Pai is a wonderful laid back backpackers town located in the mountains of Northwest Thailand. It’s reputation may have changed from a hippy haven to that of a general backpacker town, but it still retains that relaxed atmosphere. Its this that attracts so many people to the town and makes them fall in love with it. And being nestled in the mountains certainly helps with the views! They really are beautiful.
One of the great things about visiting Pai is that it’s near to so many cool natural attractions. You can find hot springs, waterfalls and caves all nearby. Its a great place to base yourself to explore some of North West Thailand’s nature spots.
You don’t need to leave the town to find things to do though. Simply taking it easy in the town can be a great experience. Its a good place to recharge your batteries and take a break. Particularly from the fast pace that travel can often throw at you. In addition it’s a good spot to meet other backpackers too, its a very social place.
In the interest of balance, I would say Pai is not without it’s criticism. The town is very much catered towards backpackers and holidaymakers. You won’t see much local culture here, don’t expect the temples and local life which you see elsewhere in Thailand. It’s reflected in the food too. The street food in particular is very westernised. Some backpackers can get carried away too, drinking too much and overdoing it. The best thing of course is to ignore them and focus on what you enjoy.
Its important when you visit to realise that Pai is a tourist town. Don’t come expecting traditional Thai experiences as you won’t find them. Understand that its somewhere to explore nature, relax and socialise. But cultural it is not. For example, I’ve neglected to list the ‘Chinese village’ on my recommend things to do below. Its something you will probably see advertised when your in Pai. My understanding is that its a very contrived experience, so personally I don’t really see the point. There are plenty of other places in Southeast Asia to see real Chinese culture, therefore i’d say skip it and go see those instead.
You can reach Pai by road from Chiang Mai, there are many minivans that make the 4 hour journey. The road is famous for it’s 762 curves, suffice to say the trip there is an experience in itself!
Pai itself is a small town, easily covered by foot. For getting further out, many people choose to get around by motorbike. Personally although I can’t drive one I did take up people’s kind offers of a lift when available. Take note though that Pai is notorious for backpackers with crash injuries. I therefore urge you be very careful when riding. Don’t take any risks!
Otherwise you can take all kinds of different tours, I did a couple whilst there, that are reasonably priced and cover a good variety of activities. There are a lot of tour agents on walking street it’s easy to book something there. You can get plenty of ideas of things to do in Pai just by strolling down and looking at what they have to offer.
Where to stay in Pai
In terms of where to stay in Pai there is a multitude of accommodation options. Providing it’s not rainy season you should be fine just turning up and renting one of the many bungalows ‘across the river’ from the walking street area. Hostel wise I would recommend Darling View Point. As it’s name suggests the views are pretty amazing, they have a good chill out area with hammocks where you relax. For a party atmosphere then Pai Circus is a fun place to be. I would advise against staying centrally, it’s where many of the more rowdy types end up and consequently is not as relaxing.
Highlights of Pai and the surrounding area
Packed with people coming and going in the day, the main street in Pai transforms into a street food haven in the evenings. Take a stroll up and down and snack on what appeals to you, chat to fellow travellers and feel relaxed. Most of all soak up the atmosphere. Just remember this is a backpacking town, therefore it’s not somewhere to observe local Thai culture. You are better off doing that in Chiang Mai.
The fantastic Pai Canyon is found 8km outside of town and is well worth the trip. It has some beautiful views and is a surprisingly challenge walk around. You’ll need to scramble up, down and over rocks if you decide to go for it – flip-flops ain’t gonna cut it here.
There isn’t much shade so either head here early morning or late evening when you can watch the sunset. Its a great place for the latter, so i’d recommend heading out later afternoon.
The White Buddha
A popular spot to watch the sun go down beneath the mountains. This Buddha statue is located on a hill near Pai town and can be reached easily by foot. Wat Phra That Mae Yen is it’s official name.
There are a few around Pai that can be reached by motorbike or on tours. Both shown below and within a short distance from Pai, by motorbike or tour. They are great for relaxing for an afternoon.
There are a couple of Hot Springs near Pai worth visiting, and as with the waterfalls both can be done by motorbike or on a tour.
Tha Pai Hot Springs are the more expensive option, featuring levels of pools where you can bathe (not in the top ones though!). It’s over a large area and there are changing facilities and toilets.
And yes I have seen someone boiling an egg there.
The ‘secret’ natural hot springs are much cheaper entry and have a more natural feeling to them. This is essentially just one giant pool. There aren’t any facilities here, having a much more ‘wild’ approach.
The more ‘trendy’ option is to just visit the secret springs, and you’ll no doubt hear the usual suspects lecturing that you should only go there. But honestly each springs is cool in its own way, so if you can I recommend doing both.
This pool is a nice place just to chill, out for the afternoon. It’s fairly central and entrance is pretty cheap. You can swim in the decent sized pool or relax on mats on the grass, and there are beverages (both alcoholic and non) for sale should you fancy a drink. Find it on the east side of town, across the bridge and about 5-10 minutes walk further along.
There are many bars in Pai that are great just for relaxing in for a few hours. In town Almost Famous and Yellow Sun are two of my favourites. The former for it’s more intimate feel and the latter for its decorations and live music. Both of these are to be found on the ‘bar street’. It runs off the river facing end of the walking street. Don’t Cry (Reggae Bar) and Sunset are ‘out of town’ slightly and where many people head when the bars in town shut. Both are great for their design. The former for its open air approach with a fire pit in the centre, the latter for it’s spread out but still cozy and relaxed feel.
This huge cave has 3 sections that you will be guided through by a local guide with a lantern. This includes a bamboo boat ride through one section. As well as the caves natural features and it’s bat inhabitants, you can see evidence of prehistoric inhabitants including (very faded) cave art and burial coffins. Go for sunset so you can see the spectacular sight of thousands of sparrows crowding one of the caves exits.
Personally I’d say this is one of the real highlights on this list of things to do in Pai. Going through the cave is fun but also thought provoking. I found it really interesting to see the creatures living in the cave and think about prehistoric humans doing so too. Its a world away from the bars and western food of Pai town too.
Pang Mapha Viewpoint
This place is usually visited as part of a tour to Lod Cave. You can see over the jungle and mountains for a good distance, and they are very impressive. Not only is there a great viewpoint but also a giant swing to play on!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post about things to do in Pai! For me it is one of the most relaxing places in Southeast Asia. I enjoyed meeting other backpackers here too and exploring all the natural beauty spots outside the town.
If you are exploring the north of Thailand then check out my guide to Chiang Mai. You can also have a read about what I got up to in Chiang Rai. Also feel free to connect with me on social media! Find me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook!