Things to do in Pai, Thailand
Although Pai is small, there are plenty of things to do in this cute, hippie town (like the remarkable Pai Canyon). To reach the spectacular natural surroundings, we recommend renting a motorcycle. In fact, Pai is one of the easiest places to learn to ride a scooter, as the roads are peaceful and wide. Head to Walking Street (in the center), as many shops offer bike hire, as well as tours and activities.
1. Pai Canyon
Pai Canyon, or Kong Lan, is a spectacular geological feature and one of the top things to do in Pai! Best of all, it’s free; there is no entrance fee, making it an excellent activity for those on a budget.
Rent a scooter and journey for 20 minutes along beautiful country roads before you reach Pai Canyon. Here, you’ll discover its impressive dusty red ridges created by thousands of years of erosion. The ridges have become home to naturally elevated walkways where you can walk beside the treetops.
We recommend visiting at sunset, where you’ll be met by views of the surrounding valley lit up in orange colors. Please note: this is the most popular time to visit, so if you’re feeling adventurous, we recommend exploring the quieter trails nearby.
2. Pai Night Market
Pai Night Market: a bustling hub after dark, where stalls line the atmospheric streets, and live music drifts out the bars. At dusk, Walking Street (which is normally quiet during the day) is transformed into a loud and colorful market lit by traditional lanterns. Browse the many shops where you can buy everything from clothing and souvenirs to handcrafted jewelry and artwork.
The market is also a street food haven! Small stalls prepare freshly made food as you watch on; noodles, spring rolls, sticky mango rice, and smoothies are just the beginning! You can visit the market every night of the week between 5 PM – 10 PM. Tip: Make sure that your food is prepared when you’re there; food poisoning is pretty common in Pai.
3. Bamboo Bridge (Top Thing to do in Pai)
The Bamboo Bridge is an 800-meter bamboo walkway that runs through lush green and yellow rice paddies. This stunning scenery—and the lush forested mountains and bright blue sky—has made it famous throughout Thailand; every traveler wants to experience this perfect slice of nature.
Initially, the bamboo bridge was built for monks to shorten their journey between the temple and the local village. However, these days, the bridge is used by all, making it perfect for a relaxed morning or afternoon wandering.
Grab your camera and stroll along the springy bridge made with overlapping strands of bamboo. Along the way, you’ll find multiple viewpoints, swings, and even a peaceful temple at the end of the route. Make sure to have a quiet moment to yourself to breathe in the mountain air and watch the water buffalo grazing.
Tip: Check out the fantastic Jaey Cafe. This cafe plays relaxing jazz and has hammocks for you to relax in—one of the best things to do in Pai!
4. Big Buddha
The Big Buddha, known by locals as Wat Phra That Mae Yen, is a majestic white statue that can be seen from almost every corner of Pai, Thailand. Nestled high in the green hills, it overlooks the charming village, rice paddies, and surrounding green mountains.
To get to the top, you’ll have to climb up the 353 white steps. However, it’s well worth it once you reach the massive Buddha at the top and take in the spectacular views. From here, you can watch the sun setting behind the mountains—an incredibly peaceful and humbling experience. As it’s such a special place, it holds great spiritual significance, and many locals come here to meditate.
Entry Fee & Opening Times: There is no entrance fee but feel free to leave a small donation. Be wary that this is a spiritual site, so be respectful. For example, wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders, and remember to take off your shoes when you reach the Buddha. Open 6 AM-6 PM every day.
5. Tubing & Rafting in Pai, Thailand
Enjoy one of the most exhilarating things to do in Pai by going rafting or tubing on the river! Not only is this a great way to see Pai’s nature from a different perspective, but it’s a great way to meet new people. Hire a rubber tube from one of the many vendors on Walking Street, and float down the river, taking in the peaceful natural scenery.
Normally, tour providers will drop you a few km upstream from Pai town. From here, it’ll take 1-2 hours to float back down. However, please be aware that tubing is not a suitable activity in the rainy season when the river level is high. During this season, we recommend opting for adrenaline-pumping white water rafting instead. The high water levels during this time provide a great landscape for rapids and fast-paced rafting.
6. Wat Si Don Chai Temple
Wat Si Don Chai is not only one of the most beautiful temples in Pai but the whole country! The ancient temple was the first to be built in Pai and is intricately decorated with gorgeous red and gold detailing.
Take your time to admire the colorful paintings that line the walls, depicting scenes from Pai’s past, and pay your respects to the 700-year-old Buddha statue. The local and fairly unknown temple is a must-see on your trip to Pai (only a 10-minute drive outside of town!).
7. Explore Pai’s Surroundings
Pai is one of the most exquisite and naturally-beautiful parts of Thailand. This makes it the perfect place to take in your surroundings and explore all the remote corners of the landscape.
Hire a Motorcycle
One of the best things to do in Pai is simply to motorcycle around. It’s the perfect way to see local life as you soak up the scenery of buffalos grazing in the luscious rice paddies and families swimming in the river.
To explore the nature around Pai, you’ll want to rent a scooter or book an organized tour. Scooter/motorcycle hire starts at around 150-400 THB (4.30 -11.60 USD) per day, depending on the model you choose. There are several hire companies in town, but please be aware that you’ll need to leave your passport or put down a deposit of 3,000 THB (87 USD).
Join a Local Tour
If you’re not confident on a motorcycle, there are plenty of organized tours you can book on Walking Street that will take you up into the mountains. This is a great option if you want to know more about the area from a knowledgeable local guide.
8. Hot Springs of Pai, Thailand
For a natural outdoor spa experience, head to the two most popular bathing spots around Pai. You can float around for hours in the hot springs, basking under the trees in beautiful warm water that’s rich in minerals. Go earlier in the day when it is less crowded, and cooler temperatures mean you can see the steam rising off the water.
Tha Pai Hot Springs
Tha Pai Hot Springs is the most popular with tourists and is close to the town and Pai Canyon. Take a dip in one of the man-made pools, but remember to check the signs which tell you the temperature! The natural pools can be as hot as 80°C (176°F). Although not as picturesque as other spots, it is still a very relaxing place to hang out with friends and enjoy a picnic.
The springs cost 300 THB (8.65 USD) for entrance and are open 8 AM-6 PM every day.
Sai Ngam Hot Spring
This hot spring is one of the most popular with locals and is one of the top things to do in Pai. The ‘secret spring’ of Pai, hidden in the depths of a national park, has crystal clear warm waters and is surrounded by lush jungle.
Although a bit further out of town (25 minutes drive), a visit to this hot spring can be combined with a day trip to nearby Tham Lod Cave. We recommend visiting this spring as early as possible in the morning to have it all to yourself. This way, you can fully enjoy the tranquility of nature.
9. Tham Lod Cave
The Pai region has hundreds of caves, but Tham Lod is easily the most impressive. Plus, it has a fascinating story; when the cave was excavated in the 1960s, they found artifacts from an ancient tribe dating all the way back to the Stone Age!
This 1.5km cave network is mind-blowing, with three enormous chambers to explore on foot. Climb the bamboo stairs into caves filled with stalactites and the sounds of swooping bats and dripping water. From the second cave, a bamboo raft carries you across pools filled with fish into the final cave. Because the cave is so dark, guides carry gas lamps so as not to disturb wildlife, which makes it very atmospheric.
The Evening Experience
The most spectacular sight happens at dusk. Just before the sun sets, 250,000 birds fly back into the cave, where they settle for the night—a truly magical experience. Enter the cave before 4 PM and make sure to tell the guide that you would like to wait for the birds. Many guides don’t speak English, so it’s best to use Google Translate. Please note that it’s best not to wear your favorite clothing, as there is a possibility it could get ruined by bird poo!
Entry Fee & Opening Times: 500 THB (14.40 USD) for a guided tour of all three caves + raft boat that you split with three other people. It is mandatory to hire a guide. Open 9 AM-6 PM.
10. Ban Jabo Viewpoint
Ban Jabo is a stunning hilltop village, only 20 minutes from Tham Lod Cave, with incredible views of lush green mountains and mist-filled valleys.
Staying overnight in Ban Jabo
The best time to head to Ban Jabo is at sunrise when it is quieter. The easiest way to do this is to stay in the village the night before. However, unfortunately, it is not possible to book online ahead of time.
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Pai
Pai has some fantastic cafes and restaurants, with something on offer for every taste and budget. Please note that food poisoning is pretty common in Pai. It’s best to check recent reviews on Google Maps and make sure you eat where the food is prepared before you. Here are some of our favorite spots:
- Dammie Cafe
- Granita Cafe (vegan/vegetarian)
- Om Garden Cafe
- Art Farm Studio
- Earth Tone
- Air Restaurant
- Tham Ma Daa Cafe
- Fat Cat Restaurant
- Bom Bowls
- Cafecito (Mexican)
- Baan Pizza (Italian)
- Lemon Thyme Cafe
- Wine & Dine (Absolute gem!)
Where to Stay in Pai
Depending on your budget, there are plenty of accommodation options in Pai, from backpacker hostels (search all hostels in Pai here) to pool-side villas and traditional wooden bungalows.
How to Visit Pai
Pai is a great destination to add to your Thailand route, as it’s just a 3-4 hour drive from Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai also has an international airport with flights arriving from all over Asia.
The easiest way to get to Pai is by hiring a car. The roads in Thailand are becoming more and more developed, and it’s getting easier to drive by car between destinations. This can give you more freedom on your Thailand itinerary.
Shared Van or Taxi
The cheapest way to get to Pai is by booking a shared van from Chiang Mai, which usually costs around 280 THB (8 USD) per person. However, this is a very popular option, so booking a few days in advance in the high season is recommended. For your return trip, you can book directly from one of the operators on Walking Street.
If you have a bigger budget, or there is a group of you who can share costs, another good option is to book a private taxi. For example, a Grab taxi costs around 3000 THB (86.56 USD). If you want to book a Grab for your return trip, you’ll have to pre-book the taxi in advance or take the driver’s number, and there is no Grab service currently in Pai.
An exhilarating way to journey to Pai is by motorcycle. If you feel confident doing this, it’s a great way to see Thailand’s incredible nature as you snake your way up the hilltop roads, stopping off at waterfalls, cafes, and viewpoints. However, please be aware that this is a busy route (with 762 corners!), so it usually takes much longer than Google Maps will tell you.
Tip: Don’t want to carry your luggage? There are companies in Chiang Mai who will take your bags for you.
Alternatively, you can book an organized motorcycle tour that covers the entire Mae Hong Son Loop (includes a guide, driver, and accommodation). See availability and prices here.
Getting Around Pai, Thailand
Pai town is small and walkable, so it’s easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. However, most accommodation is located outside of town, allowing you to enjoy the peace of nature from beautiful bamboo huts among the rice paddies. If this is the case, you’ll want to hire a motorcycle for the duration of your time in Pai. There are a lot of rentals like Pai Every Day and Pai River Scooter. Rentals start at 150 THB (~ 4.50 USD) per day and you’re required to leave a deposit or your passport as insurance.
How Much Does Pai Cost?
Like much of Thailand, Pai is a cheap place to travel. There are many local restaurants serving delicious seasonal food at low prices, or you can head to the night market for mouth-watering street food. The only extra thing you’ll need to account for in your budget is scooter hire.
Best Time to Visit Pai
In general, Pai is much cooler than other destinations in Thailand, mainly because of its high elevation. This means most of the year is an excellent time to visit, although we recommend avoiding the hottest months of March – June.
Be aware that the high season is December – March (the busiest time of the year), and during this time, accommodation prices can increase quite a bit. For that reason, the perfect months to visit are October – November, coinciding with the end of the rainy season. The climate is cooler, and the rice paddies are at their most vibrant.