Just under three hours north of Chiang Mai is the quaint town of Pai which sits in the Mae Hong Son Province of northern Thailand. An even more relaxed version of Chiang Mai and nestled in the mountains nearby to the Myanmar border and on the banks of the Pai River, this lovely village has gained a reputation amongst travellers as the laid back holistic health capital of this region, packed with organic fooderies, vegan and vegetarian cafes, yoga retreats and healing arts centres.
Once a hippy and backpacker hotspot, now the small town has transformed into more of an upmarket bohemian melting pot full of western and Chinese tourists as one the most popular places to visit in northern Thailand. What made this place famous is its rolling valleys and mountains, swimming in secluded cool waterfalls, rivers and majestic caves, therapeutic natural hot springs, stunning vistas, and a quiet ambience to have a break from the busy touristic spots throughout the rest of the country. But if you are looking to capture the peaceful atmosphere of what once was, then stay just outside the town to soak in the beautiful Thai countryside.
There’s not much do in the township other than relaxing in an artsy cafe but stepping out of the main area, there’s a number of different things to do in Pai.
A visit to Pai canyon is a must at sunset, offering a tranquil end to a day exploring the town followed by a dip in the nearby Pai Hot Springs. People flock to the canyon towards the end of the day so it may be quite busy.
Just two kilometres from Pai is Wat Phra That Mae Yen temple set on top of a hill where you will capture fantastic panoramic views of the lush green countryside of Pai.
Located 9 kilometres from Pai township is the Pai Memorial Bridge. It is a World War II remnant similar to the structure of the famous bridge over the River Kwai further south in the Kanchanaburi province. The Japanese army forced local villagers to build the bridge over the Pai river as a strategic entry point to cross over into Burma for the purpose of invasion. Santichon Yunnanese Village and Muang Paeng hot springs are also lovely to visit to take in the scenery.
Tham Lod Cave is considered to be one of the most spectacular natural wonders to visit when in the region dating back to the Stone Age. It is an ancient natural limestone cave system, measuring 1.666 metres in length with a central freshwater stream, giant formations along with stalagmites and stalactites. You will need to take a guide and lanterns to navigate this exceptional phenomenon. It is situated about 50 km from Pai heading towards the Myanmar border but well worth the trip.
For those looking for a slower pace of life in the Thai countryside, but with the convenience of what a tourist needs to be comfortable, then Pai is worth visiting. The lush green surroundings featuring rolling hills, mountains and waterfalls are sensational and nature lovers will be in their own type of utopia.
Chiang Mai to Pai is about three hours by road.
The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1438) was the capital of the kingdom of ancient Siam. Sukhothai means ‘the dawn or raising of happiness’.
Compared to tourist destinations towards the southern part of Thailand, Pai is reasonably cheaper for accommodation, food and drinks, transport and daily living. Although prices have increased with its growing popularity as a tourist magnet.
It’s possible to take a day trip to Pai from Chiang Mai but it’s worthwhile staying for a few days to relax and unwind in the beautiful northern Thai countryside and absorb the slower pace of life here.
Pai town is very walkable. Tuk-tuks and taxis aren’t common in Pai so Pai town is very walkable. Tuk-tuks and taxis aren’t common in Pai so if you want to go exploring it is best to rent a motorbike. If you don’t drive a scooter, then your best bet is to stay in the centre of town so everything is within convenient reach. There are local pick up trucks for public transportation that will be able to take you to some locations just outside of town.
You have to fly to Mae Hong Son airport then take either a bus or private taxi to Pai. The road distance is almost 108km and will take up to two hours by car or 2 hours 15 mins by bus.
Being a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai, it’s not recommended as a day trip. It is better to spend at least one night in Pai to take in the sights.
Things to do in Pai at night include the Pai Walking street which really comes alive as the sun goes down and is the place to come to haggle and shop, grab some cheap local food and people watch. There’s also plenty of live music venues and bars playing an assortment of acoustics, hip hop, reggae, punk and everything in between. Years ago there was very little in terms of nightlife in Pai, but since tourism has grown, many visitors say that the nightlife here outshines Chiang Mai nowadays.
Pai is approximately 661 km from Bangkok and by road is 814.2 km.
The distance between Pai and Bangkok is 661 km. From Bangkok by train and taxi which takes just over 13 hours. By bus it takes 9.5 hours to reach Chiang Mai, then onwards to Pai is a further three hours. A flight from Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 1 hour 10 minutes, then from Chiang Mai airport, you will need to need to make your way to Terminal 2 to catch a three-hour bus onward to Pai or take a private transfer with a taxi for a higher cost.
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