Things to Do in Pai (and What Not to Do)
Pai is a popular stop as travellers make their way through Northern Thailand. It’s a great place to stay for a few days on route to your next destination. Being just three hours from Chiang Mai also makes it a favourite weekend getaway from the city. There are some cool things to do in Pai but its popularity has encouraged the arrival of some crap tourist sites that we’d recommend simply avoiding.
Getting Around Pai
For most people, hiring a moped is one of the first things to do in Pai. All the places to see are spread out over Pai’s stunning countryside so if you want to see it all, in your own time, then we’d recommend hiring one. At the cost of just 200B a day it’s also very cheap! There are dozens of moped shops all over town and many guest houses offer mopeds for hire.
It’s not as common, but there are some shops that also offer bicycles for rent. If this is the mode of transport you want to take, then make sure to hire mountain bikes as many shops only offer city bikes with no gears. No gears would be a challenge on some of Pai’s roads. Expect to pay around 150 baht a day.
Taxi or Organised Tour
All the tour companies in town offer a taxi service to anywhere in Pai. The price will vary depending on where you want to go and if you want the driver to wait for you. Many will also offer to take you to multiple sights for around 500 baht per person.
You’d need several days and a lot of energy to walk to all of Pai’s attractions but it is possible. Some of the things to do in Pai are up to 20km away from the centre but most are within 15km.
Our Top Things to do in Pai
There are so many things to do in Pai but you really don’t have to visit all of them. You can see all of them in a day but why bother if half of them aren’t worth it. Many of Pai’s attractions are cheesy and pointless so we’ll first give you a few of our top thumbs up recommendations and then advise on what to skip.
Yun Lai Viewpoint
Yun Lai viewpoint is a beautiful spot to see some breathtaking panoramas of Pai’s landscape. This was our favourite place out of all the things to do in Pai. You’ll find it to the east of town just above the Chinese Village. What we didn’t expect to find at the viewpoint was a little Chinese tea shop. For the entry price of 20 baht per person, we got a free pot of Chinese tea served in an ornate china teapot and little china cups.
We heard the best time to visit Yun Lai viewpoint is for sunrise and you can also pitch up tents for the night.
Mhor Phaeng and Pembok Waterfall
Everyone loves a waterfall right? Mhor Phaeng and Pembok Waterfalls are delightful places to stop on your tour around Pai.
Our favourite was Mhor Phaeng waterfall. The waterfall has two separate cascades of water and several pools to enjoy a cooling off. One of the pools can be entered on a natural rock slide!
The waterfall’s pools and rocks offer quite a bit of spread out space, so even at times when several tourists arrive together, we still managed to find our own little patch of paradise.
Make sure to get to the highest point of Mhor Phaeng Waterfall where there are some nice views across the green country.
Explore Pai River
We were surprised by the small number of tourists down by the Pai River in central Pai. At both day and night, the river is a lovely place to take a stroll away from the crowds on main street.
There are some quirky bungalows on the Pai River banks and some traditional bamboo bridges to get from one side to the other. During the day it’s possible to see local fishermen attempting to net fish using the river’s current.
There’s only one place to enjoy a meal, beer or coffee on the river, but it’s an awesome spot. We drank many iced coffees at Pai River Corner. Considering it’s riverside location, we didn’t find it to be that expensive at only 60 baht a coffee.
Pai Walking Street Market
The walking street market is a must of things to do in Pai. Kicking off at around 6pm every night, it’s a foodie heaven. We didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as we did since we found Chiang Mai’s walking street markets to be too overcrowded. In Pai, it’s a more laid back affair and although the town has a lot of tourists, the night market never felt congested.
It was a pleasure to try the vast amount of treats on offer and the variety outdoes Chiang Mai, despite being much smaller.
We tried fried quails eggs, Thai curry puffs, noodle salad, scooped avocado, gyozas, sticky rice on a stick, rice and sesame seed pancake, coconut and banana mini pancakes, steamed Thai sweets (pumpkin/coconut, coconut cupcake & coconut/banana pudding) and a cream cheese brownie!
Pai canyon is a unique place to visit and should be on your list of things to do in Pai. As the name suggests, it bears a resemblance to the famous Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale.
Most people visit to watch the sunset but it’s a good place to hit at any time of the day for another Pai viewpoint. With some courage, you can explore the canyon further by taking one of the many elevated and dusty stone paths. Go check it out!
Sleep Out of the Town Centre
To really enjoy the peaceful Pai countryside, we’d seriously suggest booking some accommodation outside of the town centre. There are a selection of budget to high-end resorts and guest houses dotted amongst the hills and rice fields.
We stayed at Bannamhoo Bungalows, located 3km from Pai town centre. From the resort, we were able to walk to a few of the sights and slowly pass by local villages, corn fields and rice paddies on the way. Something all the moped riders from town miss out on.
Things to NOT do in Pai
There are just as many pointless things to do in Pai as there are awesome things to do. So we feel it’s our duty to advise on a few things to avoid.
This bemusing theme park like Chinese village was a massive disappointment. There are a few shops selling Chinese items, a handful of restaurants, horse rides and randomly, archery. It was eerily empty when we visited which didn’t help its cause. To get to the recommended Yun Lai viewpoint, you walk beside the Chinese Village, so you’ll see what we mean.
Pai Tree House
If you’re not staying at this place which is actually a hotel, then we see no point in visiting. You’re not even allowed to climb up it which we thought was the whole point of a tree house!
All there is to do is buy a coffee, take a selfie and swing in the strange “cocoon” hammock.
Upside Down House
It’s a house, that’s been built upside down. Why!!!!!!
Coffee in Love Cafe
You’ll hear a lot of local guides recommending the Coffee in Love Cafe, but don’t bother. It’s extremely cheesy and inauthentic. Yes, it has a view from its balcony but there are far better views in Pai like the already suggested Yun Lai Viewpoint and Pai Canyon.
Wat Nam Hoo
Wat Nam Hoo is a very small and average looking temple found above a little pond. If you’ve visited some of the beautiful temples in Chiang Mai or other parts of Thailand, then skip Wat Nam Hoo for sure.
Ride an Elephant at Thom’s Elephant Camp
You should know by now that riding an elephant can be harmful to these gentle giants. If you really want to go then go to simply admire but do not ride.
Pai does split opinions of Thailand travellers, which is why we didn’t have high expectations before visiting. However, by ignoring the new horrible tourist sites and concentrating on the gorgeous scenery and laidback vibe of the town (the reasons why Pai became so popular in the first place), then there’s plenty to enjoy. We loved Pai and would even consider stopping for longer next time.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Pai then you may also like 10 THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG DAO