If you’re travelling the typical tourist circuit around south east Asia, you’ve likely heard of everyone’s favourite place in Thailand – Pai. What makes this small town in the mountains so special? What are the top things to do in Pai?
Most will arrive in Pai from Chiang Mai. You can drive a rented motorbike from Chiang Mai or get one of the many buses that run hourly. Be warned, the road to Pai is infamous for the tourists that throw up on the journey. If you’re confident on a bike, the roads and scenery are quite special for a motoring enthusiast. However, for the rest of us, the vomit-inducing 3-4 hour journey up windy roads is your best bet (at 150 baht it’s reasonably priced too). Just pray you get a safe driver.
The first thing you really need to do is rent a mode of transport. We rented a scooter – at 150 baht per day it’s a reasonable expense. Be sure to rent something with a little power. There’s plenty of steep inclines and you don’t want to be pushing a scooter up a hill like I did! There’s really no other way to get around Pai. We heard stories of tourists being reprimanded for not having international driving licenses in Pai. It’s a 400 baht fine, but then you get 4 days to sort it out before you can be charged again. It’s your call if it’s worth the risk!
Things to do in Pai – Daytime
There are so many things to do in Pai, you really need at least 3 full days (even then these will be action packed). Have breakfast at Big’s Little Cafe. It’s a small hut that only sits 10 people, but they cook everything fresh in front of you. If, like us, you’re dying for a cooked breakfast at this point in your journey, get it here. It’s unlikely you’ll get a better one anywhere in Thailand. Their take out sandwiches are also excellent, and a tasty on-the-go lunch. Prices are very reasonable – expect to spend around 75 baht for breakfast, and around 75 for lunch. If you’re (thinking of) travelling all of South East Asia and want to know how much money you’ll need, check out this post.
A popular tourist route is the journey to the 815m long bamboo bridge. Along the way, be sure to visit the land split. Around 10 years ago, a local farmer awoke to find his land untenable after it cracked under seismic activity. The entrepreneurial farmer turned this into a tourist attraction – the land split. The split itself is underwhelming, it kinda looks like a canyon that’s just a little out of place. However, you have to visit for the farmers hospitality alone. You’ll get a free selection of their locally grown foods and roselle juice. Try going down the rocky hill on the go-kart, it’s great fun! Really, it’s visit for the split, stay for the hospitality.
The Land Split, Pai
Pam Bok Waterfall
On the way to the bamboo bridge is also Pam Bok waterfall. It’s the highest rated waterfall in the area on trip advisor, but in our opinion that doesn’t say much. It’s kinda small, the water is dirty and the maintenance of the place is extremely poor. At points the walkways and access points to the water feel a little unsafe. See it if you have spare time, but really there are far better waterfalls to see in south east Asia.
Pam Bok Waterfall
The bamboo bridge itself is great. It’s a long relaxing walk along the huge bridge in beautiful surroundings. This is where you see the scenery and tranquility that makes Pai so special.
Nam Lod Caves
Another trip you need to make is out to Nam Lod cave. It’s a long way, almost 40km from Pai, but the road is beautiful on a scooter and there’s a couple of great activities along the way. Stop off at Bamboo mini golf, a couple of kilometres outside town. It’s essentially mini golf with a bamboo pole and a tennis ball, but really an experience you won’t get anywhere else – its one of the real niche things to do in Pai. It’s also great competitive fun. An ex-pat from Scotland runs it and talking to his lovely family is all part of a great experience.
Sai Ngam Hot Springs
A few kilometres further is Sai Ngam hot springs. Be sure to do these specific hot springs! We hear that the really popular springs in the south will set you back nearly 1000 baht and are horrifically overcrowded. Sai Ngam springs are less than 100 baht for two, a beautiful temperature and really not overcrowded at all. If you’re unsure which springs to visit, ask the locals. They all recommend Sai Ngam.
Sai Ngam Hot Springs
The Nam Lod caves seem a long way away, but it’s really worth it! Make sure you have a full tank of fuel in the bike before you leave. The windy, mountainous (and also extremely fun) road to the caves will use most of a tank of fuel in the round trip. At the caves, you’re taken on a lantern lit tour by a local guide around some really spooky but oddly fascinating caves. These caves are humongous inside; the scale of them is truly staggering. As an added bonus, the local guide will also point out stalactites that look like animals. Very entertaining.
Nam Lod Caves
Definitely visit Pai canyon. The views are breathtaking, especially at sunset. Be careful though, the canyon is not exactly up to western health and safety standards. One misstep and you could really hurt yourself. Be sure to wear shoes with good grip.
Things to do in Pai – Evening
Eat dinner at Na’s kitchen. It’s excellent local Thai cuisine at a very affordable price. Order one of the local coconut based curries, they’re excellent. Try out some of the street food, we loved the rotee’s in particular.
There’s also a lively night scene in Pai if that’s your kind of thing. The live music is a cut above what we’d seen in the rest of Thailand. There’s a cool blues club and plenty of guitar players in the local bars. Spend your nights meeting other tourists over beers and sharing stories. The yellow sun bar is open latest til 1am.
We had heard from some people that the influx of tourists has waned the beauty of Pai in recent years. To a certain extent, there is evidence of this with burger joints and bars. However, the town has done a great job of keeping an authentic, small, scenic town feel, yet there are still many things to do in Pai. It’s a great place to meet other tourists from all over the world, yet get a great experience of rural Thailand. Definitely visit, it’s our favourite place in Thailand too.