Travel guide to Pai, Thailand

mountains near pai thailand

To describe Pai, Thailand, to someone who hasn’t been there is to try to explain a place that comes across more fanciful than realistic. A tiny, picturesque village set in the mountains of northern Thailand, where bamboo bungalows hug the banks of the Pai River. Dreadlocked hippies in patchwork jeans hang out at the local reggae-infused bars, while backpacking hippie wannabes lounge alongside them in baggy Thai pants. Locals are exceedingly friendly, the food choices are excellent and the surrounding scenery makes for some of the most breathtaking views in Thailand.

pai thailand countryside

Pai in Thailand seems to have been designed to cater to foreign travelers, though it has become increasingly popular among Thais as well in recent years. While it does draw a backpacker crowd, there are many attractions for the more discerning traveler. Resorts set in Pai’s beautiful mountain landscapes offer retreats from the rest of the world and provide peace and transquility. The city center is a charming place filled with quaint shops, excellent eateries and quirky watering holes.

Where to stay in Pai Thailand

Pai is home to a surprising number of resorts and guesthouses for such a small place. The most luxurious is the Pai Island Resort , a romantic boutique hotel with lush gardens and little villas for guests.

Luxury hotel in Pai, Thailand

Pai Island Resort

The lovely Baan Suan Rim Pai is located along the main entertainment drag and a short distance from the nighttime walking street, but still feels peaceful and secluded. The bungalows are clean, well-maintained and decorated and ideal for a romantic weekend away. The Oia Resort & Spa is another great option. It’s just on the outskirts of the city center, offering an even more tranquil and relaxed experience with easy access to dining and entertainment.

Where to eat

A stroll along the evening walking street will provide you with ample food options, all of them delicious. From traditional Thai sausages to banana rotee to burritos to fresh bruschetta, it’s easy to fill up on food stall goodies alone. However, no trip to Pai should be considered complete without visits to The Witching Well and the Curry Shack. The Witching Well is a small but charming eatery that serves up some of the freshest, tastiest Western and Thai foods you’ll find in town. The Curry Shack is a tiny, open-air eatery where you can find excellent, freshly-prepared curries, fruit shakes, coffees and teas.

For cocktails, sample the passionfruit and mango mojitos at Almost Famous bar, unique twists on the classic drink that will give you a whole new appreciation for the mojito.

What to do

There isn’t much to do in the town center aside from eating, drinking and relaxing. However, visitors can rent a motorbike or hire a driver to take them out to the Pai Canyon, waterfalls, and hot springs. There is also the Pai land split, a strange attraction where you can see a bizarre crack in the land and then be plied with free fresh treats and roselle juice from the landowners.

Getting there

Pai is 135 kilometres north of Chiang Mai, but it takes 3 to 5 hours to drive there because the roads are narrow and winding. The route is breath-taking but difficult for people who have motion sickness. You can go by bus or rent a car, or hire a private driver with car or van.

About Casey Hynes

Casey Hynes is a writer, editor and amateur photographer based in Beijing, China. After spending a year and a half writing features on Capitol Hill for Roll Call, a daily newspaper in Washington DC, moved to Asia to travel the world and write. She has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Asian Correspondent, Travel Wire Asia, and a number of publications in China. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Samples of her work and photography are available at: www.caseyhynes.com.