Pai, a small bohemian town located in Northern Thailand is a place you may or may not have heard of but I assure you if you go you’ll never forget. I had read about Pai when researching cities in Thailand. Knowing I would be visiting Chiang Mai, I wanted to check out what other nearby cities I could explore. I chose to stay one night and I’m so glad I did but my 24 hours were not enough.
Here is a list of the 9 best things to do in Pai…
Rent a Motorbike
While Pai may be a small town most of the outdoor activities are outside the city and best reached by a motorbike. Riding a motorbike is also the most affordable way to get around. For less than 200 baht you can rent a motorbike for 24 hours. Basic motorbikes start at 100 baht. Aya Service was the company I used and I opted for the insurance. It was an extra 40 baht and worth the peace of mind.
If riding a motorbike isn’t your thing tour companies offer packages that take you to some of the amazing spots Pai has to offer.
It’s important to note that your safety and the safety of those around you is important. If you don’t know how to ride a motorbike there are rental places that offer lessons. If you aren’t confident in your skills please don’t ride.
Pambok Waterfall was my first stop in Pai after renting my motorbike. It’s about a 35 minute ride from the main walking street. You’ll drive for about 15 minutes south before making a right on to the street with the Pambok Waterfall sign. Then you’ll be on a smaller, slightly windy road. It will feel like you’re going forever but you’ll finally know you’ve reach the waterfall once you see the motorbike parking area and Pambok Waterfall sign. It’s a short 2-3 minute hike into the waterfall.
I met my hostel mate from Chiang Mai and her friend here and we stayed for about an hour or so. We jumped from the rocks into the water right by the waterfall. It was a short distance up but it felt much higher once I was there standing. I knew I had to jump quickly otherwise I would think about it too long and back out. I jumped in and I’m so glad I did. It was a fun adrenaline rush. Thanks to my new friend for encouraging me to do the jump and being the one to go first.
There are other waterfalls in Pai so if you’re a waterfall chaser you may want to check out Mae Yen which is a 7 km hike (just over 4 miles) to get to. The Mor Paeng waterfall is another waterfall option and is a short ride from Santichon Chinese Village.
Scenic Ride Through Pai’s Countryside
After the waterfall we took a scenic ride around the area. Pai’s countryside is full of lush mountains and is the perfect ride for any nature lover. We stopped at a lookout area and wondered in a bit to snap some photos.
The ride was absolutely beautiful and we had the rode practically to ourselves. These are small backroads so we didn’t see any cars on the rode, just a couple motorbikes.
We wanted to reach the Buddah before sunset but hadn’t had lunch so we ate at a small stand off that small windy road near the “Land Split”. My chicken pad thai was 50 baht.
Sunset at the Temple on the Hill
We were told that Wat Pra Tat Mae Yen also known as the Temple on the Hill, was the perfect spot to watch the sunset so we headed there just before the sun was setting.
It’s on a hill, hence the name so be prepared for a trek up to the temple. You won’t be disappointed with the view. For the best view head up to the Buddah. This is where everyone gathers to watch the sunset so grab a seat and watch the blue sky and white clouds turn into a multicolor, rainbow sherbet inspired sky.
Photo with Buddah
Because everyone is watching the sunset in front of Buddah not many are taking photos with Buddah so this was the perfect time to get a photo. We were able to get a shot with Buddah with no one else in our photos.
Dinner and Local Shopping on the Walking Street
There are two walking streets in Pai and they intersect so you can easily visit both. There’s tons of cafes, local boutiques, tour companies, bars, street food, street vendors and more on the Walking Streets. Satisfy your tummy with an array of delicious foods. I ate flavorful chicken shawarma wrap from a local stand. I was not disappointed. Having a sweet tooth I was on the lookout for dessert. I came across a crepe vendor and ate an amazing banana Nutella crepe. Yes, this is the basic banana Nutella crepe that you can get just about anywhere but it was one of those familiar things that felt so good to eat.
Continue the night with local shopping from a variety of street vendors and local boutiques selling handmade jewelry, trinkets, bohemian dresses and more.
There are several bars in Pai filled with a mix of locals, expats and tourists. We stopped by Boom Bar for the live music. There are plenty of bars that feature live music and DJs.
I didn’t stay out too long despite it being my birthday in about an hour. I was feeling tired from an adventurous day that I decided to walk home to get some rest before my 5am wakeup call.
Sunrise in Pai Canyon
The sunrise was at 6:35am so we chose to meet up at my hotel at 5:30am in order to watch the sunrise at Pai Canyon. We had read that it was a great sunrise/sunset spot so we chose to start our morning there.
At 5:25am I walked out to damp and cool weather. I went over to start up by motorbike and it didn’t want to start! My friends met me and I told them about the problem. We were able to flag down a couple of locals who tried to help. After about 8 minutes of no luck another local jumped in and he was able to start it. The locals are extraordinarily nice in Pai. Thailand in general is filled with amazing people. You may have heard that Thailand is the land of smiles and it really is. Never have I met so many nice and humble people. I was very thankful to the locals who helped out. I’m sure at 5:30 in the morning they could be doing more important things like going to their jobs or going home to sleep and they stopped for a total stranger.
Pai Canyon was about a 25 minute drive outside the city center. We ended up driving a small distance passed it and quickly turned around. Once parked it’s a short distance up a flight of stairs. It was starting to get much lighter but we couldn’t see the sun at all because of the thick layer of fog. Although we wanted to see the sunrise we were glad to be at the canyon early enough to beat the crowds. There was only a handful of other people there. We walked around a bit before heading out to Memorial Bridge.
Memorial Bridge is a short distance away from Pai Canyon and only 9 km away from Pai. The original bridge was built during World War II and now the pedestrian-only bridge sits alongside Highway 1095 and above the Pai River. We got here so early that the vendors had just opened up and there were only two other people on the bridge. I took a short walk over to the middle of the bridge where you’re right on top of the river. It was a quiet morning and it felt at peace here.
On your way back into town don’t forget to stop by Coffee In Love for a cup of coffee! Pai is known for great coffee so don’t forget to try some.
How to Get to Pai…
I started my journey to Pai from Chiang Mai. Many either take a 13-hour train ride, 11-hour bus ride or 70 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai then take the bus or shuttle to Pai. There is a small airport in Pai but for around 100-180 baht you can get a one way ticket on a bus or shuttle from Chiang Mai to Pai. I took a shuttle that picked me up at my hostel in Chiang Mai and dropped me off at Aya Service on the main Walking Street in Pai. This cost me 180 baht. Most hotels and hostels can arrange a shuttle service to pick you up. Times will vary depending on the service but I found that they usually run every hour from 8am-1pm. The busses run about every hour starting around 6am to the late afternoon.
I also arranged for a shuttle to take me from Pai back to Chiang Mai. I arranged this at my hotel in Pai. I was planning on riding the train back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai . The shuttle back to Chiang Mai was 150 baht and I was picked up at my hotel in Pai and dropped off at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai.
There are many other things to do in Pai that I couldn’t do since I was only there for a 24-hour period. There’s many temples to visit, hot springs, the Chinese Village, endless cafes and more. I’ll just have to go back and visit again. My next stay will be at least three days and no less. Pai is one of those places that you need to slowly enjoy. Pai, I shall see you again!
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Headed to Chiang Mai? Check out my post, A Traveler’s Guide To Yi Peng “Floating Lantern” Festival and Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand for tips on getting to Chiang Mai and information for the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong Festival.