Your Complete Pai Travel Guide – Explore the North of Thailand

This is your complete Pai Travel Guide - Explore the beautiful North of Thailand

Pai, located in the north of Thailand, is a perfect destination if you want to wind down from bustling Thailand. If you have already researched the perfect Thailand Itinerary, Pai was probably in it. Next to that, it is known as both suitable for backpackers and digital nomads with many extending their initial duration spent in this lovely town. This Pai Travel Guide gives you a full overview of the best things to do when in Pai, the best restaurants in Pai, and the best places to stay.

Also, a visit to the North of Thailand is perfect to combine with a visit to the islands, such as Koh Tao, to include variety in your Thailand Itinerary.

How many days do you need to explore Pai?

I booked 3 nights for my trip to Pai, which is perfectly possible when you are on a tight schedule. Nevertheless, I would advise you to spend at least 3 full days in Pai, which will result in 4 nights. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tick all things off my list and next to that Pai is a lovely town to hang around with plenty of restaurants and bars to try. Summarizing, to fully explore Pai and its surroundings, spend at least 3 days/4 nights in Pai.

How to get to Pai?

Pai airport has been discontinued, therefore, the main hub to get to Pai is Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has a larger airport receiving international and domestic flights as well as a train connection from Bangkok. Therefore, when travelling to Pai it is advised to first head to Chiang Mai (read my Chiang Mai travel guide here) and travel to Pai from there.

Once you’ve arrived in Chiang Mai, there are three main options on how to get to Pai. Firstly, you should be aware that there are 762 turns during this stretch! However, take a motion sickness pill and you’ll be fine. I’m pretty motion-sick but have survived the drive perfectly and was way too stressed beforehand because of all the horror stories online.

How to get to Pai by Minivan:

Two minivan companies are covering the ride from Chiang Mai to Pai. Aya Service will pick you up at the hotel while Perchebum is a bus company and therefore departs from the bus station (arcade 2) in Pai. The ride takes approximately 3-3,5 hours including a 20-minute break to get something to drink and stretch your legs. I paid 250 baht (7 euros) for the ticket, while the return trip cost me 150 baht. Also, you can book your tickets beforehand online through 12go.asia. Make sure you book your tickets at least 2 to 3 days in advance, as when I tried to book most of the times were fully booked.

How to get to Pai by private transfer:

Most hotels will be able to help you find a private transfer to Pai or back to Chiang Mai. Otherwise, there are plenty of tour agencies to be found on the street (every corner, so don’t worry). When I asked in Pai for the costs of a private transfer, they told me 2200 baht (55 euros). However, you might be able to haggle on the price a bit further or share the transfer with others you met. All in all, it is not the cheapest solution but feasible and relaxed.

How to get to Pai by motorbike/scooter:

Another popular option is to self-drive the way from Chiang Mai to Pai (or the other way around) by motorbike/scooter. However, make sure you have some experience driving a motorbike before doing so. As mentioned, there are quite some turns on the road. Nevertheless, looking back I think I would have been able to do it, although I dreaded to roads in Chiang Mai. If you are confident handling the traffic in Chiang Mai on a motorbike, you’ll be able to drive to Pai. An easy way to fix a motorbike is to rent one from Aya service. Also, they have baggage transfer available which means they will move your baggage from Chiang Mai to Pai for a more relaxed drive.

Your complete Pai Travel Guide, explore the North of Thailand

How to get around in Pai

When in Pai, I would advise you to rent a motorbike. The roads are relatively quiet, which makes it the perfect destination to drive around. Most of the sights are a little further out of town, so a motorbike is well needed. Alternatively, there are plenty of tours offered by multiple travel agencies. Moreover, I would book accommodation within walking distance from Pai Town and the walking street. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars, so it is convenient if you’re able to walk back after your night out. Lastly, also Grab (like Uber) seemed to be available in Pai. However, I haven’t tried it and I can imagine there are limited rides available.

Pai Travel Guide Summary

  • Bamboo Bridge
  • Santichon Village and Yun Lai viewpoint
  • Nam Lod Cave
  • Hot Springs
  • Pai Walking Street
  • White Buddha
  • Mo Pang Waterfall
  • Sunset at Pai Canyon
  • Mae Yen Waterfall hike
  • Bom Bowls
  • Dammie Café
  • OM Garden Café
  • Earth Tone
  • Tham Ma Daa Cafe
  • Na’s kitchen
  • Charlie & Iek
  • Cafecito
  • Walking Market
  • Two Huts
  • The Container @ Pai
  • Jazz house
  • Jikko Bar
  • Supermoon, Boombar, Music.Bros Bar

- The best things to do in Pai -

You won’t be bored when in Pai, as there are plenty of places for you to visit and explore. Also, be prepared for a bit of a drive some days. Therefore, the 3 days will come in handy. Also, in the end, I’ll provide you with a quick 3-day Pai itinerary for you to be able to explore the best things to do in Pai with this Pai travel guide.

1 || Bamboo Bridge

The Bamboo Bridge is located about a 30-minute drive from Pai and is one of the most famous locations around Pai. This 800-meter bridge built of, surprise, bamboo is currently mainly used by tourists. It allows you to walk over the rice fields and admire the views. When at the Bamboo Bridge, enjoy your lunch at Jaey Cafe with great views. The entree fee for the Bamboo Bridge is 30 baht.

Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Pai Bamboo Bridge, North of Thailand, Travel Guide
Jaey Cafe, Bamboo Bridge, Pai
Jaey Cafe, Bamboo Bridge, Pai
Jaey Cafe, Bamboo Bridge, Pai

2 || Santichon VIllage and Yun Lai viewpoint

The Yun Lai viewpoint (entry 20 baht) offers great views over the surroundings of Pai. Also, there are tents available for camping. If you are in for a unique experience in Pai, then this might be something to put on your travel list. When driving towards the Yun Lai viewpoint, you’ll pass through Santichon Village where you will find a small Chinese wall, a unique swing, and the opportunity to do some arrow shooting. In my opinion, all not too special, but a fun stop on your way to the viewpoint.

Santichon Village, Chinese Village near Pai
Santichon Village, Chinese Village near Pai
Santichon Village, Chinese Village near Pai
Santichon Village, Chinese Village near Pai
Yun Lai Viewpoint, views over Pai and Northern Thailand
Yun Lai Viewpoint, views over Pai and Northern Thailand
Yun Lai Viewpoint, views over Pai and Northern Thailand
Yun Lai Viewpoint, views over Pai and Northern Thailand

3 || THam Lod Caves

The Tham Lod Cave can be found on a 1:15-hour drive north of Pai with a nice viewpoint (Don Kiew) halfway. Before travelling here, I read horror stories on how to get to the cave. However, besides the road having a couple of steep curves, I wouldn’t say it is too much of a challenge if you have some driving experience. The Tham Lod Caves are impressive caves, where you can walk standing almost all the time. Upon arrival, you can decide whether you want to see only cave 1, caves 1 and 2 or all three of the caves. After the long ride, I would advise taking the tour that shows you the 3 caves. In total, this tour, including a guide that shows you around, takes around 1 hour and includes a small boat ride on a bamboo raft. Moreover, it is not allowed to enter the caves without a guide that is waiting for you at the entrance. The 1-hour tour to all 3 caves costs 600 baht (15 euros) per group, with a maximum group size of 3. Also, when driving to or from the Nam Lod Cave, you can easily stop at the Sai Ngam hot spring for a quick dip.

Doi Kiew Rest Stop, Viewpoint near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai
Tham Lod Caves, Unique experience near Pai

4 || Pai Hot Springs: Sai Ngam or Tha Pai hot spring

Pai’s surroundings are home to two different hot springs to enjoy for a quick dip: the Tha Pai hot springs, located about 8 km to the south of Pai and the Sai Ngam hot springs, located 15 km north of Pai. Because the Tha Pai hot spring is easier to reach, this could be a quick activity to add to your Pai Travel Guide and a great location to start your day. Nevertheless, based on stories and imagery, the Sai Ngam hot springs seem to be prettier so if you have some time and/or are travelling to the Tham Lod Cave anyways, you can best try the Sai Ngam hot springs.

5 || Pai Walking Street

When staying in Pai, the walking street is one of the best things in Pai. Between 6 pm and 10 pm, this street turns into a non-car zone and is packed with multiple stalls, including artwork, souvenirs and, of course, food. Try some of the smaller bites such as the sausages, gyoza or sushi or smaller meals such as Pad Thai, Khao Soi or Papaya Salad. Although you might not expect it, the sushi was my actual favourite!

Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai

6 || Chedi Pra That Mae Yen (the white Buddha)

Where Chiang Mai is full of temples and Buddha statues, there are not many to be found in Pai. Chedi Pra That Mae Yen is a white Buddha that can be found on top of a hill and overlooks Pai Town. From some places in town or around, you might see the Buddha watching over you. When in Pai, it’s worth a quick visit. Also, keep in mind the multiple stairs you’ll have to climb first.

White Buddha Pai, Chedi Pra That Mae Yen
White Buddha Pai, Chedi Pra That Mae Yen
White Buddha Pai, Chedi Pra That Mae Yen
White Buddha Pai, Chedi Pra That Mae Yen

7 || Mo Paeng Waterfall

The Mo Paeng waterfall is one of the waterfalls near Pai where you can swim. Even though the waterfall is medium size, and might not be the most impressive waterfall you’ve ever seen, it is popular with tourists. Moreover, you can slide down in the water from some parts of the waterfall and use the rocks as a natural slide. There is no entrance fee to the waterfall. 

8 || Chase the sunset at Pai Canyon or Two Huts

When in Pai, you can’t miss out on chasing the sunset over the wonderful North of Thailand. The most popular place to see the sunset is the Pai Canyon, which is a sight by itself. However, arrive early as it becomes very crowded while the paths are very narrow. If you want to enjoy the sunset, pick a medium / clear day and arrive at 4:30 pm latest so you can find your spot with limited crowds. Also, the Two Huts are a popular location for sunset and hanging around with a beer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sufficient time in Pai to check out the Two Huts, which is why I would recommend staying a minimum of 3 days. 

Sunset Pai Canyon, North Thailand
Sunset Pai Canyon, North Thailand
Sunset Pai Canyon, North Thailand
Sunset Pai Canyon, North Thailand

9 || Hike to the Mae Yen Waterfall

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time in Pai for the waterfall hike to Mae Yen, however, it was high on my list. This 2-hour walk leads you to a waterfall, while you cross the water stream/river multiple (over 40!) times during your walk. If you want to learn more about the hike, you can for example check out this blog. 

How to spend 3 days in pai

Looking for some support on how to best spend your days in Pai? This Pai Travel Guide has you covered with a 3-day Pai Itinerary. 

Day 1: Start the day with a smoothie bowl at Bom Bowls. Afterwards, I enjoyed a Muay Thai class, which of course is a great way to experience the culture and stay fit. Next, drive to Santichon Village, a small Chinese village and continue your way to the Yun Lai viewpoint. Subsequently, drive your bike to the Bamboo Bridge where you can enjoy lunch at Jaey Cafe and walk across the bridge. When you are done exploring, take the road back and enjoy a drink at Container Bar@Pai before you head to the Pai Canyon for sunset. I wouldn’t stop at the Pambok Waterfalls on the way, as I think this was one of my most underwhelming experiences in Pai and you can better chase different waterfalls.

Day 2: Drive to the white Buddha (Chedia Phra That Mae Yen) before enjoying breakfast at OM Garden Café in Pai. After breakfast, start your journey towards the Nam Lod Caves and stop at the Doi Kiew Lom Viewpoint. Before or after your visit to the caves, you can enjoy a dip in the Sai Ngam hot springs. Once back in Pai, enjoy exploring the night market and taste the local food.

Day 3: During day 3 you have plenty of time for a hike towards the Mae Yen waterfall. Once you finalized your hike, don’t forget to check out the sunset at the Two Huts.

The Best Restaurants and bars in Pai

As Pai is backpacker heaven, where many travellers or digital nomads decide to extend their stay, there are plenty of great restaurants and bars in Pai to enjoy a lovely meal or drink. Below, you will find my favourite places and places I got recommended but haven’t been able to visit. Because what is a Pai Travel Guide without the best restaurant recommendations? 

The best places for breakfast, lunch or brunch in Pai

  1. Bom Bowls – At Bom Bowls you can enjoy some great breakfast, such as pancakes or – not surprisingly – a bowl. They tasted amazing!
  2. Dammie Café – Located around the corner of Bom Bowls, this is a less famous spot. It’s a bakery with homemade bread and sweets, making it the perfect place to sit down for a bit.
  3. OM Garden Café – Be warned, this place is popular. Get there slightly early if you want to enjoy a lovely breakfast here. The garden cafe is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a healthy breakfast or lunch.
  4. Earth Tone – This is another healthy spot in Pai, focusing on vegan and vegetarian meals. I think this is a great option for lunch to enjoy one of the salad bowls.
  5. Tham Ma Daa Cafe – A great place to relax. Even though they don’t have an elaborate menu, they have some decent sandwiches. Sit down and relax overlooking a small water pool.
Bom Bowls, Healthy breakfast and brunch in Pai
Bom Bowls
Bom Bowls, Healthy breakfast and brunch in Pai
Bom Bowls
OM Garden Cafe, Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch in Pai
OM Garden Cafe
OM Garden Cafe, Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch in Pai
OM Garden Cafe
Tham Ma Daa Cafe, Pai
Tha Ma Da Cafe
Tham Ma Daa Cafe, Pai
Tham Ma Da Cafe

The best places for dinner in Pai

  1. Pai Walking Market – When you are only spending a couple of days in Pai, I expect you to get some local dishes at the night market most days. 2 out of the 3 evenings I’ve spent in Pai, I’ve enjoyed my dinner at the walking market. There is a great mix of smaller bites (gyoza, sushi, sausage) and small meals (pad thai, khao soi, tacos)
  2. Na’s Kitchen – In Pai town, you’ll find Na’s Kitchen on one of the main roads. A friend I saw in Pai mentioned Na’s Kitchen and I had seen a line (which does not happen much in Thailand), so my other remaining night, we decided to opt for a lovely curry at Na’s Kitchen. It was honestly very good! 
  3. Charlie&lek – I’ve heard about this restaurant multiple times during my visit to Pai, whether it was for lunch or dinner. Moreover, everyone was very positive and it seems to be one of the best restaurants in Pai. 
  4. Cafecito – Looking for a nice change to the Thai food? Cafecito is your place to be in Pai, with some lovely Mexican food being served. 
  5. Two Sisters – Located near Earth Tone and Tha Ma Da Cafe, you’ll find Two Sisters, more suitable for dinner in the same area. Generally, a good place for some local food, although it is not located in downtown Pai. 
Na's Kitchen, Pai
Pai Walking Street, Food Market in Pai

The best bars in Pai

  1. Two Huts – As already mentioned, this is one of the most famous places near Pai, and especially for sunset drinks. It is known as the place where you’ll probably meet everyone you’ve seen during your travels and is currently in Pai. 
  2. Jazz House – My personal favourite. I loved this place! With live music, ranging from open mic to performers, this is an amazing place to have a (cheap!) drink. Also, you are allowed to take your food inside, which is perfect if you want to eat your walking market snack. 
  3. The Container@Pai – If you are looking for a place to chill slightly outside of Pai, the container@Pai is the place for you. I enjoyed a beer here after visiting the bamboo bridge and waiting for the sun to set before heading to the Pai Canyon. The place closes around 5 PM.
  4. Jikko bar – When on the walking street, there are not too many nice bars to sit down. Especially when waiting for people, or when you like to watch people, Jikko is a perfect place. There is a Jikko cocktail or Jikko beer bar to settle down and the IPA on tap was great!
  5. Bar street – e.g. Music.Bros Bar, SuperMoon and Boom Bar – There is one street in Pai where the bars mentioned are located. It is dependent on the day where everyone goes to party, so it is best to stroll around. Also, if you want to end the night late, you can head to the Don’t Cry bar after other places close.
The Container @ Pai, drinks outside Pai
The Container
The Container @ Pai, drinks outside Pai
The Container
Jazz House Pai
Jazz House

- The best places to stay in Pai -

During my time at Pai, after changing my mind about accommodations a couple of times, I stayed at the Countryside Resort. And what an amazing place this is. I would highly recommend it to everyone. The rooms are small but decent, the location is perfect (a place to relax but only a 15-minute walk to town), you can rent a scooter, they have a pool and you have your own little terrace on your roof! Moreover, you can call them and they will pick you up from Pai bus station and drop you off when you leave. And.. all of this starts from €14 a night. 

Courtesy of booking.com

Before I stumbled upon Countryside Resort, I was planning on staying at Country Hut. The perfect location and spot to wind down, while still being able to explore Pai from your cottage. There are cottages available with shared or private bathrooms. You can get a cottage from €13 a night. 

Courtesy of booking.com

If you want to go all in with your accommodation, one of the best places to stay is the Pai Village Boutique Resort. Expectedly, this place is slightly more expensive than the average room in Thailand. Nevertheless, you can get a room starting at around €75 a night. There is a massage service at the property, as well as a restaurant and a pool. You can stay in cottages, to still experience the local feel of Pai. 

Courtesy of booking.com

First of all, accommodation in Pai is quite cheap and unique. A little cottage won’t set you back too far, especially not when shared. Nevertheless, you might enjoy a hostel better to be able to socialize. Society House Luxury Hostel is one of the best hostels in Pai and allows you to meet other travellers, while still enjoying some privacy in your hostel. If you want to stay in a bunk bed, prices start from €9 a night. 

Courtesy of booking.com

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