Pai, Thailand: A Backpacker’s Haven and Nature Lover’s Playground

Picture a chill town filled with backpackers where the natural beauty of waterfalls, mountains, and rice paddies blends seamlessly with the buzz of bars, organic cafes, and a vibrant night market. That’s Pai, Thailand—a little hippie haven that somehow manages to be both a retreat for nature lovers and a playground for those seeking a bit of thrill.

For many travelers, including myself, Pai is a favorite stop in Thailand, offering a unique contrast to places like Bangkok or Chiang Mai. It’s relatively remote, and getting there is an adventure in itself, involving over 700 hairpin turns! 

While Pai caters to tourists, its tranquil beauty and the chance to unwind or zip through small villages on a scooter make it an unforgettable escape. Trust me, spending at least three to four nights here is a must. 

Stick with me, and I’ll explain everything you need to know about visiting Pai, Thailand, from the best spots to travel tips on making the most of your journey.

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Best Time to Visit Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@eyeofpaul/depositPhotos]
The best time to visit Pai is between November and February, when Thailand enjoys cooler and drier weather, making it perfect for exploring. While this period is the peak season, Pai is less crowded than Thailand’s larger cities. Do pack a sweater, as mornings and evenings can get chilly. 

The rainy season from June to October offers solitude for those looking to avoid crowds and don’t mind a bit of rain. However, be prepared for it to affect outdoor activities. 

Try to steer clear of March and April due to the burning season in Northern Thailand, which can impact the air quality and visibility. 

Getting to and Around Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@jjspring/DepositPhotos]
Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai involves a scenic yet challenging 80-mile journey on the infamous “Pai Highway,” which features 760 hairpin turns. 

Most travelers opt for a minibus, which costs around 200 baht and takes three to five hours, including a break for toilets and snacks (and vomiting for those who get motion sick). For those prone to motion sickness, taking pills beforehand is a good idea. 

Only experienced motorbike riders should attempt the journey from Chiang Mai themselves due to the high risk of accidents. If you’re looking for comfort, hiring a private car is an option, though more costly at 2200-3000 baht. moo

Once in Pai, the town itself is easily navigable on foot. Most travelers rent a scooter or bicycle to explore outside of the town. Catching a ride in a tuk tuk or songthaew (shared taxi truck) is also an option. 

Things to Do in Pai, Thailand

Sunset from the White Buddha in Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@julianpetersphoto/DepositPhotos]
Pai has a lot of things to do, like exploring its vibrant night market, indulging in the amazing smoothie bowls at Bom Bowls, tubing on the Pai River, or meditating at Wat Pa Tam Wua.

Pai Night Market

Pai Night Market
Photo Credit: [@efesenko/DepositPhotos]
A bus will drop you right into the heart of Pai’s vibrant walking street, which sets up every evening. The Pai Night Market has everything from local Thai dishes to the best falafel I’ve ever tasted. 

Nightlife in Pai, Thailand

Pai Night Scene
Photo Credit: [@efesenko/DepositPhotos]
After visiting the night market, dive into Pai’s nightlife scene. Check out Jikko Bar for an impressive selection of craft beers and good music right on the walking street. For those who love good vibes and techno, Boom Bar is the spot. Blah Blah Bar offers great music in a laid-back atmosphere, while Why Not Bar is the go-to for younger backpackers looking for a lively night out.

Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon
Photo Credit: [@efesenko/DepositPhotos]
Pai Canyon is the go-to spot for breathtaking sunsets and sweaty hikes. The entrance is free, and the views are priceless. Get there early for sunset – the whole town turns up. Or, go for sunrise to enjoy the trails without the crowds.

Waterfalls in Pai, Thailand

Mor Paeng Waterfall near Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@Margarita_Young/DepositPhotos
Don’t miss the stunning Pam Bok, Mor Paeng, and Mae Yen Waterfalls, each offering unique beauty and a cool escape from the heat. 

Pai River Tubing Adventures

Pai River in Thailand
Photo Credit: [@efesenko/DepositPhotos]
Jungle Tipsy Tubing Experience is the ultimate adventure on the Pai River, featuring stops at three lively bars. Bring cash and sunscreen, and be prepared for two hours of “questionable decision-making” with 400 of your closest friends.

A more laid-back way to enjoy the Pai River is to rent a tube in town, get dropped off upstream, and leisurely float back to town in 1-2 hours. If you can’t tube during the rainy season due to high river levels, opt for whitewater rafting instead.

Hot Springs in Pai, Thailand

Tha Pai Hot Springs
Photo Credit: [@KobchaiMa/DepositPhotos]
Tha Pai Hot Springs: Conveniently located near town and Pai Canyon, these man-made pools offer a relaxing soak for 300 baht. Visit early to avoid the crowds and heat.

Sai Ngam Hot Spring: A local favorite set in a jungle, 25 minutes from town. A serene, natural setting for 200 baht. 

Santichon Village

Santichon Village in Thailand
Photo Credit: [@KobchaiMa/DepositPhotos]
Experience Yunnanese Chinese culture in Santichon Village. It was one of my least favorite spots, mainly due to a disappointing meal, so maybe just a quick visit while you’re out adventuring. Up the hill from here is a nice viewpoint with tons of wildflowers.

Kho Kya So Bamboo Bridge

Bamboo Bridge in Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@beibaoke/DepositPhotos]
Kho Kya So Bamboo Bridge is a picturesque bamboo bridge stretching over rice fields, leading to a temple. Perfect for a peaceful walk and some nice photos. Be sure to take off your shoes before entering the temple.

Pai Land Split

Pai Land Split
Photo Credit: [@annabieniek/DepositPhotos]
The Pai Land Split, a few miles from town, gets its name from a giant split in the ground caused by an earthquake in 2008. The land owner has turned it into a unique and educational experience, offering fresh fruits and snacks to visitors. Don’t go out of your way to visit, but make a quick pitstop on your way to Pam Bok Waterfall and the Bamboo Bridge.

Chedi Phra That Mae Yen (The White Buddha)

The White Buddha in Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@KobchaiMa/DepositPhotos]
Chedi Phra That Mae Yen offers spiritual serenity and panoramic views on a hill overlooking Pai. Ideal for a quick visit, especially during sunrise or sunset.

Where to Eat in Pai, Thailand

Khao Soi Thai Dish
Photo Credit: [@mathisa/DepositPhotos]
Cafes: There are so many cute cafes in Pai! Two Huts Pai offers stunning views of Pai Valley, making it the perfect spot for sunset watching and sipping your favorite drink. It gets crowded at sunset, so get there early for a good seat.

Bom Bowls: A vegan haven offering mouthwatering smoothie bowls and fluffy pancakes. It’s perfect for starting your day with a burst of energy.

Om Garden Cafe: Just a few minutes from the walking street, this cafe has plenty of healthy and vegan options at slightly cheaper prices than its neighbors. A must-visit for those looking to eat well on a budget.

Fat Cat: Experience the unique treehouse vibe on your way to or from the White Buddha. Set in a beautiful garden, Fat Cat serves up refreshing smoothies, hearty salads, scrumptious sandwiches, and burgers that hit the spot.

Na’s Kitchen: Look no further for the best local Thai food in town. Affordable and delicious, but be prepared for a long wait during the dinner rush. It’s worth it!

Khaosoi Zister’s is a gem for late breakfast or lunch. It specializes in the Northern Thai delicacy of khao soi. Expect to wait for the best khao soi in Pai!

Day Trips from Pai, Thailand

Tham Lod Cave in Thailand
Photo Credit: [@nirutdps/DEpositPhotos]
Tham Lod Cave: Take an extraordinary journey through the one-mile-long Tham Lod Cave. Board a bamboo raft and gently float down the Lang River, guided by a local wielding a gas lantern. This impressive cave system makes for an unforgettable day trip from Pai, showcasing stunning stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient coffins in high cave ledges. Watch out for bats!

Meditation Retreat at Wat Pa Tam Wua: This secluded Buddhist monastery 43 miles northwest of Pai offers peace and serenity. Surrounded by breathtaking nature, English-speaking monks offer guidance in various styles of meditation. They offer one-day classes or three- to ten-day stays. You can just walk in—no reservation necessary. If you don’t have time for a full retreat, you can also learn more about Buddhism and meditation in Chiang Mai.

Mae Hong Son: Mae Hong Son province, about 4 hours from Pai, is known as “the City of three mists” because of its location in the mountains, experiencing mist all year round. Ideal for those seeking an adventure off the beaten path or needing to do a visa run to Myanmar. You’ll want to stay 3-4 days here to enjoy the traditional way of life fully.

Your Pai, Thailand Adventure Awaits

Pai, Thailand
Photo Credit: [@GreatPics_BenHeine/DpeositPhotos]
Pai is a tranquil town in northern Thailand where you can build your own adventure—it’s no wonder backpackers flock here. 

This little town, surrounded by waterfalls, mountains, and rice paddies, transforms into a lively hub at night, while the daytime cafes have serious Bali vibes. It’s the kind of place where you can spend three days or three months.

Remember, the best time to visit is between November and February when the weather is perfectly cool—but you won’t have the place to yourself!


Pai, Thailand: A Backpacker's Haven and Nature Lover’s Playground
Cat Roberts

Cat is a very hungry solo female traveler in her 30s who left a 6-figure job in NYC to travel (and taste!) the world. Cat is determined to prove there are ways to backpack the world on a budget without fully sacrificing the “grown-up” lifestyle you love. Visit her blog at Cat is Out of the Office.