Some call Pai the ‘Thai island in the mountains,’ and rightly so because this quaint little town is nestled between the valleys of Mae Hong Son province’s mountainous region.
It’s one of those places where you go for a weekend trip and end up spending a week or perhaps, start calling it your home.
146 kilometers away from Chiang Mai, Pai, in Northern Thailand is home to some incredible hot springs, Pai Canyon, the Pai River, and great street food.
So, if you have Pai on your Thailand travel itinerary, this list of 10 very best things to do in Pai, Thailand will help you to plan ahead.
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- Pai Canyon
- Sai Ngam Hot Springs
- Tha Pai Hot Springs
- Tham Lod Cave System
- Waterfalls (Pam Bok Waterfall and Mo Paeng Waterfall)
- Yun Lai Viewpoint
- Wat Phra That Mae Yen
- Walking Street
- Buddha Bamboo Bridge
Often referred to as Thailand’s answer to the Grand Canyon, the Pai Canyon is a hikers’ paradise in Pai because of its many hiking trails. You can explore Pai Canyon easily with a tuk-tuk or by renting a scooter.
Jutting above the forest, the Pai Canyon takes an orange hue as the last rays of sun gradually retreat, making way for the night to set in.
But be careful. The narrow steep paths going up and down the canyon are quite precarious because of the small gravel scattered over them, making them quite slippery.
If you want to play safe, take the wider paths going halfway across the Pai Canyon and offering spectacular sweeping views of the surrounding forest.
Pro Tip: Buy drinking water at the bottom of the canyon and get there 30 minutes before sunset to witness nature turning romantically beautiful.
Take a 25-minute drive to the north from Pai town center to reach the Sai Ngam Hot Springs, often called the ‘Secret’ Hot Springs.
Located inside a jungle, the Sai Ngam Hot Springs will give you a tranquil natural setting where you can soak in the warm waters to relax and witness the interplay of light and shadows while the water cascade caresses and rejuvenates your tired body and soul.
Pro Tip: Get there early or just before closing time to avoid the crowd. Operating hours are 9 AM to 6 PM.
Located to the south of Pai town, Tha Pai Hot Springs are enchanting. There are multiple thermal baths available, so it won’t feel very crowded.
The thermal baths are sourced from the nearby natural hot springs. The facilities are much better here than at Sai Ngam Hot Springs, which explains why the entrance fee here is 300 Baht compared to 200 Baht at the Sai Ngam Hot Springs.
If you visit Pai during the winter months, a trip to Sai Ngam Hot Springs and Tha Pai Hot Springs is a must to kill a few hours and keep yourself warm.
Pro Tip: Be there in the early morning when the mellow sun puts up a vibrant play of shadows. Also, go higher up to avoid the crowd.
With a length of an impressive 1.6 kilometers, the Tham Lod Cave system is a must-see attraction. The Lang River flows right through it.
Studies revealed that between the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene period, the prehistoric people living in the region used the place as a burial ground.
There are overall three caves – the Tuk Ta Cave, the Sao Hin Cave, and the Pi Man Cave. You’ll need a local guide to navigate through the labyrinths of this ancient cave system. Also be sure to jump on a bamboo raft to see the best scenery of all.
Pro Tip: Carry your camera to capture the magnificent rock formations. Also, since you will be walking on wet rocks, wear comfortable shoes.
Located deep in the mountains to the south of Pai is the magnificent Pam Bok Waterfall. Its concealed location under the canyon and the thick forest is what makes it particularly beautiful.
The first waterfall you see will be a bit boring but it is at the canyon split where the Pam Bok Waterfall displays its true beauty.
North of the Yun Lai Viewpoint is the lovely Mo Paeng Waterfall. This multi-level waterfall will allow you to climb up and then slide down a slippery rock to splash in a refreshing pond or natural pool where you can swim.
You can explore each level of the Mo Paeng Waterfall using the sturdy bamboo bridges that you can find there.
Pro Tip: The waterfalls are 30 minutes apart. Cover them both on the same day.
When you visit Pai, embark on an early morning tour to the Yun Lai Viewpoint to catch the sunrise. Overlooking the Pai Valley, this viewpoint will give you a 180° view of the entire valley including the canyon and the hills.
If you are lucky enough to witness the sunrise, you’ll be instantly transported to a surreal world where the mellow sun rises and shines over a sea of mist blanketing the valley.
The viewpoint is located within a Chinese village called Santichon Village which you can explore once you have had your fill up at the viewpoint.
Pro Tip: If you think you cannot get there in time, you can camp out for the night to witness the magical morning.
For digital nomads touring Thailand, visiting yet another massive Buddha statue might not be all that interesting, but the Wat Phra That Mae Yen or the Big White Buddha statue is a bit intriguing.
You can visit the blindingly white Buddha statue for free, but it takes an hour to walk up to the top from where you can grab a sweeping view of the Pai Valley.
Pro Tip: Be there right before sunset to witness the valley changing colors gradually. And yes, cover up because you need to show respect to the Wat Phra That Mae Yen.
Pai’s most buzzing and happening place is the Walking Street, which happens to be the main street in Pai. Cafes, shops, and restaurants fringe the street, making it a great chill destination for tourists.
This is the place where the night scene of Pai springs to life and you will walk straight into a night market where you can find plenty of healthy food from street vendors selling everything from Indian food to falafel, lasagna, bruschetta, and more.
The list of food goes on and there is something for everyone from vegetarians to meat lovers and even eggiterians.
The night market will be particularly tempting if you love shopping. From clothing to herbal remedies – you’ll find a plethora of awesome things your money can buy.
Pro Tip: There are two stalls offering 100% gluten-free food.
Image Credit: Trip Note
Located deeper into the mountains from the site of the Pam Bok Waterfall is the seemingly never-ending bamboo bridge running through the swaths of rice paddies.
If you have already visited the Su Tong Pae Bamboo Bridge in Mae Hong Son, the Buddha Bamboo Bridge might not be that attractive to you. But if you haven’t, this bamboo bridge will show you how the Thai people built bridges for monks in the past.
There isn’t much to do here except for relaxing and marveling at the tranquility that envelops the area.
Pro Tip: You can access the bridge anytime because of its 24-hour entry but consider an afternoon visit when laziness sets in.
Image Credit: Polar Steps
For water sport enthusiasts, tubing down the Pai River is a major attraction. Head upriver with your friends or family, sit in a big inflatable tube and let the current take you downstream back to the tiny town.
You can just rent a tube from a tour company who will also provide you with transport to and from the Pai River.
Pro Tip: Avoid the rainy season. The river can be dangerous.
Pai is a surprising tourist trap. A small town with a relaxed atmosphere and fresh air has quite a few more things to offer.
Image Credit: Mae Hong Son Thailand
If you are traveling to Pai from Mae Hong Son City or if you are leaving Pai while traveling the Mae Hong Son Loop in an anti-clock direction, stop at Ban Cha Bo Hill’s viewpoint. Eat a nice breakfast while dangling your legs down towards the mountain.
Image Credit: Mad Monkey Hostels
For the more spiritual, Pai has several yoga schools where you can learn some yoga and stretch your body. I recommend the Sawasdee Yoga center or Pai Yoga Shala.
Image Credit: Sundown Playground Sunset View
Sundown Playground is the restaurant-cum-bar where you go to witness a stunning sunset while enjoying a nice drink. Just outside the main town center, the Sundown Playground is a hidden gem surrounded by a lush setting.
Built by the Japanese in 1942, this bridge was used to move supplies and weapons to Myanmar during the war. Crossing a beautiful river, there are lots of photo opportunities here.
Image Credit: Piranha Fishing Park
There is a Piranha Fishing Park in Pai where you can fish piranhas from a series of man-made lakes. You will get a fishing rod, a net, and bread.
Be careful! Remember, they bite!
The dry season that starts in November and lasts till March and sometimes till May is ideal for visiting this country in Southeast Asia, which also happens to be the best time to explore Pai.
November through February is the High or Peak season with cool weather and lush green scenery. This is the perfect time to explore the outdoors.
March and April get a little hotter, but this is when the crowd gradually thins out and prices drop. Unless you can handle heat well, avoid this time.
There is no shortage of hotels, hostels, or Airbnb in Pai, so it completely depends on your requirements and budget.
I use booking.com as my preferred hotel booking app. I have tried many over the years and booking.com consistently offers me the best deals.
If however, you’re looking for super budget accommodation try hostelworld.com.
Here are the best budget and mid-range accommodation options in Pai, Thailand include:
Deejai Pai Backpackers: $9/night [For budget accommodation]
1.1 km from the Big White Buddha and 2.4 km from the Pai night market, this hostel for budget backpackers offers free Wi-Fi, a bar, free parking, and a shared lounge and garden.
PaiApartHotel: $40/night [For mid-range accommodation]
Only 11 minutes away from the night market and 1 km from Pai bus station, the hotel offers a private kitchen and ensuite bathroom along with free parking, free WiFi, and free toiletries. Air conditioning is also available.
Pai Princess Resort: $42/night [For mid-range accommodation]
Only 600 meters from Pai’s Walking Street and within walking distance from the bus station, the resort offers a private balcony, a private bathroom, free Wi-Fi, a sun terrace, and a beautiful mountain view.
There is no shortage of trips and tours to make the best use of your time in this beautiful country. However, here are some suggested trips I recommend you explore further.
- The best way to get around Pai, Thailand is by renting a scooter. You will need a valid ID or a driving license. Hand over a photocopy of your passport if scooter rental companies ask for your passport. I recommend Vespai Rental because they will even teach scooter-riding skills if needed.
- Wi-Fi connection is pretty good almost everywhere in Pai, Thailand, but remember that when you go to places like natural hot springs, Pai canyon, and Pai’s many waterfalls, there might be connectivity issues.
- Thailand’s currency is the Thai Baht and for the best exchange rates its best to pay in their local currency. Always carry some cash, as street vendors and markets will expect cash (although many now accept payment via QR code if you have a local bank account or apple pay etc.) Technologically, Thailand is pretty savvy.
- Depending on how long you’re staying and the kind of phone contract you’re on, it might be worth getting a local SIM when you get there. Most times when I travel, a local sim is the cheapest option. A travel SIM from TrueMove will cost 599 Baht with 8GB of internet and approximately 50 minutes of talk time. You will have to top up in 15 days. It’s worth checking roaming fees with your phone company before traveling.
- If taking money out of an ATM, always choose the ‘convert from your own bank’ option, rather than the convert from the ATM option. This is a golden rule worldwide. I have tried multiple ATM’s in multiple countries and the bank conversion is always without fail cheaper than a local ATM conversion.
- Also when paying with your travel credit or debit card, always choose local currency. If you choose your own currency, the conversion will be done then and there by their bank. When choosing local currency, the conversion is done by your bank and will be cheaper. Not by much, but every little helps!
It’s tough when organizing your travels to know which companies offer the best deals and can be trusted with your credit card details!
The following resources are companies I have consistently used over my 11 years of travels and who I believe are the best in the business. I’m constantly updating this list as I find new and improved services.
Rome2Rio – a fantastic app which will show you the best routes to get from city to city or country to country. Simply enter where you’re traveling from and too, and they’ll show you how to get there via planes, trains and automobiles!
Skyscanner.net – always my first port of call when looking for the best flights. Easy to use and consistently highlights flights I can’t find anywhere else, they’re the best flight resource there is. Plus an easy to use app.
Flight Aware – a free, handy app showing flights around the world. I use this to track family or friends when they’re flying, to check whether my flight has left on time on previous days so I can be prepared for delays etc, and just to double check my own flight details as and when I’m traveling.
Trainline (for Europe) – I used to use this just for UK trains, but nowadays you can book trains all over Europe using their services. Cheap, reliable and with a great refund policy for canceled or delayed trains, they’re highly recommended.
Booking.com – I have tried all the other hotel booking sites and without doubt booking.com has consistently offered the best deals. One caveat to this, is always to just check the hotel website directly before finalizing your booking as sometimes they’ll have specialized deals.
Getyourguide.com – the easiest and most reliable activity booking agent. I haven’t had a bad trip to date with them. Plus an easy to use app which tracks all your bookings and includes the meeting point, trip details and everything else you need to ensure your activity goes smoothly.
Discovercars.com – Easy to use website to find rental cars in over 145 countries around the world. Pick up from one location, drop off in another. Find the best deals with the best reviews.
Safetywing – quite simply the best insurance for digital nomads and long term travelers. See my Safetywing insurance review for more details, but with cheap monthly plans and an easy to use claims process, you won’t find better on the market.
Light Packing Guide
I’m generally a very light packer so for a summer trip here is what I would usually pack, with a maximum weight of 7 KG;
Swimming costume or bikini
Light Beach dress
2 x pairs of shorts
2 x summer skirts
3 x t-shirts
1 x ‘going out’ dress
2 x night shorts & tee
14 x underwear (I always take a lot as I hate washing underwear in hotel sinks)
1 skin color plunge bra (can wear under black or white, and with posh dress or t-shirts)
1 x flip flops or thongs or sandals (depending where you’re from in the world)
1 x trainers/sneakers (which I generally wear when traveling from place to place or hang off the back of my bag
3 x trainer socks
1 x leggings
1 x light cardigan
Travel size all in one Shampoo/Conditioner (sacrilege to some women, but hey I want to travel light)
Travel size shower gel
Small battery powered toothbrush (with cap)
Travel size sun lotion
50SPF lip balm
Travel size body moisturiser
Ziplock bags – for anything and everything!
Travel Bags – for separating tops/shorts/underwear etc, and also great for laundry
My husbands bag usually weighs less than mine and he takes;
2 x shorts (Both double as swim shorts)
2 x tees
7 x socks
7 x boxers
1 x ‘going out’ shorts & tee
1 x croc flip flops
1 x trainers/sneakers
Travel size shampoo
1 x razor
Pai lies at the foot of the mountains in the Mae Hong Son province. It is close to the Myanmar border and lies approximately 146 km northeast of Chiang Mai while taking the northern route to Mae Hong Son.
Pai is a very safe town even for solo female travelers.
As with all popular tourist destinations you’ll need to watch out for pickpockets and keep your valuables hidden, plus for females, use your common sense and don’t go wandering on your own in the middle of the night plus be careful when drinking in bars/clubs. (Sad but true across the globe).
But on a general scale compared to the rest of the world, for tourists visiting Thailand it would be considered a very safe city, for solos, couples & families alike.
Nevertheless, always ensure you have travel insurance wherever you go as it will protect you against theft, injury, illness, or cancelations. Use the form below to get your personalized quote.
The official currency of Thailand is the Thai Baht (THB) and you must pay in their local currency. Though you can use international travel credit and debit cards that will allow paying in Thai Baht, it is suggested that you carry some local currency, because certain remote places and local shops may not accept cards.
The Thai language is the official language, however, many people speak English, especially in major tourist destinations.
Throughout the year Pai follows Indochina Time (ICT), which is seven hours ahead of the UTC or the Coordinated Universal Time. Daylight Saving Time clock changes are not followed in Thailand.
Pai is a sleepy quaint town lying to the northeast of Chiang Mai. It offers breathtaking scenic beauty in the form of lush landscapes, looming mountains, hot springs, and lovely waterfalls.
But besides all its awe-inspiring beauty, the town’s friendly locals and delectable food make it a place that you will never want to leave.
Pai has much to offer.
Its lush landscapes against the backdrop of hulking mountains, verdant forests, serene hot springs, ancient caves, snaking rivers, and magnificent waterfalls make it a perfect holiday destination away from the chaotic drama that unfolds in larger cities like Bangkok.
I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Pai useful for your travels. Let me know how you go!