Cave (see next sight), about 20 minutes from Pai.
The pool is much bigger, but there are several in the Pai Hot Springs. I have not had to pay for admission to these springs, but I do not know if this is always the case. At the beginning of the small road leading to the springs, there was a hut and a sign for entrance fees. But there was no one there to collect. At the springs themselves were open stalls, where I also bought something to eat and drink. But nobody complained about a missing ticket.
Lod Cave is about 1.5 hours from Pai. I went there on a motorbike with a friend and he really enjoyed the ride. So if you are also into motorbike trips, you should not miss this route.
I read on the Internet that it used to be possible to visit the cave alone. Today you can’t avoid a guide. He takes you on a tour of about an hour through the cave, which is divided into three parts. The first and last part are for walking through a world of stalactites and stalagmites. In between, you will be taken on a bamboo raft over a river through an impressive cave, whose ceiling you can only guess at best.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a good picture of it, because there wasn’t enough light.
Where to Eat in Pai?
In the evening, Walking Street turns into a Street Food Mile. Here you will find everything to eat and drink that your heart could desire.
And if you don’t feel like a walk and street food, you can choose from numerous restaurants offering everything from local to international cuisine. I always went to the Blue Ox to have dinner. The food is incredibly delicious and also offers vegetarians a good selection of Thai and Western food. I ate Thai every time and was always very happy.
For the big appetite, Burger Queen offers big and delicious burgers. And if you want to go for Thai food, Pen’s Kitchen is supposed to be unbeatable.
Where to Stay in Pai?
There are countless possibilities to stay in Pai. I was at a resort on the other side of the river both times. If you go to the end of Walking Street, there’s a bamboo bridge. You cross it and have the choice of several resorts with small huts. I loved it there! A hut costs around 500 Baht, so it is even quite affordable if you’re alone. As a couple or with a good friend (note: there is only one bed!) this is, of course, all the better.
There are also some hostels and possibilities for backpackers or budget nomads to find super cheap accommodation. About DeeJai Pai Hostel, for example, I have heard only good things.
My Final Thoughts
Pai is worth more than a short trip. I know digital nomads who flee the “big city” Chiang Mai every weekend to go offline, enjoy nature and simply disconnect. And I think I will make it my tradition to visit Pai at least once during every Chiang Mai stay.
Have you ever been to Pai?
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