“Yes, you should go to Pai Thailand! But you will get sick on the drive there,” one person shared. “There are 762 right turns, I never drive myself,” another friend cautioned.
Now would be a great time to share that I get carsick. And flight sick and boat sick. Let’s say anything that has a lot of motion, and I fall ill. Thus I’ve never been on a rollercoaster. So what in the Universe did I think when I agreed to go to Pai Thailand?
Pai Thailand is a regional town in the mountains. From the description online, words such as hot springs, waterfalls, canyons and gorges portray a tranquil, lush, idyllic area worthy of Instagram posts.
We did none of these things. Instead, we spent 24 hours in Pai Thailand meeting new people, eating great food and spent a night in the most charming Pai Thailand hotel.
How far is the drive from Chiang Mai to Pai Thailand
The distance is about 123km from Chiang Mai central to Pai district. We originally (okay, I originally planned) that we would drive from Chiang Mai to Pai, a 3-hour journey by car. A friend who frequents the village suggested that we take a shuttle or city bus.
So we took his advice and bought tickets with a shuttle bus company that does regular Chiang Mai to Pai Thailand trips. We paid 400 baht per person (about AUD 20) for round trip tickets. More details on our shuttle bus service below.
Pai Thailand Flights
If you are specific on what you want to see in Pai, you could make a day trip from Chiang Mai. To save time, we would suggest flying to Pai Thailand on a small plane. The price is four to five times more what you would pay for a shuttle bus, but you get there in 20 minutes. Sure these Pai Thailand flights are not cheap. A return ticket on a Pai Thailand flight will cost you upwards of $400! But think about it, a Pai Thailand flight for 20 minutes or 4 hours of bus sickness, you decide! The airport code for Pai Thailand is PYY.
If you have no real agenda and wish to take a slower approach, there were a handful of hostels and home share options in the area.
What is there to do in Pai Thailand?
Adventure seekers will have an abundance of active travel options such as standing in the gap at Pai Canyon, pretending to know about Buddhism at the Great White Buddha and journey by rafting or tubing in Pai River.
Of course, I’m cynical because I’m slightly jealous we didn’t get to do any of that when we visited. More reason to stay longer next time!
Our friend from Australia was an excellent guide, laid out a fantastic itinerary that explored food and local life in Pai Thailand. We met his friends, who are like family, and warmly welcomed us to Pai. We swapped stories of our mutual friend and enjoyed getting to know each other. You can see our full itinerary below.
Getting around Pai Thailand
Most of our 24 hours were in the city centre, which is three streets, about one hour of walking. The Pai Thailand hotels we stayed at also had a shuttle service we used to get around. Once again, because the town was small, most rides were a short five minutes.
To get to some of the activities I mentioned above, you will need to hire a car or scooter. There are many places to hire, including Aya Service, the shuttle bus company we used. If you arrive in Pai by shuttle, the bus stops right in front of the scooter shop so you can hire a ride quickly.
Is Pai Thailand worth visiting?
In short, yes, Pai Thailand is worth visiting. Pai gave us that small-town feeling, where everyone knows everyone whether you like it or not. A provincial life that Belle would want to leave but where I saw myself staying for a while. Being here made us realize why our friend makes annual pilgrimages to visit and evoked ideas about where we want to be in our next chapter. The story unfolds.
What to do in Pai Thailand
Lunch at Cafecito
We walked from the Aya Service Station to lunch so we could stretch our legs from the ride. “Cafecito is the best Mexican you will have outside of Mexico,” he said. It was delicioso! We met the owner of the cafe, who is also a cook, a server and a barista (she is the restaurant itself) and seeing that we were tired and served up some coffee and juice within minutes. We ordered a big meal of Smothered Burrito and Mexican Breakfast, and both were excellent.
Check in to Reverie Siam
Now stuffed from lunch, we took a short walk to the Pai Thailand hotel. Tucked behind large trees and paddocks with roaming cows was this quaint hotel, Reverie Siam. We walk along the gravel road and, by chance, ahead of us, we see our next friend. She immediately recognizes us (because hospitality people) and greets us enthusiastically, exalting she has been charged to look after us during our stay.
Our room, full of natural light, our bed was comfortable, and the bathroom was spacious. We could see one of two pools from our balcony and were disappointed when we remembered our swimwear wasn’t packed.
Dinner at Baan Benjarong Thai restaurant
After a refreshing nap in our comfy bed, we headed out to Baan Benjarong Thai restaurant. Throughout the day we told our new friends of our dinner plans and each reaction was highly positive and very complimentary. When a restaurant is praised such as this one it made me even keener.
Baan Benjarong Thai restaurant is an inconspicuous restaurant located off the main road in Pai. We arrived at 6 pm, and there were already a few tables seated. An elderly couple runs the shop, and because it’s just the two of them, they take only as many customers as they can handle (or want.) We were the last table they received for the night. The couple is seasoned restauranteurs with a Michelin star restaurant in Bangkok. Thankfully we had our new friends with us for dinner, so she helped us order dinner and exchanged gratitude and respect to our elderly host.
The soya mushrooms were highly recommended, so that was on order, followed by crispy vermicelli noodles, creamy coconut crab stew, grilled pork with herbs, crumbed chicken with crab meat, spicy snail soup and a side of fresh crunchy veggies for good measure.
To say this was the best meal I’ve ever had would be a big statement, but so far, I can’t think of another meal that could compare.
Drinks at Petit Cru
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do drinks at Petit Cru. Feeling full from dinner, we decided to head to the party at Reverie. This decision turned out well as we found out the owner of Cru and Petit Cru were serving the wine for the party! So we got to meet another friend and enjoy a refreshing riesling from the Mosel region of Germany.
Party at Reverie Siam
We arrived on a night the hotel was celebrating their sixth anniversary. As we returned to the hotel, we were greeted at the entrance and advised the party has started but will likely continue well into the night.
A charming courtyard lit with Feston bulbs, food stalls and hay bales for tables and chairs. We enjoyed some drinks and more food while being serenaded by the local talent. Our new friends were here and the rest of the hotel residents, enjoying a warm evening near the riverside.
Yes, a nap was outlined. It was an eight-hour nap.
Breakfast at Silhouette
Greeted by the same staff that worked the night before, we enjoyed breakfast at Silhouette, the hotel restaurant. Our breakfast was luxurious with a high tea stand of fruits and pastries along with a hot main course, made to order. We had the fried rice and rice porridge (I know it as congee) and topped off with coffee and orange juice.
Coffee/lunch at The Pedlar
As if we didn’t have enough to eat already, we made one last stop at The Pedlar for coffee and cakes. The Pedlar, owned by a couple who have been working on this cute cafe, which has a western vibe with a white and black facade, fresh and modern styling and robust coffee.
A huge kwaab khun ka (thank you) to our friend for all his recommendations! Twenty-four hours in Pai, sixteen of those spent eating and drinking. I think my dreams of becoming Bourdain have finally come true.
Address – 60-60/1 คำเที่ยงพลาซ่า Srimongkol Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300
Aya Service is the shuttle bus company we used for a return trip to Pai. We first called to book but found it wasn’t helpful with the language barrier. So we decided to go to the service office and purchase our tickets. We also found out where the shuttles were departing and arriving. It was a bit of an effort but we’re glad we did that. TIP: if you are staying at a proper hotel (not a condo or home share) the shuttle will pick up at your hotel.
Address: 258 Moo 8 Vieng Tai, Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130
Hours: 9am to 5pm
Phone: 088 499 2456
Follow IG @cafecitopai
Address: ตำบล เวียงใต้, Wiang Tai, Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130
Phone: 053 699 870
BAAN BENJARONG Thai Restaraunt
Address: Pai, Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130
Hours: Closes 11am to 1:30pm, 5pm to 8:30pm
Phone: 089 954 2191
PETIT CRU WINE BAR
Address: 117 Unit2 M.3 Vieng Tai, Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130
Hours: 5pm to 12am
Phone: 085 442 2298
Follow FB @crupaiwinebar
Address: Pai, Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130
Hours: 8am to 5pm
Phone: 088 499 2456