A Traveller's Guide to Pai, Thailand

Pai Canyon, Thailand, is great for sunset mountain views
Pai Canyon, Thailand, is great for sunset mountain views | © Julian Peters / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Culture Trip Travel Team
2 September 2021
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Explore the Tha Pai Hot Springs and Pam Bok waterfall while staying in the northern Thailand town of Pai. It’s a haven for hikers, thanks to its lush gorges and mountains. Discover our guide to this little town in the heart of the Lanna Kingdom.


Pai is an idyllic town in northern Thailand that is known for its natural beauty and languorous pace of life. Outdoorsy types will love the many activities available, including day and overnight treks to visit the Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu hill tribes or a gravity-defying traipse through the Pai Canyon. For something a little gentler, pay a visit to the impressive Wat Phra That Mae Yen (also known as White Buddha on the Hill), or simply kick back with a book at one of the many laidback cafes in town.

You can visit Pai with Culture Trip as part of our 10-day small-group Northern Thailand tour.

Things to do in Pai

The Pai Land Split was formed by seismic activity and earthquakes | © eFesenko / Alamy Stock Photo

Surrounded by mountains and thickly forested jungles, Pai is a hiker’s dream, with a wide variety of treks that cater to different levels of competency. Favourites include the hike to the secluded Pam Bok Waterfall, encircled by rocky cliffs and primed for swimming. After visiting Pam Bok, make a detour to the Land Split, a geological feature caused by a 2008 earthquake. Once farmland, it is now a colossal crack in the earth, exposing the active fault line beneath – a dizzying experience to witness up close.

For something more serene, head over to Kho Kuu So Bridge, a bamboo construction that spans over 800m (2,625ft) across large swathes of rice paddy fields. An hour or so before sunset, make your way to Pai Canyon, a scenic gorge that offers exceptional views of the sun dipping below the horizon. Another must-visit during your time in Pai is the Tham Lod Cave, a limestone cave system that can only be navigated on a bamboo raft and with a guide. Within the network of caverns, you’ll be mesmerised by the ancient stalactites and stalagmites – some of which reach up to 20m (65ft) in height.

Places to stay in Pai

Stay at the Pai Village Boutique Resort | Courtesy of Pai Village Boutique Resort / Expedia

There’s no dearth of accommodation options in Pai, ranging from homey guesthouses to luxurious hotels. One such property is Pai Village Boutique Resort. It’s located close to the town centre but retains a certain rustic charm, with its lush gardens and liberal use of indigenous materials in its architecture. The rooms are all spacious and tastefully decorated, with a nod to Lanna and Hmong heritage. With two excellent restaurants onsite – including the acclaimed American bar and grill the Blue Ox – you needn’t stray far for great food. Be sure to make an appointment at the hotel spa, which specialises in the deeply relaxing herbal Thai compress massage.

Best places to eat in Pai

Khao soi is a local curry dish | © LindaHughesPhotography / Alamy Stock Photo

Lanna cuisine is heavily influenced by the flavours of Shan and Yunnan, thanks to its proximity to Myanmar and China. If you’re after a traditional Lanna meal, stop by Pen’s Kitchen, which serves local favourites such as khao soi (a spicy coconut curry noodle soup) and herbaceous salads. Vegetarians should make a beeline for Ganita Cafe, a light-filled space that focuses on plant-based dishes, like salads and smoothie bowls, as well as heartier creations, including a coconut lemongrass curry. The restaurant also offers a scrumptious selection of vegan desserts – the caramel cashew-cream cheesecake is delicious.

Best time to visit Pai

Lush greenery awaits in the teak forests in Mae Hong Son, Thailand | © Tanes Ngamsom / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re planning on some serious hiking, the cool season (November to February) would be the best time, as daytime temperatures hover around 15C (59F). November also marks the end of the rainy season (June to October), so the forests are extra verdant and waterfalls even more resplendent. Be sure to pack a good jacket and warm clothing.

Getting to Pai

From Chiang Mai, you can get to Pai either by road or by air. Travelling by bus is the most common option, as it’s fairly affordable (fares start from THB 150/£3.40), and buses are running hourly from 6.30am to 5.30pm from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. The 130km (81mi) journey takes about 3 hours and is mainly on twisty mountainous roads, so plan ahead if you suffer from motion sickness. If you’re short on time, you can also catch a flight to Pai. Tickets cost about THB 2,190 (£50), and you’ll arrive in Pai in under 30 minutes.

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