20 THINGS TO DO IN PAI THAILAND
Nestled in the foothills of Northern Thailand, just three hours and close to 800 curves from Chiang Mai, is Pai, a little hippie Thai backpacker haven filled with restaurants, funky boutique shops, cafes and a laid back friendly attitude. With wheat grass juice, fruit shakes and trendy cafes, it almost doesn’t feel like it’s Thai, if not for the surrounding local residents and Thai artists, which have helped transform it.
Pai has become popular as a Northern Thailand destination, even with Thai tourists. However, the intimacy of the Thai-European artisan town merged with the fact you can roam it’s lush outer perimeters of country fields and waterfalls, makes it redeemable despite it’s tourist backpacker buzz.
You will still fall in love with Pai.
20 Things to Do in Pai
1. Pai Town
Part hippie, part Thai, the town has a fusion that makes it comfortable for western travelers and the Thai that reside there. As crowded as the little town can get with tourists, the overall laid-back, easy-going vibe of Pai is always the same and its country surroundings offer respite and peace from the hoards.
2. Rent a motorbike
Motorbikes run around 150 baht and 200 for a new one. Dirt bikes can go for much higher. You have to leave your passport with the rental as insurance.
Freedom to explore Pai is what makes having a motorbike a strong asset. You’ll get more out of your trip. However, there’s always taxis and a wealth of travel agents that will be happy to show you their day tours.
You’ll hear locals say that “All roads lead to Pai” and that’s literally the case. It’s virtually impossible to get lost as many of the country roads will lead you back to Pai town.
On Safety: Driving in Pai is fairly safe as there’s not a lot of traffic on the roads. However, a lot of accidents happen with unskilled motorbike tourists. I’ve seen over five motorbike victims in bandages over the course of two days! Many accidents occur due to novice or irresponsible tourist drivers. A good tip is to drive slowly and cautiously.
3. Pai Countryside
The beauty of Pai is its mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and farm fields. You’ll not have to go far to find romance in Pai.
4. Coffee in Love
If you’re on your way to Pai Canyon or headed towards Chiang Mai, it’s hard to miss Coffee in Love . The giant free standing sign will catch your eye and you’ll immediately fall in love with the view. The view overlooks the crest of mountains . You can see the giant white buddha in the distance. You can hang out for coffee, snap photos of the view or selfies galore in some of its most picturesque spots, such as a fairytale-like cottage and a field of flowers (located behind the house). The location is also said to be a film location for a popular 2009 Thai movie, Pai in Love. The landscape is certainly a romantic’s dream.
5. Roadside Theme Cafes
After seeing Pai in Love, you’ll notice more giant freestanding signs for roadside theme cafes along your way. Each sign and cafe has their own visual theme and range from cutesy, idyllic and designer-like. Pai’s artistry and creative craftsmanship stands out to make the area unique in this regard.
6. Wat Toong Pong
Upon entering Wat Toong Pong, you’ll notice a spiritual park housing various shrines belonging to different religions. However, the most impressive memorial rests in the back. There’s a serpentine bridge which interestingly interchange colors at the end. The bridge leads to a beautiful and giant, iridescent white Buddha. This was by far, my most favorite wat (even in comparison to Wat Mae Yen aka “Temple on the Hill”).
7. Pai Canyon
A trip out to Pai Canyon to watch the sunset is a must. Getting up to the top of the canyon entails an easy 10 minute walk that might barely draw sweat. There are different peaks to the canyon so you can explore which offers the best sitting view for your sunset. Be prepared for a tourist crowd. While it’s not to the point of being overwhelming yet, there’s still enough people to create a buzz. Recommendation: Many travelers head out to the Giant White Buddha to watch the sunset, but in my opinion, the canyon is the most beautiful spot. If you’re looking for the best sunset in the region , then Pai Canyon is it.. Location: Highway 1095, 13 km from Pai.
8. Memorial Bridge
Just 9km south of psi on Highway 1095, you’ll arrive into Ta Pai village, where you’ll see the Pai Memorial Bridge, otherwise known as the World War II Bridge. During World War II, Japanese used POWs and local Thai to construct a wooden bridge across the Pai River. In 1944 the bridge was burnt down, but locals reconstructed it. Today it’s a memorial to the memory of this part of history.
You can take photos on the bridge, sit in the rickshaw or motorcycle for selfless or pose with a solider, dressed in old attire. Location: Highway 1095, past Pai Canyon.
When in Thailand, the word “massage” is ubiquitous. It’s good and inexpensive, so why not splurge? Cost starts at 250 baht.
10. Pai Walking Streets
Pai has nightly walking streets where it will close off its streets to wheeled traffic in order for vendors and food hawkers to line up and sell their wares. What sets Pai Walking Streets apart from other walking streets in Thailand or night markets in Southeast Asia, is that the local artisans of Pai will bring out their uniquely designed crafts and cute, but funky fashion. You’ll be tempted to splurge, as Pai artists have a flair for creativity and design!
Sunday walking streets occur on Sundays and its when the walking streets get more crowded and more liveliness ensues!
11. Local wats
There are many wats in Pai, so take your pick! But if you were short on time, there’s two I’d recommend as noteworthy.
12. Country stores
One of my favorite pastimes are stopping into in countryside stores. You never know what you’re going to find or learn about the Thai culture and lifestyle until you go through the standard items their store is stocked with. Video coming later.
13. Wat Nam Hoo
On your way to the Pai Chinese Village you’ll find Wat Nam Hoo. It’s said to house a holy Buddha that once emitted water from it’s head. However, what’s impressive is the lake shrine and the sculptural rooster collection that is the emblem and mascot, honoring the venerated warrior and king, King Naresuan the Great, whose statue resides in the shrine.
14. Pai Airport
Located 10-15 minutes outside of Pai town, you’ll find Pai Airport (Mae Hong Son), which has one of the shortest runways I’ve seen yet.
15. Pai Chinese Village
The Pai Chinese Village is an odd village of Chinese souvenir shops. Most shops sell similar things from dried seeds and fruits, tea cups, Chinese decorative cha-chas.
16. Mor Paeng Waterfall
Pai has a handful of waterfalls and hot springs. Located a small distance from Pai Chinese Village, the Mor Paeng Waterfall is easy to find and one that was recommended as the loveliest.
17. Temple on the Hill (aka Wat Mae Yen or “Giant White Buddha”)
Set into the mountains that are lined with guesthouses outside the town of Pai, Wat Mae Yen can go by a few names such as Temple on the Hill (or Wat Mae Yen). I like to call it Giant White Buddha, because the Buddha is white and can be seen from a distance.
Although the stairs leading up to the buddha is undergoing some redesign and renovation, it’s a lovely break of walking after a day of motorbike riding. The regal white buddha sits at the top and it’s a lovely place to catch a sunset. The landmark also has a wonderful view of Pai town and the countryside..
Location: Rural Rd Mae Hong Son (east of Pai town)
Must Try Foods
Pai has a lot of restaurants from vegetarian, Thai to international.
18. Khao Soy
When in Northern Thailand, the one dish to try is Khao Soy. It’s a bowl of tasty flat noodles in a spicy coconut soup with sprinkles of crunchy bits. Cost ranges from 50-80 baht, depending upon whether you have tofu, beef or pork. Recommended: Nong Beer Restaurant, Pai Walking Street (west)
19. Deep Fried Banana (with coconut shavings) — Watch video
20. Deep Fried Mochi Balls (Houtong)
Deep fried mochi balls are one of my favorite snacks and something I discovered first, in Pai. It’s a deep fried mochi balls with glazed sugar and hollowed out with the exception of a tiny bit of yellow bean paste. At 1 baht per ball and 10 baht for a bag of ten, it was hard discipline to keep to my diet.
One would expect Pai to have as many vegetarian or vegan restaurants as Chiang Mai. It doesn’t house as many as you’d think.. Fortunately, between the street food at the nightly walking streets, my old vegetarian cafe hub, my morning glory habit, an Indian restaurant and by asking restaurant cooks to withhold meat in my dishes, I ate well.
The Good Life
If you want to feel clean and healthy with the food you eat, The Good Life will serve up, just that. It has a vegetarian menu and the fruit shakes are wonderful here. Some of the dishes can be hit or miss with flavor. But overall, it aims at delivering health.
Nong Beer Restaurant
Despite the pub crawl sounding name, the Nong Beer Restaurant is a popular place for food. The Khao Soi is highly recommended here and they can make it vegetarian style substituting meat with tofu. To be candid, I’m not a fan of tofu in Northern Thailand. It’s a different texture and flavor that takes a little bit of getting used to.
Chew Xin Jai
Chew Xin Jai is a Chinese restaurant but is 100% vegetarian. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to experience it yet, but if you’re vegan or vegetarian and don’t want to deal with mistakes in ordering, Chew Xin Jai offers a good menu of variety.
When I arrived into Pai, I didn’t have any accommodations in Pai planned. So I proceeded to find one on foot.
Pai can be a bit of a party town and a hotbed of activity. Accommodations in central Pai town will garner you central access, however, you’ll pay a lot for very little. The inner peace of Pai is better found in the outskirt of the town. Just over the bridge on Rural Road (the southern most main road parallel to the walking street), there’s guesthouses tucked alongside the mountains and the vibe there is cooler and more lush. This is the area I’ve always sought to stay. Budget accommodations similar to what I paid in Chiang Mai or Soppong for a single room or bungalow were not easy to find, initially. Pai is a little more pricy, although not by much. Still, it took me a while to find a guesthouse I felt I was getting fair value for.
Buzzas Backpackers Pai
At Buzza Backpackers Pai has dorms and bungalows (with toilet ensuite). I got the latter. The property is clean, has a renovation due to new owners, is designed like a retreat hangout and being in the countryside, the surroundings are a bit quieter and more chill. My bungalow cost around 300-400 baht and it came with free WiFi and a wonderful balcony view! My bathroom was oddly, downstairs and on a slope, but I was grateful to have a pad all to myself and bathroom ensuite. They can reserve your bus booking onward and the bus conveniently picks you up at the guesthouse! Book on hostelworld.
Location:67 moo 1, Mae Yen, Pai, on the opposite side of the bridge on Rural Road, just past the coffeehouse with the giant blowup duck! (More later; until then, watch my video at 0:53)
Beung Pai Fish Farm
Beung Pai Fish Farm was my first accommodations in Pai back in 2009 and I have nothing but love for it. While it was tucked into farming lands in the outskirts of Pai, it was a heavenly experience staying there! The resort is a catch and release fishing resort with a vegetarian menu. Fishing poles are available for rent. If fishing is not your thing, you can also buy fish food to feed them. The kitchen offers vegetarian dishes, homemade yogurt and on the whole, the food is delicious and feels healthy. The owners were so kind in teaching me how to drive a motorbike for the first time! Read my review here.
Circus School Hostel/Resort
I’ve heard fun buzz about Circus School Hostel/Resort. The fact it has actual circus programs is why I’m listing it here. I met a traveler who said he was staying there, liked it, but the joint was “a 24-hour party magnet”, that he couldn’t get any sleep. This was coming from a male backpacker in his 20s. Thus, I opted for some place more sedate and where I could do blog work from.
Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai offers mini van buses to Pai. Cost runs around 200 baht and pickup is generally at your hotel or guesthouse. Duration: Around 3 hours. Bus makes one rest/bathroom stop along the way. There are over 800 curves getting to Pai, so best take motion sickness tablets in advance if you have a sensitive stomach.
Pai Bus Station: Located on the Pai Walking Street (Central Pai). Buses go to Northern Pai, Mae Hong Son, BangMapha/Soppong, Chiang Mai. Check local bus/tour agencies for buses onward to Laos.