Pai, a small town in the mountains of Thailand, has become very famous among the backpackers for a few years now. Many come here to relax and escape the bustling cities of Thailand with its shouting tuk-tuk drivers and busy traffic. Because of this, it’s also called the hippie town of the north. With just 150 km from Chiang Mai, it’s easily accessible by bus or minivan. Although many travelers prefer to conquer the mountain road with its endless twists and turns (762 in total) by motorbike. There a lot of cool things to do in Pai which you can easily combine in one whole day.
Pai lies right on the road connecting Chiang Mai with Mae Hong Son, which is part of the famous Mae Hong Son Loop. This loop is 650 km long and takes you through beautiful mountain sceneries along the way. Pai is definitely worth a stop for a couple of days to relax and explore its surroundings. Because there’s a wide range of activities you can do in Pai, we compiled a couple of interesting things that you can do in just one full day.
The easiest and best way to explore Pai and surroundings is definitely by motorbike. If you don’t have one already from Chiang Mai, we suggest renting a motorbike from one of the rental companies in town the evening before. You can already rent one for 100 Baht for 24 hours. Many places rent out scooters and motorbikes, and one of them is AYA Service. Here you can rent a bike for 100 Baht, and pay an extra 40 Baht for insurance against accidents and/or stealing.
Note: Be very careful when driving a scooter or motorbike on these roads. Every day, many backpackers are involved in accidents because of the many curves and sharp bends. If you’re unsure or inexperienced with riding a motorbike, there are alternatives like tour operators, a songthaew between Pai and Mae Hong Son or renting a bicycle.
5 THINGS TO DO IN PAI IN ONE DAY
SAI NGAM HOT SPRINGS (PAI’S SECRET HOT SPRINGS)
Wake up early, at the crack of dawn, to enjoy a warm bath in the best hot springs Pai has to offer. Pai has many hot springs in the area, with the closest (and most touristic one) at a steep price of +300 Baht/person. Luckily, there’s a cheaper -and much better- alternative! The Sai Ngam Hot Springs are just a 20-30mins ride from the center of Pai. This hot spring lies right in the middle of the beautiful nature and is just an awesome place to soak in hot water while the sun comes up.
Do this in the early morning, and we can guarantee you’ll have a private pool all to yourself. But let’s keep this a secret between us before it gets touristic too.
You need to pay an entrance fee of 30 Baht/person and 40 Baht/scooter at the beginning of the small road leading towards the hot springs. We were lucky (or too early), and the little cabin was unmanned, so we haven’t paid this fee. The locals that live at the hot springs and maintain it now also ask 20 Baht/person.
Travel Tip: The small road towards the hot springs consists of a lot of steep ups and downs. Drive safe and slow when going down.
THE LOD CAVE
Go back to the main road and drive towards Mae Hong Son. Drive for approximately one hour until you see a sign of Tham Lot Cave, just before the town of Pang Mapha. Just follow the signs towards the cave. Try to be there before 11 AM because afterward, the tours will start to arrive.
The Lod Cave (or Tham Lot in Thai) is a 1.666m long natural limestone cave full of impressive stalactites, stalagmites, thousand-year-old coffins and a lot of bats! Hire a private guide to show you around the dark caverns deep into the cave. But the most unique thing here is the bamboo raft that takes you down the Nam Lang River to the other side of the cave.
Don’t expect to get a lot of information because the guides their English isn’t that good. But they will happily show you all the different animals and figures they can see in the rocks, like a frog, crocodile mouth, a Buddha face, … Use your imagination!
Travel Tip: Make sure you have enough gas to get here and back to Pai. You can get fuel on the small road that leads to the Lod Cave.
150 Baht for a guide per 3 persons, 300 Baht for a bamboo raft, 50 Baht if you want to buy fish food.
Note: There are some big catfish in the water. Buying fish food can be a fun thing to attract them. But while we didn’t have any, there were still plenty of them swimming around us!
MO PAENG WATERFALL
After having lunch along the way or in one of the cool bars in Pai, you can go and chill out at the Mo Paeng Waterfall. It’s just 10km out of town and offers a great refreshment during those hot afternoons. This waterfall is at its best during rain season but is also a lot of fun out of season.
This waterfall is well-known for its natural waterslide which ends in a large pool where you can have a refreshing swim. This is definitely a waterfall that is suited for every generation!
SUNSET AT PAI CANYON
After a refreshing swim, it’s time to go to the Pai Canyon where you can witness an amazing sunset. The canyon is just a couple of minutes south of Pai on Highway 1095. Park your bike and buy some drinks at the vendors there.
Ascend the stairs and enjoy the magnificent views over Pai’s valley and mountains. You’ll find different trails that take you right through the canyon. But be careful, a lot of them are very narrow with steep drops on both sides of the path! Sometimes you’ll even need to climb up by using your arms too.
When the sun starts to go down, find yourself a good spot -preferably as high as possible-, take a few drinks and enjoy the fantastic view over the valley while the sun goes down.
Travel Tip: Put on sturdy shoes because the trails can be slippery and accidents can happen, especially with those steep cliffs. We don’t recommend to do this with slippers on.
PAI WALKING STREET
When the sun has gone behind the horizon, the walking street in Pai is already in full action! Vendors, street artists, and food stalls are all lined up along the road. Many of the stalls sell souvenirs and clothes, but there’s also a wide range of all kinds of Thai, Indian and Western food.
Get a fruit shake, eat your way along the food stalls and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
Travel Tip: We had one of our best Pad Thai’s ever at the Northern Green Adventures restaurant. (image below)
Pai is a great small town in the mountains to escape from the city life. But beware, a lot of people that expect to stay for a couple of days, eventually stay for weeks!
WHERE TO SLEEP?
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