Pai is a small town in Northern Thailand, with a relaxed, almost hippie-like atmosphere.
It's got a few natural hot spots that you can quickly get to with the many scooter rental options, and if this is why you go, you can see it all in 2-3 days - but it has much more to offer.
It's got waterfalls, caves, a crazy steep canyon, and fantastic views, but they call it the Pai-hole for a whole different set of reasons.
When a Backpacker goes to Pai, they always seem to extend their stay. What's so good about Pai? Why do backpackers flock to Pai?
Backpackers stay in Pai for two reasons: The relaxed atmosphere and the lifestyle. If you want to get away from the big city, be surrounded by nature, delicious food, and adventure - go to Pai.
In this guide, we're going to cover everything. Here's a quick table of contents to skip to what you want to know.
Table of Contents
- A Typicial Day in Pai
- How Do You Get to Pai?
- Things to Do in Pai
A Typical Day in Pai
For a backpacker staying in Pai, the typical day involves riding your scooter and exploring the town, eating various cheap and delicious food, socializing with other backpackers, fitness, yoga, drinking, dancing, and much more.
- Wake up in one of the famous hostels: The Pai Circus Hostel or Common Grounds
- If you're at Circus, you go over to their breakfast buffet and pay 100-200 Baht ($3-$6 USD) and eat a combination of Western and Thai food.
- You might go for a quick morning swim in the pool overlooking the beautiful mountains and hills in the distance.
- You and your backpacker friends get on scooters that you've rented from 100-150 Baht a day, either in town or just outside the hostel.
- You go for a ride to one of the many morning yoga places and get in some exercise, socialize a little.
- Then you go to one of the hot spots that we'll get to in the things to do section - you spend the day exploring there.
- You come back into town and have some Northern Thai food like Khao Soi for a late lunch.
- You head back to the hostel and relax, get some work done, maybe you go to the gym or attend a Muay Thai class.
- You finish up and meet with fellow travelers for a fantastic variety of street food at the lovely Pai Night Market.
- You move on to the partying, open mics, or shows at one of the many bars in town - more on this soon.
- You party it up and stumble to your hostel room with your fellow backpackers smiling at a night well spent.
You rinse and repeat.
We touched on many things to do on a typical day in Pai, but let’s get into everything on the menu. Though before we do that, you need to know how to get there. Skip ahead if you already know.
How Do You Get to Pai?
There are three ways you can get to Pai, and they're both from Chiang Mai, and both by road; you can't fly into Pai.
- Get a 300 Baht (US$9-$10) van/mini-bus from Chiang Mai Bus Station to Pai town center. This takes 3-4 hours.
- Rent a one-way drop off Scooter in Chiang Mai and ride it 3 hours to Pai, where you'll drop it off in the city center. Keep in mind; you’ll likely get a 500 Baht fine on the way for driving without a Thai license - the police regularly do this for tourists that want to make this trip.
- Organizing a private car or taxi to take you to Pai - This is the most expensive way, but it can be worth it for groups.
Things to Do in Pai
Pai has a crazy variety of food, nature, fitness, day activities, and nightlife to keep you busy. I've broken them down into four sections below.
Food to Eat in Pai
This list has the potential to be unlimited. Try out every little shop you can, but there are a few that you should know about.
- The Pai Night Market - Opens at 6 PM, and you can get everything right here, from delicious Thai staples like Pad Thai to popular world dishes like Lasagna, Gyoza, Burgers, and more.
- Any Restaurant Serving Khao Soi - A northern Thai dish that you shouldn't leave Thailand without trying.
- If you’re looking for vegan food, Pai has you covered. Ci Xin Jai is a fantastic Chinese restaurant that’ll cover all your vegan needs - the curry is on point. And for vegetarian meals, healthy smoothies, fresh juice, OM Garden Cafe’s got your back.
- If you’re craving that juicy burger, though, visit Maya Burger Queen, totally not infringing on a certain chains trademark there.
Health & Fitness in Pai
Pai’s got Muay Thai camps, swimming pools, enough yoga sessions to satisfy a master, and a particular gym that has everything you need for a killer strength workout. You could turn a week in Pai into a health and fitness retreat if you were so inclined.
- Pai Fitness Home has everything you need for a strength workout. They don’t have airconditioning but plenty of big fans that’ll blast you with a breeze. And with 50 Baht entry, it’s a steal.
- Charnchai Muay Thai and Sitjemam Muay Thai are some of the top places to get some Muay Thai training in Pai. From beginner lessons to more intermediate training sessions and camps - these places have you sorted.
- Bodhi Tree Yoga Studio is the perfect place for all your yoga needs; you can also stay here and treat it like a yoga retreat. It’s 200 baht for 90 minutes session, perfect.Fluid Swimming Pool is a public pool that’ll run you 60 to 80 Baht for entrance - it’s a high quality Olympic sized pool if you’re looking to swim for fitness rather than fun. For fun, there are plenty of hostels that have swimming pools. But don’t worry, this place has multiple, so you can come here to relax too.
Nature & Sites in Pai
Pai has some fantastic views and a lot of sites that you can scoot down to and experience.
- Pai Canyon is probably the most popular attraction - you’ll see crazy views, and you’ll be on high alert too. This place can get very narrow with sheer drops on each side.
- Santichon Village is a lovely 15-minute scoot away where you’ll get some fantastic food and explore with a very relaxed vibe.
- Namtok Mo Paeng and Pam Bok are natural waterfall and rock pools nestled away in outer Pai - when the waters are flowing, they’re quite quaint and worth a trip. But there’s a chance you’ll get unlucky, and it’s dried up. It’s a nice scoot anyway, though!
Entertainment & Nightlife in Pai
There are quite a few entertaining things to do in Pai, and as a disclaimer, I’m not a doctor or an expert and in no way advocating that you break the law or do drugs. However, Pai being Pai, I want to paint you a full picture and let you know what’s out there. It’s up to you to explore or steer clear.
Pai will bring you live music, bars, alcohol, weed, and psychedelics.
If you’ve been backpacking around Southeast Asia and are reading this article, you might have heard about the various bars with secret menus that offer marijuana and mushroom shakes. In my own and many backpackers experience, Pai is the place in Thailand where this is the most common, safe, and ingrained in the backpacker culture.
This isn’t to say there aren’t risks involved with doing psychedelics; you should do your research on psychedelics before trying them. And even then, you should consult experts.
Note that these are technically illegal, though the places that offer the drugs are legitimate establishments. It’s quite evident that there’s been some sort of deal with the authorities and business owners to operate in this way.
Here are the two bars where you can get mushroom shakes and weed, not that these are regular bars too, and you can sit in to enjoy a beer or cocktail.
- Sunset Bar - This place has relaxing views, chilled music, and a place to lounge around on some soft rugs. You can buy alcohol when they open, but to get the other stuff, you’ll need to ask for the secret menu after 6:00 PM.
- Pai Backpackers Paradise - This place is also a hostel, but you’ll get live music, fire shows, open mic nights, and all of this happens at the bar that’s attached to the hostel. At this bar, you can get a secret menu for everything mentioned above as well.
Again, please ask around, and do your research.
Now for the more vanilla of us, there’s plenty of bars and pubs in town—usually small dance floors and intimate vibes.
Just about every hostel in Pai will do a pub crawl, and these are fantastic for you to meet other people that are staying at the hostel and have a rowdy night.
Here are some bars:
And in between these two are countless others.
All of this should get you started with Pai. You’ll discover way more when you head up there, but these should give you more than enough to get stuck into your Northern Thailand adventure.
Have all the fun!