Tip: Rent a scooter to explore the outskirts of Pai!

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Looking for the best things to do in Pai? I’ve got you covered!

Welcome to Pai, Thailand! A beautiful town in northern Thailand surrounded by mountains, lush forests and rice paddies. Pai, popular with young backpackers and traditionally known for its hippie reputation, is an amazing place to visit to enjoy a slow-paced adventure in nature.

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Best things to do in Pai, Thailand

Hike through Pai Canyon (Kong Lan)

Pai Canyon, also known as Kong Lan, is easily one of the best things to do in Pai. And what’s better, it is completely free to visit and explore. The canyon stretches out with various twists and turns to hike down and explore, within the unique rock formations.

Pai Canyon is located a short 10 minute drive south of Pai town. In fact, if you arrived in Pai from Chiang Mai, you probably passed the entrance on your way in! The canyon is easily reached by scooter or taxi. 

If you feel comfortable driving yourself, renting your own scooter is definitely the most affordable way to get to Pai Canyon, and around Pai. Otherwise, you can head to the taxi stand in the center of town to arrange a ride.

pai canyon
The best time to visit Pai Canyon is at sunrise and sunset.
girl hiking in pai canyon thailand
Make sure to wear secure shoes and sunscreen when hiking in Pai Canyon

The viewpoint over the canyon can be reached up a short staircase at the entrance, with no hiking necessary. However, you can choose to explore the various dips for an adventure. I recommend packing sturdy shoes as the sandy terrain is pretty slippery. 

The most popular time to visit Pai Canyon is at sunset, however this is also the busiest time of day at the canyon.

At the trailhead you’ll find a number of shops selling food and fruit shakes, as well as a restroom. 

Visit the Big Buddha (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) for sunset 

Another must-visit sunset spot in Pai is the famous Big Buddha, or Wat Phra That Mae Yen or the Pai Buddha. The 350+ climb up a long staircase leads you to a large Buddha at the top, and panoramic views of the town below. 

For the best views, I recommend climbing at either sunrise or sunset, when the sky is painted in brilliant colors over the mountains.

As a reminder, the Big Buddha is an important spiritual site for locals and should be treated with respect. Both men and women should cover both their shoulders and knees before entering the site. 

Unlike Pai Canyon, you can easily reach the Big Buddha on foot from the main town. It is about a 30 minute sweaty walk from the center of town to the bottom of the steps. 

There is no cost to visit the Big Buddha of Pai.

The Pai Big Buddha
The Pai Big Buddha
Sunset views over Pai from the Big Buddha
Sunset views over Pai from the Big Buddha

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Walk along the Bamboo Bridge – and stop at Jaey’s Cafe

The Bamboo Bridge and the surrounding area might just be my favorite thing to do in Pai. We loved it so much that we visited twice! 

As the name suggests, the Bamboo Bridge is a bridge composed of bamboo that spans about half a kilometer through the rice fields. It is a beautiful place to walk, especially in the early morning or when the sun is going down. 

There is a cost of 30 THB (around $0.85) to access the bridge. 

There is a temple at the end of the bridge, so dress appropriately if you would like to enter the temple area.

The bridge is typically rebuilt every year in the dry season, and therefore is only available to visit from around November to April each year. 

Before or after your walk along the bridge, make sure to stop at Jaey’s Cafe, one of the best cafes in Pai. This cafe is the real highlight in my opinion. You can enjoy delicious Thai cuisine (I recommend a mango fruit shake and a chicken penang) while lounging in a net hammock overlooking the mountains. It is the most relaxing place to hang out and read or write.

Walking along the Bamboo Bridge
Walking along the Bamboo Bridge

Explore the surrounding areas by renting a scooter 

Without a doubt, the best way to explore Pai and the surrounding area is by scooter. Having a scooter will give you the freedom to explore and discover so much more.

Unlike other main cities in Thailand, in Pai you won’t find any of the popular rideshare services like Grab or Bolt. This means that if you don’t have your own scooter, you will need to rely on the local taxi company, which can be a bit pricey but definitely doable. 

Scooter rentals start at 100 THB ($3 USD) per day plus gas. 

girl on a scooter pai thailand
Scooters are the best way to get around and explore Pai
Driving to the trailhead by scooter
Driving to the trailhead by scooter

Enjoy Pai’s cafe scene 

So much of what makes Pai so amazing is how peaceful and beautiful it is. You could spend weeks just visiting the different cafes to read, write, or play games. From cafes set in a treehouse to cafes overlooking the rice paddies, there is no shortage of incredible cafes in Pai, Thailand.

Here are a few of my favorite cafes in Pai to visit: 

  • Fat Cat – amazing health-forward brunch dishes in a treehouse setting
  • Bom Bowls – acai bowls and smoothies
  • Jaey’s Cafe – amazing food and smoothies by the Bamboo Bridge. A great place to relax and hang out.
  • Monko in Pai – delicious coffee and tea in a beautiful remote setting
  • Carrot in the Moon – great drinks and pastries in the center of town
Smoothie bowls from Bom Bowls
Smoothie bowls from Bom Bowls
Enjoying a coffee at Monko in Pai
Enjoying a coffee at Monko in Pai

Hike through endless river crossings to Mae Yen waterfall 

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds with a great hike, consider the hike to Mae Yen waterfall. 

It’s a full day hike that winds through river crossings (88 river crossings to be exact) and jungle areas to the waterfall. The majority of the hike is relatively flat, with one steep incline for about 20 minutes.

From the trailhead, the hike took us just under 5 hours (with a short stop at the waterfall) and covered 10.5 miles, with 1,000 feet of ascent.

It is a challenging but fun hiking adventure away from the crowds! The trailhead is located at ‘Startpoint Mae Yen Waterfall’ on Google Maps. It is a short 10 minute drive from the center of town, or can be reached on foot in 30-40 minutes. 

88 river crossings on the hike to Mae Yen waterfall
88 river crossings on the hike to Mae Yen waterfall
Driving through Pai, Thailand
Driving through Pai, Thailand

Shop and eat at the Pai Night Market 

If you’re looking for fun shopping and delicious street food, head to the Pai Walking Street any night of the week for a fun night market. The market and food stalls typically run from the early evening until late, although some stalls run all day long.

Food markets are a great way to sample lots of different delicious bites.

Here a few things that I recommend trying:

  • Mango with sticky rice – 50 baht
  • Coconut pancakes – 20 baht
  • Spicy peanut noodles – 20 baht
  • Veggie tofu rolls – 50 baht
  • Rice cake snacks – 25 baht

Go tubing down the Pai river 

If you’re looking to cool off, have some drinks, and make some new friends, consider signing up for tipsy tubing down the Pai river.

You can expect lots of music, drinking, and socializing, Most tours book for around 300 baht, or just under $10 USD.

I admittedly haven’t tried it out myself, but I watched all of the tubers making their way down the river from my hotel balcony.

Where to stay in Pai

Due to our lack of planning, we ended up staying in 3 different places throughout our 5 nights in Pai. The good news is that all 3 of them were wonderful and places I would absolutely stay at again! I’ve shared my two favorites down below.

Overall I think where you stay in Pai really depends on whether or not you’ll be renting a scooter to get around. If you’re renting a scooter, then everything is closeby and easy to get to. However, if you are not comfortable renting a scooter and plan to rely on taxis, then I’d recommend staying close to the center of town.

pai thailand hotel

Paddy Haven Fields

Individual bungalows outside of town overlooking a lush paddy field. Shared bathrooms. Amazing sunset views.

Check rates and availability

pai thailand hotel

Baan Pai Riverside

Individual riverfront bungalows with private bathrooms right in the heart of Pai town. Breakfast available.

Check rates and availability

Things to know before visiting Pai, Thailand

  • I think the most important to know is that not only is weed legalized in Thailand (as of 2023), but it is very prevalent in Pai. You can buy weed or pre-rolls at just about any restaurant, cafe, or bar.
  • There are no rideshares like Grab or Bolt. To get around outside of the town you’ll need to either hire a scooter or take taxis.
  • The road to Pai from Chiang Mai is very very windy (over 700 curves). Make sure to take a motion sickness pill in preparation.

Best Restaurants and Bars in Pai 

We ate some of the best food of our trip to Thailand in Pai, sometimes returning to the same places over and over again during our visit. 

Here are some of the best places to eat and drink in Pai:

  • Joy’s Place – overall best Thai food in Pai at unbeatable prices
  • Tham Ma Daa Cafe – laidback spot for beers away from the crowds. Food menu is just okay, other than the fries which are a must-order
  • Sunset View Pai – A+ sunset view, B+ Thai cuisine. Worth it for the view! 
  • Cheese Madness – the best late-night grilled cheese spot in Pai
  • Almost Famous – fun, lively bar in Pai with 20+ types of mojitos
Almost Famous bar in pai, thailand
Almost Famous
Jaey's Cafe by the Bamboo Bridge
Jaey’s Cafe by the Bamboo Bridge

How many days in Pai?

I would recommend spending at least 2-3 nights in Pai. Not only is there some much to do and see both in Pai and the surrounding areas, but unless you’ve stopped in as part of the Mae Son loop, you likely traveled quite a few hours to reach Pai. 

3 nights is the perfect amount of time to balance exploring and relaxing in this beautiful mountain area. We stayed 5 nights and never ran out of things to see and do!

How to get to Pai?

If you’re visiting Pai you’re likely either visiting as part of a larger motorcycle loop or traveling directly from Chiang Mai.

I don’t have any experience on the long motorcycle routes in Thailand, so I can’t speak on those. But getting from Chiang Mai to Pai is super easy by shuttle. You can book at any tourist travel shop in Chiang Mai or online. The benefit to booking online is that you can choose your seat. This is huge if you get car sick because the road is super super windy (like 700+ windy curves windy).

Tickets start around 150 baht ($4.50) for a minivan and the journey takes around 3-3.5 hours.

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