Once you are in Chiang Mai you will definitely hear a lot of rave reviews about Pai, a small town in the mountains near the Burmese border. The same happened to us. Everybody we met asked us: “Have you been to Pai already? No? You should go! It’s amazing!”. So we decided to arrange our getaway from Chiang Mai for St. Valentine’s Day, for 3 days and we had a delightful stay there.
How to Get to Pai
I read a lot about what a hassle it is to get to Pai. Some people said crazy things about buses and the road and it made us worry about it a bit. But actually everything is very simple! If you are going to use public transport I would recommend to use the mini-bus. It’s air-conditioned and comfortable. We went to the Arcade Bus Station 3 days before departure (to be sure that we get the places which we need, we wanted seats in the front) and bought tickets. One way tickets cost us 150 baht ($5) per person. Mini-buses to Pai depart every hour from Chiang Mai daily. So you can actually buy the ticket one hour before departure, if there are free places of course.
Pai is located 132 km away from Chiang Mai. The trip by mini-bus takes 3 hours. You will have one stop to walk a bit, rest, go to the toilet or buy something at the market and eat quickly. The road to Pai is very beautiful, and the nature is fantastic! However for people who suffer from motion sickness this trip can be hell, as the road is winding, steep, curve after curve and they are really sharp. If you are lucky and the bus driver won’t drive fast, it’s quite ok (as we had on the way back to Chiang Mai), but if it will be like the one we had on the way to Pai, probably you should be prepare to puke, as I did. Worry not, they have a lot of plastic bags, prepared for such cases!
We had some regrets about not doing the trip to Pai by motorbike. Locals warned us that the road is very difficult and if you don’t know it, it can be very dangerous, but I think we would have enjoyed it much more and I wouldn’t have had problems with my motion sickness. You really don’t feel those curves that much when you are on the motorbike. So if you go by scooter or by car to Pai for the first time, just drive very slowly and cautiously and you will be fine.
Where to Stay in Pai
There are so many hotels and guest houses in Pai, geared for any budget, so don’t even worry about it. Do try to make a reservation in advance if you are going to stay in some particular place during the high season. After some research I found Pai My Guest Resort and we didn’t regret our choice at all! We had a very cozy, clean, spacious, well-designed bungalow facing the mountain and a natural stream, surrounded by palms. Instead of breakfast at the resort we were given coupons for breakfast at a very nice coffee shop called “All about Coffee”, with delicious coffee and yummy omelettes! The price of this bungalow was really cheap! The whole place is just amazing!
How to Get Around Pai
In our opinion the best way to explore Pai is by motorbike. There are 2 main services for motorbike rental in Pai: Aya Service and Duan-Den. Aya Service has more bikes than Duan-Den, but their bike are older. Duan-Den offers much newer bikes for the same price – 140 baht ($4.7) per day (helmet included).
When we arrived to Pai we found this small town packed with tourists and realised that it would be a problem to get the motorbike, as all services around Pai were out of scooters and it was a pain as we couldn’t move around. We could rent a bicycle (50-70 baht per day), but it’s quite difficult, I would say impossible, to find a decent bicycle in Pai for rent, they all have breakage issues. So we ended up walking around the town and we were really desperate. Thing is, there is not really much to do in Pai itself, only eating at some nice place or relaxing at your hotel/guest house. In itself that can be a great way to spend your day, but we came to Pai to explore, so we were very disappointed.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I would suggest you go to these services (they are located next to each other) early in the morning at 7:00-8:00 am and just wait, as we did. We came to Duan-Den a bit late though, at 9:00, got the answer “No motorbike”, but found a queue of 4 people waiting for somebody to return their moped, so we joined them. In 40 minutes we got our scooter, very similar to the one we have in Chiang Mai.
What to See and to Do in Pai
We had a list of places to visit and things to do, but realised that it would be too much for three days. So we chose a few, the most interesting according to reviews and photos and went off.
Pai Canyon is located 8km from Pai. It’s a very beautiful place with red sandy ridges and steep valleys at the sides. Forests line all the sides of the canyon. You will find a wonderful view over the mountains and surrounding countryside.
Pam Bok Waterfall is close to Pai Canyon. It’s quite a high waterfall surrounded by cliffs. There are many people who swim in its waters, but we didn’t swim. The water is a bit muddy. We just took photos and went back. Quite an average place but still worth visiting.
Chinese Village. It’s a “must visit” place for all tourists in all travel agencies, so we went to take a look. We arrived at a very small, artificial village with chinese style houses, mainly used as a restaurant. There is a small pond and a windmill-swing. Nothing else to see. It was ok for us, because we just passed by on the way from the “Scenic Viewpoint”. To get this place simply follow the arrows on the road. You will find a big space with red sand surrounded by mountains and forests. It’s a lovely and peaceful place, and an excellent stop on the morning motorbike ride. We paid 20 baht for a ticket to enter the territory of the viewpoint. If the weather is right you may find a stunning view over Pai.
We visited some other places and waterfalls, but unfortunately I don’t remember their names, as our aim was not really to visit some particular places, but more to enjoy the scooter ride, explore the countryside and observe the amazing nature.
We were amazed with Pai. It can seem overcrowded and full of hippies from the first glance, but it is a wonderful place which is well worth a visit! Once you are there, don’t miss out on trying the “Witching Well” – the restaurant owned by a very friendly Italian. Delicious food, fantastic desserts, pleasant atmosphere, always packed! Right next to it you will find “Boomelicious cafe”, try it out as well! Yummy shakes and great food! Almost in front of the “Witching Well” there is “The Steak House” – live music every evening, quite good food but not as amazing as the two other places I mentioned before.
If you are still undecided about visiting Pai, ponder no more! Book your accommodation, buy the ticket and get yourself there as soon as possible!
Have you been to Pai? What is your favourite place in Pai? Do you have any tips for travellers who head to Pai? Please share your opinion with us!