Pai, Thailand

Pai thailand canyon bench at sunset

Located in the far north of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, Pai, Thailand is a small mountain village known for its relaxed atmosphere, affordable accommodations, and plentiful cafes. As such, it has become a magnet for backpackers and hippies looking to chill for a while.

The scent of marijuana fills the air as I make my way from the bus station to my accommodation in the mountain village of Pai, Thailand. The predominance of foreigners filling the streets of this once small market village turned tourist destination almost has me questioning if I am still in Thailand.

Although my research revealed the current nature of Pai’s touristy vibe, it was still strange to see such a small and distant village filled with so many foreigners. It isn’t my place to say if this is good or bad. It most certainly depends on who you ask. 

It’s also a bit surprising because Pai isn’t exactly easy to get to. My three-hour journey from Chiang Mai in a packed van is a testament to that.  All the while navigating seriously winding mountain roads (762 road curves to be exact)… my reluctant choice to prepare myself with Dramamine turned out to be a good one. You got to really want to experience a place to make that kind of trek.

With all of that said, it quickly became apparent why this place has become the destination hotspot that it is. It is indeed chill, full of quirky cafes and shops, and has a fun little night market. However, it is the scenery of the surrounding countryside that was the real draw for me.

Due to my short two-night stay in Pai, I didn’t have a lot of time to walk the town. However, the short time I did have to traverse its streets revealed some really unique cafes and accommodations. The coffee was great and the night market offered quite a bit of food to sample.

Below: The view from 2 Huts Cafe. If only all cafes had a view like this. It is a popular place for sunsets and drinks. However, I had a date with Pai Canyon a bit later for sunset views.

Pai, Thailand is full of touristy, yet beautiful things to do and see. Some of the more popular sites around Pai include hot springs, waterfalls, a bamboo bridge that meanders through rice paddies, Pai Canyon, and the Big Buddha to name a few.

Only having one full day to experience Pai, Thailand, I chose to hire a private driver. This enabled me to skip the things that I wasn’t so interested in and spend more time with those that intrigued me.

This turned out to be a good choice. I skipped the waterfalls and hot springs, some of which could be seen from the road as we drove by. To be honest, the waterfalls that I could see didn’t look very impressive.

Below: Climb the 353 steps of Wat Phra That Mae Yen (also known as the Big Buddha or White Buddha) overlooking Pai and get rewarded with some tranquil meditation time.

The Boon Ko Ku So Bamboo Bridge is a beautiful place and I spent quite a bit of time here. It is probably best to visit this place during the rainy season when the rice paddies are lush and green. Despite my visit post-harvest, I found it to be really enjoyable. This meandering raised walkway is 800 meters long and will lead you through the rice paddies to a temple in the forest. It’s a unique little hike. You can also enjoy a coffee or smoothie at a very tranquil raised cafe overlooking the fields and cattle.

As we drove from destination to destination, beautiful scenes presented themselves on a regular basis. They could be found at the many cafes of Pai or simply along the side of the road.

I’ve never visited so many cafes in one day. However, they all offered such a unique experience and I couldn’t resist. Coffee at one, lunch at another, and smoothies at the next. Beautiful views and relaxing vibes are included with the price of your drink.

My final destination of the day was Pai Canyon. This is a popular spot for sunset and a unique hiking experience. The trail can be very narrow at times with nothing to protect you from falling. This can be pretty nerve wracking. Honestly, I didn’t go very far on the trail.

Pai Canyon is a very popular spot for sunset. In this regard, it did not disappoint. This place is truly gorgeous. Fortunately, I was able to scout out a pretty good spot to set up for photos with few people in my composition. What you can’t see are the hordes of people behind me enjoying the sunset as well.

I really enjoyed my short visit to Pai, Thailand. Despite the large amounts of tourists, I still found it to be a really tranquil and beautiful place. Full of quirky cafes and beautiful scenes everywhere, I could see myself visiting again. If I were to do it again, I would book at least three nights, or maybe a week. This would allow me to move and experience Pai at a slower pace and take full advantage of its chill vibe.

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    1. Hi Heather: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I was hesitant to go but really happy I did. It’s a very windy road, but quite wide for a mountain road and felt safe. Despite being crammed in a full van, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Pai turned out to be a cool place to hang out for a bit and I do wish I had spent more time there. It is a really unique place in the world and I do recommend you check it out if you have the opportunity. Safe travels!

  1. Stunning, as always, Skip. Having only been to Chiang Mai six years ago, this definietly has us looking forward to a return to Thailand someday. Really love those shots of the bikes and scooters. We’ve never hired a driver, but (as someone that despises driving) that sounds like a dream! Maybe we need that for our everyday life!?

    1. Thanks Mack. Hiring a driver was definitely the way to go, especially since my time was so limited. The driver knows exactly where to go saving time and stress. With that said, it would have been a pretty cool place to rent a scooter of I had more time.

  2. Stunning photography, as always. The trail through the canyon looks like it would require a deep adventurous spirit. And I’m glad you had your Dramamine with you on the road to get up there ?.

    1. Hi Ryan. Thank you. Honestly, Pai made it pretty easy to get some great shots. Yeah, that canyon trail definitely requires a bit of an adventurous spirit. I did a little bit of it but didn’t get too far. Fortunately, I was able to have some great views anyway.

    1. Hi Allison. As always, thanks for your kind comments. I think you would enjoy getting your camera out there. It’s a pretty photogenic place.

    1. Hi Beverly. Despite the number of tourists, I still found it to be a pretty laid back place. Yes, we did stay in an Airbnb. There is no shortage of accommodations there. The place we stayed in was on top of a bakery/cafe just a bit outside of the main part of town. It was a good choice as it was easily walkable, but quiet. It had a modern minimalist design to it. We enjoyed it for two nights.

    1. Thanks Miki. I have no doubt you will get there. I do recommend staying at least three nights if you can. Two nights only allowed one full day. I would have liked to have at least one more full day to soak the town in a bit more.

    1. Thank you Gretchen. You should definitely check it out if you can fit it in to the itinerary. It’s a very unique and beautiful place.

    1. Thanks for the kind words PJ. Yes you should check it out. Despite it’s small size it has a lot to offer if you are looking for a chilled out experience. It is a very unique place with beautiful scenery all around it.

  3. Beautifully put Skip. We were there for 4 nights …and I took the motion pills, too! We found a Wednesday morning market that allowed us to shop and eat with the locals. Very beautiful area.

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