From the famous canyon to the funky cafes, here is our list of 10 of the absolute best things to do in Pai, Thailand.
Arguably one of the best places in Northern Thailand, the hippy enclave of Pai has been drawing backpackers and alternative types for years.
Located 135km from the city of Chiang Mai, at the end of a twisting road with 762 curves, this gorgeous and quaint little village is the kind of place you show up for a day and stay for, well forever.
While it is well and truly located on the beaten path now, that doesn’t mean that you should skip this incredible place that has a reputation for being like a “Thai island in the mountains”.
The Best Things to Do in Pai, Thailand
We have spent over a month in Pai, spread out over a couple of years.
When we first checked it out it was when we were riding the Mae Hong Son Loop, one of the best motorbike circuits in Southeast Asia.
We kept coming back again and again, and recently spent another week chilling in our favourite place in Thailand.
There are dozens of incredible activities in Pai, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to these ultimate activities.
From what to do, where to go and even where to stay, here’s our list of the absolute best things to do in Pai, Thailand.
Pai’s Walking Street
Every night the main street of Pai fills up with food vendors and market stalls selling everything from your quintessential hippie clothing and jewellery, to personalised post cards.
Even if you’re not into shopping though, you still need to spend just about every night making the most of Pai’s Walking Street, especially if you’re hungry.
The selection of culinary delights is quite varied; sushi, Indian food, barbecued meats, fresh fruit smoothies and deep fried everything. You certainly won’t go hungry!
Everyone ends up at the street market most nights so the people watching is great. Just watch out for first-time scooter riders who have no concept of how to drive. Entertaining, but dangerous!
Hot tip – Crashing a scooter is not one of our recommended things to do in Pai!
There are tonnes of waterfalls in Pai, but two of our favourites are the beautiful Pombok and Mo Paeng Falls.
At Mo Paeng Waterfalls there are great little pools with long, slippery rock faces running into them that you can slide down. The scenery is gorgeous and it makes for a fun place to spend a few hours.
Pombok Waterfall is a little more secluded, and the pool tends to be in the shade most of the time due to the high cliffs around it.
There are also a couple of ledges you can climb to jump off. Be sure to check the water depth before taking the leap!
Our recommendation for what to do in Pai is to rent a scooter from town and spend the exploring these epic little spots on your own.
The Land Crack (Land Split)
Situated on the road to the Pombok falls is this great little place that is definitely worth a stop over.
A small property hidden in the hills had always been a working farm, until a strange natural phenomenon changed everything.
Several years ago, the farmer’s land began to split and crack due to some strange soil erosion. His property became unusable as the land turned into a scene you would see after an earthquake.
The thrifty farmer then decided to turn his property into a bit of a tourist attraction where he now offers you nuts, fruit, sweet potato, fresh rosella juice and alcohol – all by donation!
Once you’ve filled up on food (he constantly brings you more to eat), you can walk up the hill to have a look at the split in the Earth.
The family is very friendly and are just happy to have people stopping by. Definitely one of the most unique things to do in Pai.
Visit The White Buddha On Top Of The Hill (Wat Phra That Mae Yen)
You can see it from most places in town, and the White Buddha high on the hill isn’t only a religious shrine, it also offers some of the best views over Pai!
Once you cross the bridge heading out of town keep following the road until you are about 2km out of town, and you’ll see the path to the top.
There’s 353 steps to reach the White Buddha, and while it might be tiring, the vistas from the top are always worth it.
Time your trip to be at the top for sunset and you’ll quickly fall in love with the entire valley changing colours right before your eyes.
Make sure you take water with you, and even though the temperature can be hot keep in mind that you still need to show respect to Buddha by covering up.
Pai Circus School
In a bohemian community, everyone seems to practice different forms of entertainment such as fire dancing, juggling and slacklining. Here in Pai, there is a school you can attend to learn all these skills yourselves!
The cost is 600 baht as a one-off membership fee and then you are free to join in on the lessons from experienced teachers in all the finer points of poi, staff, juggling, diablo and anything else you might be interested in.
It is located in a beautiful elevated setting with views over the valleys and excellent gazebos you can relax in if you don’t feel like partaking in the activities.
Over the years they have worked hard to upgrade the facilities on the site, and it’s much nicer today than it used to e.
The Circus School also has some accommodation on the site, and if you stay there you can make the most of all the classes as well.
Book your stay on Hostelworld.
When you find yourself wanting a relaxing soak, head to the Tha Pai Hot Springs. Only 7km from town, a cold-water stream flows over boiling-hot rocks to create a soothing, heated pool surrounded by lush scenery.
A perfect way to kill a few hours in the winter months when temperatures in Pai can plummet.
You’ll find lots of other backpackers there hanging out and having a good time, so there’s a good chance you’ll make some friends there too.
This is one place we didn’t visit due to the fact we were there in summer and the weather was already roasting. But if you are there in the cooler months, don’t miss it!
Check Out The Caves
Not exactly located in Pai, but instead in a town 35km headed towards Mae Hong Son, there is a spectacular limestone system known as Lod (Spirit) Caves.
A river flows through the caves and you can hire a guide to float through them on a bamboo raft.
At certain points you can climb up stairs and ladders to explore the stalactites and stalagmites up close as well as the numerous ancient ceramics and wall paintings that are scattered throughout the complex.
Definitely worth the drive/ride out there .
Spend Time In The Unique Cafes
One thing that Pai does not lack is amazing cafes serving up delicious coffee and food. Most of them have interesting decors and amazing ambiance, and are a great way to while away the day.
You could easily spend a week here and not visit the same place twice! Dedicate some time to exploring all the cafes, both in town and on the outskirts.
Our personal favourite is Container Cafe just outside of Pai. It has cool chairs, delicious coffee and snacks and awesome views over the farmland below.
Explore Pai Canyon
Known as Thailand’s answer to the Grand Canyon (a very ambitious claim), Pai Canyon covers a large area that offers some brilliant views and fun hikes.
If you are feeling very active you can scramble all the way down and spend hours climbing and getting lost in the nature.
It’s a bit of an adventurer’s playground too, because some of the paths are quite skinny and sketchy, so make sure you wear good shoes if you are planning on exploring the place properly.
A favourite pastime is enjoying the sunset with a beer in hand, watching the sky change to an astonishing array of colours.
You won’t be alone for sunset, but that just adds to the awesome atmosphere!
Get there by riding your scooter out of town back towards Chiang Mai.
Chill In A Hammock
When you spend your days actively exploring everything Pai has to offer, it is only normal to need a break. Luckily Pai is one of the most relaxed places you are ever likely to visit.
Watch the hours fade as you laze about in a hammock, reading a book or watching the world pass you by.
Many accommodation options have great views over the valley or by the river. Be sure to choose one of these and enjoy the vistas! Definitely one of the best things to do in Pai!
Disclaimer – In previous versions of this article we listed visiting Thom’s Elephant Camp as one of the best things to do in Pai. While we always discouraged anyone from riding an elephant, we used to give everyone a chance to make their own decisions. Since then we have received reports that Thom’s is not as wholesome as it used to be, and as such we have removed it from our list and want to warn others not to visit Thom’s Elephant Camp.
How to Get to Pai
There’s a number of different ways to get to Pai, and it depends on your budget, style and where you’re coming from.
Most people travel to Pai from Chiang Mai, and often return the same way. There are three options to get to Pai from Chiang Mai.
If money isn’t an option, and time is, you can take a flight from Chiang Mai to Pai. It’s definitely not the cheapest option, but you’ll be there in no time.
The most common way for people to get to Pai is to take a shuttle bus from Chiang Mai, and while these are fairly cheap and quick, they are also a bit crazy.
The road from Chiang Mai to Pai has 762 curves on it, and zipping around those bends in a cramped shuttle bus can make everyone onboard nauseous. Make sure you pick up some motion sickness tablets from a pharmacy in Chiang Mai first.
You can book your transport to Pai from any hostel or agency in Chiang Mai.
Ride A Scooter
This is the best and most enjoyable way to travel to Pai, as you’ll get the chance to really soak up the epic scenery along the route.
The fresh air in your face is a wonderful thing, and the road has been recently paved to be near perfect the entire way.
Leaving Chiang Mai is a bit of a hectic endeavour, but once you get into the mountains it’s all fun and speed the whole way to Pai!
Please be very careful though on this ride, as we have met dozens of backpackers who have crashed on this road, and in every instance it was because they either got too cocky with their skills, or were inexperienced and had no idea how to ride.
This is our personal favourite way to get to Pai, and you can organise rentals from somewhere like Mr Mechanic or Aya in Chiang Mai (Aya offers one-way scooter rental too).
If you’re going to ride a scooter to Pai, make sure you have travel insurance.
Accommodation – Where To Stay In Pai, Thailand
Pai has got a great selection of places to crash, from luxury resorts to mid-range boutique hotels to dingy backpacker dives, and everything in between. There will certainly be somewhere to fit your budget!
The first time we visited Pai we stayed at two different places – Spicy Pai and Family Huts – and while they were good back then, the accommodation options have really improved in recent years!
Now you can stay somewhere quite nice on a budget, or really splash out and stay in some of the most incredible accommodation in the country.
Pai has also become a bit of a digital nomad hotspot, meaning if you are interested in long-term accommodation or private apartments and cabins there are quite a few options as well.
To find these check out AirBnB (and use this link to receive $35 off of your first stay).
As an even bigger bonus, we’ve partnered with the booking agent agoda to give all of our readers 10% off of their accommodation around the world! Use the coupon: AGODANMD10 to get your discount.
The Best Hostel In Pai – DeeJai Pai Backpackers
The legends at DeeJai Pai Backpackers have been working hard to turn their humble abode into the best backpacker accommodation in Pai, and they’ve finally done it!
The dorm rooms are incredibly clean and spacious, and the common area is something to die for – gorgeous views over the rice paddies with some of the best sunset spots in Pai.
It’s a great place to stay if you are on a a backpacker budget.
Best Budget Accommodation For Couples – Pai Country Hut
At the end of the Walking Street and over the bamboo bridge is a collection of awesome accommodations.
When you get over the bridge on your right is Family Huts, where we first stayed when we came to Pai, but the last time we were there we decided to try the place on the left, and wow what a spot!
Pai Country Hut is run by an amazingly friendly lady and has an epic location right on the river. The bungalows have private bathrooms, comfy beds and hammocks on the balconies, making them a great spot to rest at the end of a big day exploring.
They also have working wifi.
Grab some beers and chill out by the river in peace and quiet, and don’t be surprised if you end up extending your stay there for longer than expected (we did!).
Best Mid-Range Hotel – Phu Pai Art Hotel
If you want a beautiful accommodation, but would rather sleep in more of a traditional hotel room instead of a bamboo bungalow, Phu Pai Art Hotel is the place to be.
It has stunning rooms with all the creature comforts you’d expect, including wifi in the rooms and a TV, and the property is absolutely gorgeous.
There’s a large pool for those that like to chill out on those hot Pai days, and the restaurant serves excellent food.
It’s a bit outside of town too, meaning it’s very quiet and secluded.
Best Restaurants In Pai
Pai has come a long way from its old hippie backpacker days, and now there are a number of awesome and high quality restaurants in town. In fact when trying to think about what to do in Pai, eating is right up there on the list now!
If you are after a world class burger head to Burger Queen (make sure you haven’t eaten for a while as they are huge).
Pen’s Kitchen makes some of the best Thai food in Pai, and it is all at a very reasonable price, so make sure you eat there as well.
Big’s Little Cafe on the Walking Street does really good western style dishes like paninis and bacon and egg rolls – perfect when you want a taste of home.
Splash out on some Mexican at Cafecito if you want something different too.