• Pai,

Pai

Thailand

In Thailand, it’s a truism that wherever the backpackers first go, the crowds soon follow. First Bangkok, then Koh Samui, and now the sleepy northern town of Pai is Thailand’s latest hotspot.

Nestled in a mountain valley just south of the Myanmar border, 135 km north of Chiang Mai, Pai is a popular holiday town that lures visitors with its stunning natural scenery and relaxed pace of life. Here, you’ll find an eclectic mix of Western hippies, local rastafarians and Muslims, minority hilltribe villagers and starry-eyed visitors (the town played a starring role in the Thai romantic hit Pai in Love and the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Thailand). A flourishing art and music scene as well as a popular outdoor market provide some laid-back entertainment in town, while the countless coffee shops, Western cafes and bars are packed with kooky charm.

Still, in spite of the recent hoop-la, it’s easy to step away and reconnect with the true spirit of Pai. The area’s breathtaking waterfalls, canyons and hot springs are just a short motorbike ride away, while treks to visit remote hilltribe villages are also possible. You might just find yourself getting swept away under Pai’s seductive spell, following the thousands before you who have discovered this secret.

Why Go

Laid-back Pai offers plenty of quaint romantic charm, a friendly vibe and beautiful natural scenery.

When to Go

Pai's climate is subtropical with distinct seasons. November to February is the cool season and the best time to visit, with daytime temperatures at a pleasant 20°C (70°F) and dropping to 12°C (55°F) at night. Avoid the hot months of April to June, when temperatures can reach a scorching 40°C (105°F) and the northern region is blanketed in a thick haze, courtesy of illegal slash-and-burn farming.

Average Temp

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

High °C

30

33

35

37

35

33

32

32

32

31

30

28

Low °C

15

16

20

23

24

24

24

24

23

22

19

15

High °F

86

91

95

99

95

91

90

90

90

88

86

82

  Low °F

59

61

68

73

75

75

75

75

73

72

66

59

  • Pai bridge
  • Pai farm
  • Hilltribe girl in Pai
  • Thai Village in Pai
  • Sunset over Pai Canyon
  • Khao Soi noodles
  • Farm in Pai
  • Waterfall in Pai
  • Pai farm
  • Jungle pathwat

Things to Do

  • Take a drive through the countryside

Pai's appeal lies in its beautiful natural scenery and rustic way of life. The best way to experience this is by renting a motorbike or car for the day and driving around the peaceful winding roads, stopping at waterfalls, farms and stalls selling fresh mountain produce. Cycling and mountain biking tours are also a great way to soak up the fresh air and get some exercise.

  • Visit Pai Canyon

Touted as Thailand’s answer to the Grand Canyon (a bit of a stretch), this sprawling valley is covered in sheer rock cliffs and rolling green valleys as far as the eye can see. A lookout point provides the best sunset views, while the hiking trail is best tackled in the cooler mornings or evenings.

  • Take a dip in the hot springs

Pai is known for its natural hot springs containing sulphur and minerals, which are believed to cure all sorts of ailments. Best visited during the cooler months from October until February.

  • Enjoy the local music scene

The best place to experience Pai’s thriving music scene is at Edible Jazz, a popular live music venue that brings together resident musicians and visiting artists to jam on soul, reggae, jazz and pop tunes all night long.

  • Take a dip in the waterfalls

Pai’s stunning natural scenery is dotted with waterfalls that are ideal for swimming and picnics. Two of the most visited include Pam Bok Waterfalls and Mo Paeng Waterfalls, which is popular for its natural rock slides.

  • Go whitewater-rafting

Depending on the time of year, some of Thailand’s best whitewater rafting can be found along the stretch of river from Pai to Mae Hong Son. Tours can be booked through several operators in town.

  • Shop at the Walking Street Market

A smaller version of Chiang Mai’s famous Sunday Walking Street, Pai’s market takes place during the peak tourist season (November – February) and offers a selection of handicrafts from hilltribe villagers as well as various vintage and quirky knick-knacks.

  • Explore the caves

Located half an hour’s drive north of town, the Fish Cave is well-known for its springs which are filled with thousands of Koi carp fish. The locals believe the fish to be sacred and that anyone who eats the fish will be cursed by the mountain spirits.

The road from Pai to Mae Hong Son
A farm in Pai

Getting There

By Air

Kan Airlines operates direct flights from Pai to Chiang Mai twice a day. The flight time is a little less than half an hour.

By Car

Pai is located 135 km north of Chiang Mai, accessed via a scenic hilly road that is infamous for its 762 curves. Private cars or minivans can be chartered for around THB 3,500 per car. The drive takes approximately 3.5 hours. Pack motion sickness pills if you’re prone to getting car-sick.

By Bus / Minivan

Public buses and minivan depart from Arcade station in Chiang Mai daily. Tickets cost approximately THB 150 for an air-conditioned vehicle.

Getting Around

Downtown Pai is small enough to be easily explored on foot, although tuk-tuks are also readily available. Bicycles can be rented for approximately US$2-3 a day, while renting a motorbike is the best option for exploring the countryside.

The Essentials

Visa Requirements

Most nationalities can enter Thailand without a visa or by obtaining a visa upon arrival, although we advise visiting the Thailand Immigration Bureau website for current guidelines. Entry permit duration will depend on nationality and entry point; however most people are permitted to remain for either 15, 30 or 90 days.

Currency

Thailand uses the Thai Baht (THB), which tends to fluctuate wildly in value. As a general indication, US$1 is roughly equivalent to 30 THB. For up-to-date exchange rates, visit xe.com.

Health & Safety

Pai is relatively safe even at night, and violent crimes are rare. As always however, travellers should still take precautions against pick-pocketing and snatch thefts, especially when walking in dimly-lit areas. Mosquitos can be a concern depending on the time of year, as they can carry dengue fever (although seldom malaria). Use mosquito repellent when outdoors especially during dawn and dusk or when entering jungle areas, particularly during the rainy season from July till October. It is not advisable to drink tap water; bottled water is cheap and readily available.

Restrictions & Laws

In spite of its freewheeling image, Thailand has very strict anti-drug laws. Possession of marijuana will result in a prison sentence and heavy fine, while amphetamines and ecstasy are regarded as Class A drugs on the same level as heroin. Like most South-East Asian countries, Thailand enforces a mandatory death sentence for Class A drug trafficking and possession of over 20g; a rule that also applies to foreigners.

Thailand's Lèse Majesté laws make it a criminal offence to make critical or defamatory comments in any form about the King or other members of the Royal family in Thailand. This is a law to be taken seriously as it is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years, with foreigners having been convicted in the past.

Hilltribe lady

Learn the Lingo

Thai

Hello - sa-wat-dee kap (male speaker) / sa-wat-dee kha (female speaker)

Thank You - kop-khun kap (male speaker) / kop-khun kha (female speaker)

What is your name? - kun cheu ah-rai?

How much is this? - anee tao rai?

Excuse me / sorry - kor toht

Goodbye - laa gon na