Pai Travel Guide
Once a secret hideaway for backpackers in northern Thailand, the town of Pai has evolved into one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Thailand.
It’s not just foreigners who visit Pai these days. This tranquil, yet busy little town is now one of the hottest spots for Thais to travel to within their own country. The grid layout of Pai is a joy to explore as each lane is lined with old homes and a growing number of cute restaurants, shops and resorts.
Pai is the hub for outdoor recreation in this remote region of northern Thailand. It’s only a three hour drive from Chiang Mai, but you feel like you’re in another world. A few hill tribe women still roam the streets selling their handicrafts, and many sites can be easily reached on your own by renting a bicycle or scooter.
Trekking, rafting and elephant rides are the main excursions offered in and around Pai. The Pai River is perfect for tubing or rafting, as well as taking a swim in the drier winter season. Pai Elephant Camp offers rides through the rugged jungles around the valley on the back of an elephant, and the trekking options are seemingly endless.
Most guesthouses can arrange any of these trips, as can the many tour shops scattered around town. For a taste of Buddhist culture, hike up to Wat Phra That Mae Yen, a lovely little temple with good views over the valley. Traditional Thai massage and herbal saunas are also a popular activity in Pai and well worth experiencing.
There are dozens of places to stay, but being on the river has distinct advantages. You won’t need a vehicle to get around Pai, but it’s very useful if you want to explore the outlying areas where attractions like hot springs and hill tribe villages await.
Getting There & Away
An airstrip outside of Pai receives weekly flights from Chiang Mai, with a flight time of 35 minutes. Otherwise, you’ll have to travel by road to reach this town. Daily buses from Chiang Mai make the 4-hour journey through the mountains, but paying a little more for a private minibus is a much gentler experience that takes 3 hours. Even better, rent your own vehicle and cruise the hundreds of curves that make up the winding road to Pai.
Things to Do
- Pai River
Rent a tube and float down this lazy river for a fun and cool afternoon.
- Wat Phra That Mae Yen
Walk uphill to this buddhist temple for the best panoramic views over the pai valley.
- Pai Elephant Camp
Ride on the back of an elephant on rugged trails that cut through dense remote jungle.
- Tha Pai
Soak away the aches at these nicely developed hot springs just outside town.