Pai is a bohemian outpost in the Mae Hong Son district of Northern Thailand. It’s very different to most places in Northern Thailand because it’s been well established on the hippy trail for decades. This has strongly influenced how Pai has developed and the quirky nature of the town.

As the t-shirt says, 762 curves on the 140 km road from Chiang Mai to Pai

It’s not an easy place to get to as although it’s only about 140 km from Chiang Mai, the road is one of the tightest and windiest in Northern Thailand and wreaks havoc with anyone prone to motion sickness.

map chiang mai to pai
Route from Chiang Mai to Pai by car or motorbike

The road boasts 162 curves and takes a heavy toll on scooter riders and cyclists. Pai airport, which was closed for two decades, is now serviced by regional airline Siam General Aviation out of Chiang Mai.

The quite small main street of Pai, Thailand

The town of Pai is quite small and doesn’t boast a lot of amenities, although it has enough to satisfy backpackers and travellers whose needs are not too complicated. The main street is wall to wall cafes, small restaurants, souvenir shops, bars and market stalls, with loads of cheap guest houses down the side streets. All told there are over 350 hotels and guest houses servicing Pai travellers.

Some of the guest houses on the fringe of Pai are quaint and quirky

Although I describe Pai as laid back and quirky, it does seem to get a lot of visitors, especially between November and March, and many of them are Thai locals looking for the location made famous in a couple of Thai romance movies in 2004 and 2006. Pai even manages the odd traffic jam at the height of the tourist season and now boasts three sets of traffic lights.

Pai has had its fair share of negative press in the West over the past decade or so including a severe crackdown on illegal drug production that resulted in the deaths of over 1000 Thais in 2pp2-3 thanks to heavy handed actions by police. A drunk police officer fatally shot a Canadian tourist in Pai in in 2008  and wounded a second Canadian following what appeared to be a domestic dispute.

Nevertheless, Pai is a safe place to visit and there’s plenty to see and do if you’re adventurous enough to make your way there as we did in 2010. The best time to visit is around Christmas when the weather is coolest but be aware this is also the busiest time for tourists.

Tha Pai Hot Springs

Take time to get out of town and see the Tha Pai Hot Springs, about 7 km south east, where you can bathe in the hot water and picnic among the rocks.

Ban Santichon village, Pai, Thailand

Keep going through the middle of Pai and on another 4-5 km you’ll come to Ban Santichon which boasts a rather poor imitation of the Great Wall of China but a rather good Yunnanese restaurant and an interesting market in what used to be a drug town run by former Ko Min Tang soldiers from China.

Pai Canyon, Thailand

On your way back to Chiang Mai from Pai, think about dropping into Pai Canyon, about 8 km out of town, where you can climb up a paved staircase to a lookout with amazing views across Pai district and the valley it nestles in. But don’t try to do this in the heat of the day as there’s almost no shade.

Best resorts and hotels in Pai, Thailand

Reverie Siam Resort

A wonderful countryside home experience
A wonderful countryside home experience

Reverie Siam Resort in Pai is more of an experience in its own right than just a place to stay. The atmosphere of the resort is pure peace and tranquillity. In fact the big risk in staying here is that you won’t want to leave the resort at all and you’ll miss out on exploring the rest of what Pai has to offer. With beautiful mountain views, carefully sculpted gardens, magnificent decor and furnishings and colonial design influences, this is something really special. The owners are very focused on guest comfort and great experiences. Comfortable bed, rainwater shower, spa bath overlooking the garden, shaded terrace and food to die for. But beware, this is not a flip-flops and singlet resort! You will be expected to dress neatly and properly.

Room rate: from 5,900 Bt per night
Bookings: check availability and rates on TripAdvisor

Pai Island

A romantic hotel, wish we'd had more time here
A romantic hotel, wish we’d had more time here

Pai Island resort is just so stunning that it will forever change your expectations of what a holiday resort should be … it’s a worry! The villa units are generously proportioned with big, comfortable beds and mosquito nets so you can leave the windows open and enjoy the mountain breeze. There are showers inside and outside and you have not lived until you’ve experienced a “power shower” under the stars in Pai.  It’s much more private than you’d expect. The resort is stunningly beautiful and you may not want to leave it, but if you do it is a fair hike into town … luckily they have their own captive tuk-tuk to transport guests in and out of Pai. Put a bit of romance into your stay in Pai.

Room rate: from 6,900 Bt per night
Bookings: check availability and rates on TripAdvisor

Pura Vida Resort

Located in the most beautiful and relaxing gardens you could imagine
Located in the most beautiful and relaxing gardens you could imagine

Pura Vida Resort is a stunningly beautiful family-run resort. Noi and Aad are incredibly focused on making sure every guest has a great time and responsive to questions about bookings. They’ll help you to rent a motorbike or scooter, show you how to get into town and back, tell you the best places to eat or get a massage and organise side trips for you if you want to explore the local region (and you should).  Each individual bungalow is set apart from the others, with spacious rooms, comfortable beds, a big bathroom and a fridge to keep drinks cold. Although the resort is only five minutes drive from the centre of Pai, it feels like it’s a million miles from anywhere and is surrounded by farms. Spend some time just wandering around the amazing gardens and admiring the lotus-filled ponds. Make sure to try Noi’s home-cooked breakfasts which will be some of the best you’ll taste anywhere in Thailand.

Room rate: from 880 Bt per night
Bookings: check availability and rates on TripAdvisor

Check out the Top 25 places to stay in Pai for more accommodation ideas.  If you are thinking about staying more than a few days or you’re travelling in a larger group, there are also a couple of nice vacation rental options in Pai from under 700 Bt per night that will accommodate up to 28 people.

7 day weather forecast for Pai, Thailand