Pai (ปาย) is a small town (pop. 3,000) in Mae Hong Son Province, Northern Thailand. It is a major stop on the Mae Hong Son Loop, which takes Rte 1095 from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, then Rte 108 back to Chiang Mai. The city is named after the Pai River.
Set in a large picturesque valley north of Chiang Mai, Pai is tourism-oriented, offering a relaxed atmosphere with a vibrant tourist and backpacker scene. The town's permanent residents are a seemingly harmonious mix of common Thai folk, with an admixture of Western hippies and Thai rastas thrown in, which gives the place a unique vibe which may be appealing to some and off-putting to others.
A sudden boom in guest house and bar construction from 2006 onwards has resulted in a great deal of spare capacity in the off-season. There has been a large increase in Thai people visiting after Pai was featured in a romantic Thai film, Pai in Love. It can be hard to find a room during the busy season (Oct-Feb). There are now around 350 guesthouses and hotels in Pai, and the city centre has transformed into a tourist warren of Western-style restaurants, souvenir shops, live music venues, tattoo parlours, and bars that cater largely to the now significant influx of tourists and package tours.
While the growth of Pai has been rapid and more or less every farm in the valley seems to rent bungalows, development so far has been largely tasteful and the town remains relatively serene during low season.
Rte 1095 which connects Pai with Mae Hong Son (50 km as the crow flies, but approximately 110 km by road) and Chiang Mai (135 km) is a very scenic route through the mountains which takes several hours. It's a steep and winding drive, with lots of curves, so take a plastic bag and some motion sickness pills if you need them.
Rte 1095 isn't as bad as people make it out to be. There isn't much traffic and you can hear the cars and trucks coming. The downside is the road is crappy, but not uniformly so. But because you never know what lies around the next bend, you're forced to drive conservatively. If you're a little adventurous, rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai and make the ride up to Pai. You can stop at the waterfalls and small towns along the way, and you'll really enjoy the trip, as opposed to being motion sick in a bus for hours, and being forced to stop at the driver's friends restaurants. Make sure to take some warmer clothing on your bike, as it tends to get a bit chilly in the higher portions of the ride. As a novice rider, expect the trip to take around 5 or 6 hours, including stops at sites and restaurants along the way. aYa Service offers one way rentals from Chiang Mai to Pai (or vice versa) with free luggage delivery. They will keep your passport and send it along with any baggage to aYa in Pai.
Buses and minibuses go to Chiang Mai (Arcade terminal) and Mae Hong Son. Regular public buses take around 4 hours and charge 75-150 baht; minibuses take around 3 hours and tickets (sold by travel agencies) cost about 150-180 baht. One strategy is to get to Pai using the public bus so that you can get an idea as to how winding the road is and then you can decide if you want to splurge and get the minibus back to Chiang Mai.
To feel less travel sick and save some money take the regular public bus. The scenery is lovely and the winding roads are much easier on one's stomach if you take things slowly.
From Chiang Mai: Local bus from Chiang Mai to Pai leaves the Arcade Bus Station every hour from 06:30 to 17:30. The trip takes some 3 hours and there is a comfort stop at the small half-way village of Mae Sae (very good Northern sausages and traditional chicken curry noodle soup available as well as other necessities: food, water, toilets (3 baht to use them, as at all bus stations in Thailand). The bus trip costs 72 baht.
Minibuses and small passenger trucks (songthaews) carrying a dozen people leave from the bus station as soon as there are sufficient paying passengers. The cost of a private hire is approximately 1,200 baht. With a group, each will pay approximately 150 baht each). The rear seats approximately 10 people and is open-air. The view and wind in your face is pleasant, but not the occasional exhaust fumes.
Pai's airport (PYY) is served by Kan Airlines. They operate flights between Chiang Mai and Pai. Flying time is 25 minutes. Passengers can make reservations and purchase tickets through the airline's website, call centre, or with a travel agent.
The nearest train station is at Chiang Mai.
Pai town centre is compact and best explored on foot. but the greater Pai area is sprawling. For exploring further afield, bicycles (40-100 baht/day) and motorbikes (from as little as 100 baht/day) can be rented from many agents along the main street. As the roads around Pai are steep and obtaining a decent mountain bike with fully functioning gears is surprisingly difficult, a motorbike is definitely the better option if you can ride one. aYa Service in the town centre rents motorbikes for 100 baht and a 100 baht helmet deposit, plus 40 baht for damage insurance, 40 baht for theft insurance (passport taken as deposit). You'll want a motorbike if you're planning on staying in some of the outlying bungalows in the valley around the town.
Motorbike and 4WD taxis are also readily available.
Suggestions in guidebooks that Ban Santhichon and Lisu Village might be reached on foot are optimistic.
The town itself has no special sights; most people come simply for the relaxed atmosphere. Nearby attractions include hot springs and waterfalls, villages and a hilltop temple.
- Chinese village (Santichon). Village settled by Yunnanese hill-tribes who crossed the border in the middle of the 20th century to escape Communist rule. Shops selling different Chinese teas with varying health properties, and other interesting oddities include a human-powered Ferris wheel. Well worth a look, even as a brief stop on the way to Mo Paeng waterfall
- Pai Canyon (Kong Lan) (signposted from the Chiang Mai road; approx 8 km from Pai). Somewhat optimistically described as Pai's answer to the Grand Canyon, it could more accurately be described as a narrow red ridges with steep-sides valleys either side filled with pine and dipterocarp forests. The steep 50m drop either side and stunning views over the surrounding countryside are impressive, but you'll need to be careful here - the path is extremely narrow in some places and requires a scramble in others. A set of steps up to a viewing platform provides the safest way to admire the scenery and the canyon makes the perfect spot for a sunset
- WWII Memorial Bridge (on the road to Chiang Mai, approx 8 km from Pai). The original bridge here was built by the occupying Japanese. The current steel truss bridge which sits alongside the present main road was assembled in its current position rather more recently, but as with Pai's "canyon", the bridge invites very loose comparisons with the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai.
Poi Sang Long is a famous Buddhist ordination of children festival, especially in Mae Hong Son. Thai Yai cultural dance show can be seen at the temple fair in the evening.
- Mae Yen (7 km out of town with no bikes allowed for the last 6 km of that. Head east over the bridge heading out of Pai and follow the signs.).
- Mo Paeng (west of Chiang Mai past Santichon). A little more accessible than most of Pai's waterfalls, this multi-tiered waterfall flows through a verdant green valley and is popular for its pools to swim in. The upper section of this waterfall is a natural water slide during the dry season. The rocks are smooth, just find a small section and slide on down like the locals do.
- Pam Bok (on the road to Chiang Mai before Pai Canyon.). Nice secluded waterfall with high cliffs surrounding it, making this a cool place to escape the heat. Go for a relaxing bathe in the shade during the dry season.
Renting a bicycle or motorbike and riding around the countryside seems to be the most popular activity. You can easily create an itinerary to include visits to the nearby waterfalls and hill tribe villages. Potential day trips include the Tham Lod Bat Cave 55 km away in Pangmapha, best visited when the bats emerge just before sunset.
Pai is also a major starting point for organized trekking tours which are offered by every guest house and travel agent.
Go off-road through the mountains of Pai on an off-road motorbike tour. Here there are better off-road possibilities and better prices than in Chiang Mai. Ask your guest house where to book.
- Elephant Trek. For several years now, travellers have enjoyed riding an elephant and concluding the trip with a romp in the Pai River. For this adventure, take as little as possible, you'll be enjoyably wet as the elephant is encouraged to shower you. Some operators, and there are several, are willing to take photos of you while you enjoy the elephant antics in the river.
- Isara Garden's Cookery School and Restaurant, 94 Moo 1 Viengnor (10 min by motorbike from the centre of Pai. For directions just call Muk, she organizes free pick ups), ☎ . Unique Asian fusion organic cookery class, run by Muk, a former restaurant manager and bar manager of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. The school is in an eco-friendly, atmospheric open air studio, designed by the owner itself and in the middle of Isara Garden`s organic veggie garden with a good view over Pai valley. 1,000 baht.
- Pai Zip Line Adventure, Tessaban 1, ☎ , fax: +66 89 5596267, e-mail: email@example.com. An adventure in an extensive forest and the early-morning fog. The exciting flight with the 14-station canopy takes 2-2.5 hours and ends at the beautiful Pam Bok Waterfall 8 km outside Pai where you can cool down. 850 baht.
- Sor Wisarut Muay Thai, 259 Moo 1, Mae Hi, ☎ . Managed by a friendly Thai/Italian couple, this camp offers professional training. Not far from town centre, the camp is surrounded by mountains that present a breathtaking view. Two sessions a day (morning, evening) with reasonable prices and accepting trainers at all levels.
- Tha Pai Hot Springs (signposted from the Chiang Mai road). Bathing here is supposed to have therapeutic properties, but you'll want to save it for a cool day. Sulphuric water bubbles out of these hot springs at temperatures of up to 80 degrees Celsius and simple baths have been created where the springs meet a stream which cools temperatures to bearable levels. A short, marked forest trail takes you through the compact national park more noticeable for its smells than its sights. Last entry to the springs is at 18:00, but you can stay longer as long as you get in before 18:00. If you'd like to enjoy the hot water after sunset as it gets cool, you can bathe in a mineral pool in the nearby Tha Pai Spa for 80 baht. 200 baht.
- Tubing. Floating down river on an inflated rubber tube has long been a favourite pastime of SE Asian backpackers, and the gentle current of the Pai River and attractive scenery make this a good spot to try. Unlike the more famous Vang Vieng in Laos, the Pai River isn't lined with raucous bars playing loud music, which some may consider more a blessing than a curse.
- Whitewater Rafting. Some of Thailand's most spectacular rapids are found between Pai and Mae Hong Song, and a few operators offer both one- and two-day rafting trips.
Pai's burgeoning tourist industry has resulted in a range of cutesy hippie-influenced souvenirs sold in shops throughout the village
Some of the hill tribe members selling handicrafts in the local market, although what's on offer here pales in comparison to the range available in Chiang Mai
Pai has an abundance of bookshops, some of which carry harder to find titles. Many are along the bus stop road, past aYa Services.
For such a small town, there are an astonishing number of restaurants, most of them catering for needs/tastes of foreign travellers but also including a wide range of Thai regional cuisine. In the evenings, various stalls open at the main street with different offerings at different days.
- Art in Chai. Beautiful place built by an artist, Otto. Warm cosy atmosphere with great chai and cakes and cookies. Nice atmosphere for playing your instrument. Free Wi-Fi.
- Boomelicious Cafe (Coming into town from the direction of Chiang Mai, turn at Buffalo Exchange and head in the direction of walking street. On your right). 08:00-20:00. Some of the best breakfasts/brunches food in Pai. Great Australian coffee. 60-180 baht.
- Burger House (100 m east of the traffic light on the main road). Owner Nat and husband, Matt, offer 12 different real beef burgers, chili, sandwiches, specials, dinners, pork chops the size of a Clive Cussler novel, beer, wine.
- Charlie & Lek's (On the road to Chiang Mai, just before the police station. Look for a sign with the restaurant logo, We Love Lettuce!). The vegetables used in the cooking are grown fresh on their own farm and the bar has a wonderfully relaxed and romantic atmosphere. They also offer cooking classes for 750 baht a day. Thai food is 30-70 baht a plate.
- Fat Cat (Cross the bridge on Ratchadamrong heading towards the hot springs, go past Reggae Bar, go past the rice paddies and slow down. On your left just before the 90 degree right turn). In a community focused on organic and healthy eating, Fat Cat is Pai's best kept secret. Almost all ingredients used are from their organic permaculture farm. If you order a salad, you can literally pick your own ingredients from the soil. Specialties include homemade yogurt, kefir, and pure kombucha. Great sandwiches and baked goods, all baked in their mud oven. Permaculture farming and mud oven building classes available. 50-100 baht.
- Na's Kitchen. Na still works in the kitchen everyday, serving northern food to tourists and Thais. She speaks great English, and will even teach you a bit of Thai if you ask nicely. Na's is always a favourite of the long-stay travellers and the ones returning for a second, or third go at Pai.
- No Name (Opposite the Pai District Office). The Thai local restaurant of choice. Very few Westerners to be found, but the menu is in English. Excellent Thai salads and sticky rice.
- Nong Beer Restaurant (On the corner of first traffic light on walking street). Family-owned restaurant that serves "fast Thai food" (food is already cooking and comes straight from the pot). Very good food and very cheap. Kao soi beef for 40 baht.
- Peace of Pai (Edge of town, direction Mae Hong Son), ☎ . , Home grown organic food is served here but the main attraction is the postcard-perfect view from the upper floor terrace. Hemp clothing is sold downstairs, which may or may not fully explain the prominent THC signs.
- TTK, 8/10 Moo 4 (Centre of town on Raddamrong Rd). 08:30-20:30. Nice outdoor dining area, friendly staff, attached guesthouse. Great Israeli food. Their falafel might be the best in Thailand. 70-150 baht.
- Chew Xin Jai Restaurant, 222 Moo 4 (Off a Raddamrong side street in the direction of Chiang Mai, look for a vegetarian sign and turn). Classic Thai/Chinese-influenced vegetarian and vegan restaurant. Two mains and rice cost 30 baht at lunch. Dinner is a la carte. Thai food is 30-70 baht a plate.
- Good Life. Serves organic and vegetarian foods at decent prices. Rice (including brown) dishes with vegetables starting at 40 baht. Breakfasts from 100 baht. Has a good selection of tea
- Kin J (กินเจ). This little vegetarian restaurant between the main traffic light and the afternoon market serves a selection of purely vegetarian food daily. Get there early, as it's mostly sold out by mid-afternoon. 25 baht for brown rice and two dishes.
There are many bars selling beer and cocktails, especially along the main street that leads to the Chiang Mai bus stop. There's a wide choice of live music, typically involving Thai bands playing their way through reggae classics. There are also many tea and coffee shops, including herbal brews. Late night venues are found clustered on the fringes of town, across the bridge on the eastern fringe and on the road to Chiang Mai on the west
- Bamboo Bar, Raddamrong Rd (Across the bridge on the east edge of town). Bamboo-floored venue perched on the riverside next to the other late night venues. Open until late, cosy atmosphere and good food.
- Bebop Bar (On the edge of town on the main road to Chiang Mai). Offers a range of live music. Amazing Saturday night show starts 10:30. Variety night 9pm on Wednesdays. Great talent friendly atmosphere.
- Don't Cry Bar, Raddamrong Rd (Across the bridge, next to Bamboo bar). Mostly open-air bar with fire shows, reggae music, and pool table. Fills up later in the evening.
- Edible Jazz (About 50 m from the junction next to Wat Pa Kam). Varied live music in the evenings in a relaxed atmosphere.
- Park@Pai. Live music every night from 21:00, music lounge with artistic interior design.
- Reggae Bar (On the road to Chiang Mai, just past Ting Tong). This hard-to-find bar is the place for hippie hang-outs. Look for the people sitting around a camp fire with acoustic guitars and djembe drums. Live music every night sometimes provided by the customers. Feel free to bring along your own instrument!
- Yellow Sun Bar. Great hangout with good selection of reggae music, a pool table, and friendly owner. A pre-night popular hangout with most of the travelling crowd.
There's an abundance of guest houses in Pai, most of them in the budget range (a bungalow goes for around 100-500 baht depending on amenities included). Mid-range options are available and there are now even luxury hotels.
At the bus station there is a map of Pai. Get this as it will show you the location of most of the guest houses (>100 places). There is also a discount for motorbike rental.
If your accommodation is far away from the two main streets of bars, be careful if walking alone of the packs of dogs that roam the empty streets at night. They do get territorial and intimidating, so if you come across them then remember to keep a safe distance away and make noise to scare them away.
For accommodation with lots of character try out a bamboo hut on the river. Head east from the bus station and either take the first left or continue straight. Either way you'll reach a bamboo bridge. Across the bridge you'll find plenty of cheap accommodation (about 100-400 baht per night).
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Budget||less than 500 baht|
|Splurge||over 1,500 baht|
- Abodaya Guesthouse (Turn left out of the bus station & head into the small soi called Wanchalerm Rd. Abodaya Guest house is just a short walk from the junction). Cosy, clean wooden rooms with attached bathrooms and fan. Nice hot shower. Front porches attached to most rooms with couches and cushions provided. Rustic environment coupled with the convenience of location. Both 7-Elevens are less than 5 min walk away, and to the activities on the main road. Friendly and helpful staff. 300 baht.
- Baan Pai Village (Off the bus station road down a small road opposite Les Artistes bar/restaurant). A friendly Thai family offering luxury bamboo bungalows with hot water private bathrooms, mosquito nets and small terrace. Central relaxing location with lovely surroundings and a popular restaurant. 720-1,100 baht.
- Darling View Point Resort (Across the river on the hillside, 400 m to town.), ☎ . Gorgeous views over Pai, river and mountains with restaurant, swimming pool, pool table, campfire, sunset in the hammocks, hot shower, free Wi-Fi/computer, towels, bed linen. Free pickup. Dorm, 150 baht; room, 400 baht; bungalow, 400 baht; camping, 100 baht.
- Eden Guest House (About 1 km down the road heading towards the hot springs and just past). Rooms are a clean, bungalow-style with private bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and hot showers. Beds can be a little hard but just ask for another mattress or quilt. The owner is friendly, offering discounts for people staying long-term and rides into town on the back of her motorbike if you are staying there alone. The garden is well-maintained and beautiful with a relaxing common area. A good place for those wanting privacy and solitude. 200 baht in the off-season.
- Ever Green Guest House, 220 Moo 4 Wanchalerm Rd (5 min walk from bus station), ☎ . Wooden Thai-style housing in central Pai. Reasonably priced rooms with hot shower and fan. Free Wi-Fi. 150 baht single, 200 baht double.
- Happy House Guest House (On the small soi opposite the gas station and 7-Eleven). Large clean rooms. Free pool table. Free Wi-Fi. Stove and dishes for cooking your own food. There is a bar down stairs with a sociable atmosphere. 250 baht, 500 baht in the busy season. Dorm beds for 150 baht.
- Mountain View Guest House (A little way out of town at the top of the hill, opposite Bebop), ☎ . An unpretentious, peaceful guest house with gorgeous views overlooking Pai. Video room, bar and free entrance to Fluid Swimming Pool & Gym. Bungalows with Western bathrooms and hot shower. Free Wi-Fi. Camping available. 150+ baht.
- Noon House (Turn right from the bus terminal, then turn immediately right again. It is some 30 m along on your right (look for the sign)), ☎ . Quiet. Rooms have TV with plenty of channels. They rent a motorbike for 120 baht per day. The street in which the guest house sits has any number of restaurants in the opposite direction to which you came in, and there is a 7-Eleven nearby. Double/twin 400 baht fan and 500 baht air-con.
- Pai My Home (1 km from the centre at Ban Mae Yen, near the Wat Phra That), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Gay-friendly guest house, cosy, relaxed atmosphere, weekly parties. 150 baht.
- Phi Chi (East past the main traffic light, past Burger House on the right). "Phi Ch(a)i" is Thai for "older brother". Quiet, clean, hot water showers, Western toilets, some rooms have TV, and is close to everything. 300 baht.
- Spicy Pai Hostel (10 min walk from town), ☎ . Call for pickup or ask at aYa mini-bus centre when you arrive. Note, is likely to be full in peak season. Dorm room, 150 baht.
- Tacomepai (6 km from town on the Chiang Mai Rd), ☎ . Simple bamboo bungalows in an organic forest. Knowledgeable owner will teach you about sustainable living and farming at daily classes. You will be invited to participate in farm life and to cook in the communal kitchen. Food picked from the farm costs 15 baht/meal. Free pickup at bus station. Free Wi-Fi. 100 baht.
- Thale Mhog Guest House, ☎ . Cosy accommodations. Bungalows: 250 baht.
- Amy's Earth House, 99 Moo 5, Mae Kong (4 km north of Pai (turn right at the airport)), ☎ . Seven eco-friendly adobe houses and 3 dormitory rooms set in beautiful gardens with a wonderful view over the valley and mountains. Fan-cooled rooms (air-con unnecessary due to the natural building style), TV and Wi-Fi in all rooms. Laundry service and very clean rooms. Pool table. Restaurant with Thai and European food. The owners speak English, German, and Thai. Free shuttle service (the bus station will call for you). 500-950 baht.
- Baan Nern Khao View Pai Resort, 183 Baan Mae Yen, Moo 1, Mae Hee, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Twelve cottages and bungalows with contemporary furniture. Double fan-cooled rooms, double and triple air-con rooms with hot showers and cable TV in all. Overlooking the valley and mountains. The owners are English speakers.
- Charn Resort, 103 Moo 8, Wiang Tai (1 km from the centre of Pai. The bus passes Charn Resort when driving into Pai), ☎ . , There are fan-cooled and air-con rooms including TV, hot showers, and free Wi-Fi.
- Pai Laguna (to the west of the city about a 10-15 minute walk from the centre), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Excellent individual bungalows for two people with a separate bathroom and a balcony overlooking the lagoon and with exquisite mountain views. You will also find discount vouchers for Pai Laguna if you eat at Charlie & Lek's Restaurant. 500-900 baht.
- Rim Pai Cottages, 99/1 Moo 3, ☎ , fax: +66 22 119656. One of the more up-market options in Pai. Offers several kinds of wooden cottages. Breakfast served on a nice open terrace overlooking the Pai River. 700+ baht including breakfast.
- Violin House and Garden (North of Pai just up the hill from the crossroad at Mae Khong), ☎ . , Violin is the name of the daughter of Kim, the owner. Kim's English is a bit limited, but she is a meticulous innkeeper and lovingly cares for a collection of charming and very tidy bungalows. It's a few kilometres from town, past the airport, but the setting is serene and the sunset views to the mountains are sublime. Wi-Fi and air-con included. Low-season, 490-1,390 baht; high-season, 600-2,000 baht.
- Baan Nong Tao, 136 Moo 6 Ban Huaypoo, Viengtai, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Cosy and comfortable houses with a eye-catching mountain view and warm atmosphere. Tent rental and rafting along the Pai River is also available. 1,200 baht (Oct-Jan) with breakfast/500 baht (Feb-Sep) without breakfast.
- Baan Suan Rim Pai, 108 Moo 3, Viengtai. Air-con bungalow in Pai town. 1,600-2,800 baht.
- Baantawan Pai, 117 Moo 4 Viengtai (By the river), ☎ . Peaceful location close to town and tourist attractions. Bungalows and rooms (fan or air conditioned). Wi-Fi. Offers guided motorbike tours. 400-2,500 baht.
- Butterfly Homes, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A teak private 3-villa connected compound and 3 mud houses for daily or weekly rental. Right in town just up the road from Pai Hospital and walking distance to the evening walking street. All made of teak with 2 of the villas serving as bedrooms with king-size beds and the large villa is the living and lounge area. Bathrooms in all villas have outdoor showers in both bedrooms. Staff on-site to provide daily cleaning. Hin, Din, & Sai are 3 mini-mud villas in a creative cob-style built from the soil, sand, and stones of the local area. Resort in same compound serves and delivers authentic delicious Thai food. A fantastic option for anyone interested in chilling with privacy yet right in town. 1,800-8,000 baht.
- Hotel des Artists, 99 Moo 3, Viengtai (At the end of walking street near the river and the bamboo bridge), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 3,500 baht; river view, 4,000 baht high-season.
- Pai RiverCorner Resort and Restaurant, 94 Moo 3, Viengtai (At the town end of the bamboo bridge), ☎ , fax: +66 53 064408, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Close to everything, on the river, with 8 rooms in a garden setting. Has on-site sports bar, Red Chang Bar. 1,800-6,900 baht.
- The Quarter Hotel, 245 Moo 1 Chaisongkram Rd, Viengtai, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 3,500-12,000 baht.
- Wang Chang Puek Resort. 18 rooms, fan and air-con bungalows in Pai town, 50 m from the Pai River. 1,800-2,800 baht.
Pai has several Internet cafés, most on Ratchadamnoen Rd and Rangthiyanon Rd. They are a uniform 30 baht/hour for ADSL. There are some places with free Internet for customers of food and drink. There is also one place that accepts donations for use of a wireless connection.