Pai is a very chilled out place in the mountains in the far north of Thailand near the Myanmar border.
I first visited in 1999 when it was a quiet backwater town with mostly a few travellers hanging out relaxing by the river smoking weed.
Nowadays it’s a very popular backpackers hangout and also plenty of ‘regular’ tourists checking the place out.
Despite that Pai still has a lot of charm and an alternative hippy vibe about it.
The atmosphere you will feel there is different from the south and central parts of Thailand and is one of our favourite spots having lived in Thailand for a number of years.
After visiting Pai 3 times this is what is recommended to do if you have one day in Pai to see some of the best the area has to offer.
They are our favourite things to do there!
Pai In One Day – Thailand Travel
Getting Around In Pai
The first thing to mention about Pai is that if you know how to drive a scooter/motorbike then hire one out for the day as it’s the absolute best way to get around and see the things near Pai.
A scooter rental in Pai costs around $5 a day.
The next option if you can’t ride a scooter/motorbike is to go to a tour company in Pai and you can book a half day trip or a full day trip in Pai to get out and see things.
The other option is to forget about some of the further away places to see and hang out closer to town and just go hiking in Pai to see nearby things you can walk to.
Where To Eat In Pai
Eating in Pai is the second thing to mention here as you will want to have a good breakfast in Pai before going out to do things.
These days Pai has many western options and ‘Thai food made for foreigners’ which is basically Thai style food but made more for a foreigners taste.
Thats what you will find in the main centre of town and the Pai walking street.
As we lived in Thailand in a very Thai city where we eat mostly Thai food as there’s not much western food choices we were happy to have the western food in Pai options.
But if we were travelling for a short time in Thailand we for sure would be mostly eating Thai food and recommend you do to.
The Pai walking street comes alive mostly at night when street food stalls cluster along the street and all the restaurants and bars are buzzing with people.
The place we most recommend for breakfast is the Red Bike Kitchen and Espresso Bar which is on the main Pai walking street.
It does excellent food.
The shakshuka with cheese is definitely a great food start to the day and the coffee is decent to.
It’s very popular so you may have to wait for a table.
And no we didn’t get free food to say this we genuinely love the place!
In Red Bike Kitchen.
Of course there are plenty of other food places in the same area we have tried but Red Bike is our fave.
Check around for yourself though especially if you want a more budget friendly meal you can find some simple street food.
There are a few good cafes around for a morning coffee/tea.
Being a more alternative kind of vibe place you can find some arty cafes in the centre of town to hang out in.
What to Do In Pai and Around
Ok now you have a good meal in you and a morning coffee/tea to start the day get out and about to see some things.
The best things to do in Pai should start with simple walking around in the nearby countryside.
Hiking in Pai is easy as it’s so close to nature.
Walk 10 minutes out of town and you’re in peaceful countryside.
We would recommend if you have a scooter though to use that to get to the start of some places to go walking to save time.
Walking across a bamboo bridge to get across the river in Pai.
In rice paddies in the countryside.
Get outside of the main Pai area is where you will find the main ‘tourist sites of Pai’ to explore.
Pai has a few waterfalls around but the main one most travellers go to is the Mor Paeng Waterfall.
It’s the easiest one to get to but is still a decent way outside of Pai so having your own scooter is a must, unless you’re on a day tour with a company.
It has a nice view out to the jungle and you can hike upwards a bit on it.
Other notable waterfalls to visit in Pai are Pam Bok Waterfall and Mae Yen Waterfall.
If you continue west on the road after Pam Bok Waterfall if you choose to visit that one instead then you can see some ethnic villages near Pai with local tribal people from the area.
Note: Remember this post is about seeing the best of the area around Pai in one day so we’re just recommending the ones to get to if you had to choose between them all, to save time for other things.
Mor Paeng Waterfall.
Pai hot springs.
Just like waterfalls there are a few hot springs around the area.
Sai Ngam is a decent enough one although the waters of the ‘hot’ spring is not especially hot so don’t expect that.
When we arrived at this one there was a whole local family messing around in it, which was fun to watch, but after a while they left and we had a brief moment of complete peace having the place to ourselves.
That was around 4-5 in the evening we had quiet there with the jungle surrounding the spring it was very chilled out and relaxing.
Sai Ngam hot spring when it’s quiet.
Pai canyon for sunset.
The Pai canyon is the spot for watching the sunset in Pai.
May travellers head there around 5ish in the evening to watch the sunset and it’s around a 1-2 hour walk from Pai town so taking a shared taxi out there or having your own scooter is best unless you like to walk a lot.
The area has numerous walking trails on top of the canyon and even though it’s a popular place there’s plenty of room to find your own peace.
Shopping in Pai
There are a few boutique style shops in Pai especially on the walking street area.
You can find cheap clothes and jewellery there and they are some of the cheapest, yet still decent quality items we have seen in Thailand.
You will find some souvenirs and paintings to buy as well.
There was one jewellery shop we loved, or should I say Sidra loved!
Sidra buying some jewellery. The head, wrist, and arm items only cost 700 baht (around 25 dollars).
Partying in Pai
Pai is known for its relaxed vibe but also it has its party side.
At night numerous clubs and bars in Pai come to life and you can choose from a more mellow drink in a bar to a full on psychedelic trance party in the small clubs there.
If you love dancing to techno/trance music you may be lucky and there will be a small outdoor party in the nearby jungle.
But basically the main ‘walking street’ in town has a few bars to drink in that are fun, like the ‘Why Not Bar’ and others.
Take the street at the bottom of the walking street to the right and you will find some more psychedelic trance dancing places that are a lot of fun.
Trance party in Pai.
Getting in the mood to party!
Chilling in Pai
Chilling in the area is what many travellers come there to do.
Sure there is a nighttime party side to the place but being so close to nature there are plenty of places to chill out.
We especially love relaxing at places like the Sunset Cafe and Paradise Backpackers.
Those 2 places are only around 10-15 minutes walk from Pai centre and are in nature and very chilled out.
You can get extra chilled out there but I’ll leave what that means to your imagination. Both places have a psychedelic side to them so I’ll just say that.
Relaxing in a cafe.
Getting to Pai
I’ll just assume that you are getting to Pai from Chiang Mai as this is what most travellers do.
In that case you can either rent a scooter/motorbike in Chiang Mai and drive there which is an excellent drive on a winding road.
It takes around 3 hours but take your time and stop en-route to chill.
You can then use the scooter/motorbike to get around when there and drive it back to Chiang Mai at the end.
The other way is to a van which costs around 200 baht and run every hour throughout the day.
Your hotel/hostel/guesthouse in Chiang Mai should be able to book the van for you.
There is actually a Chiang Mai to Pai flight but dont bother as going overland is not that far and worth it for the scenery.
Where to stay in Pai
If you want to be close to the action there is plenty of guesthouses and hostels in the town itself but for a more relaxed in nature atmosphere you can find bungalows across the river from the main area but still close to the fun.
Get a little further away, even just 10-15 minutes walk, and you will find very relaxed hostels/guesthouses in nature.
When in this part of Thailand be sure to check out Doi Inthanon National Park (our guide for the area) which is one hour drive from Chiang Mai and has loads of waterfalls and hiking trails.
Take travel insurance for travelling in Thailand just in case. I’ve seen far to many motorbike injuries by travellers in the country.
I use World Nomads Travel Insurance and recommend them for the traveller. Get a quote for your trip here:
If you have a lot more time there then this is an excellent post about Pai from some travel blogging friends of mine with lots of options to choose from.
If you liked this article about one day in Pai a share would be cool!