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If you are planning a trip and want to know all the fun things to do in Pai – let me get you started…
Pai is a small town in Thailand’s lush and jungly north, several hours by bus from the northern capital of Chiang Mai. The road to Pai is long, windy, and motion sickness inducing with over seven hundred twists and turns through the mountains.
It seems everyone that has been to Pai has a strong opinion about the place.
As it is well on the Thailand Backpacker trail, it either attracts intense love or hatred. I can kinda see how it could go either way but for me, it was definitely the former. For me, Pai is one of the best places in Thailand.
This once sleepy town has experienced a tourism boom in the past ten years which has left a lot of return visitors lamenting that it has changed, and not for the better.
I think a large part of why I had such a great experience there was because I was visiting at the end of the low season so it wasn’t too crazy with people yet and that I stayed out of town in a peaceful bungalow.
I liked the town center with its numerous eateries and quiet side streets. Set on the scenic Pai River, it is a lovely little town to wander. I found the locals friendly and the vibe was super chilled. The locals are always willing to chat and help those who are unfamiliar with the area, and if you learn Thai before your trip, you can communicate with them far more easily. I definitely will next time!
But the best part of visiting Pai in my opinion is not the town center itself, but the drop-dead gorgeous surrounding scenery which is best explored by getting out on a scooter.
With abounding rice paddies of vibrant green, jungled mountains and hilltops, gushing waterfalls, and natural hot springs, Pai is a nature lovers’ paradise and there are so many fun things to do in Pai.
Our bungalow was on a quiet property in a small local village, 5km out of Pai’s center. Along with a dozen simple but comfortable bungalows, there was a restaurant on site and about eight kitties. My kind of place.
We would start our mornings chilling with the kitties, eating fresh fruit, and drinking delicious brewed coffee in one of the open garden huts. It was so peaceful.
You could literally just chill out and relax the entire time in Pai but there are so many things to do here that you would really be missing out if you didn’t do some exploring. Here are my favorite things to do in Pai that made me fall in love with this backpacker town.
Fun Things To Do in Pai and the Surrounding Area
Ride a Scooter Through the Countryside
The day after we arrived was my 33rd birthday and I felt extremely lucky to be able to celebrate it in such a beautiful place. After reading birthday messages from friends and family over breakfast, Kerry and I headed out on our scooters for an adventure.
I love driving a scooter through the countryside, it is one of my favorite ways to get around. Pai is a great place to do it because the roads are generally in good condition and they aren’t too busy. We had a ball zipping around.
Swim at Mo Paeng Waterfall
After walking around Pai town and down to the serene river, we took the scooters to Mo Paeng waterfall where we lay on the rocks in the sun and swam in the cool waters of the rock pool.
We watched some crazy people slide down the slick rock face beside the waterfall into the pool below.
On the way back from the waterfall we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. It had gorgeous views over a verdant valley and a cluster of simple but tidy houses. There are definitely worse places to live.
Soak in a Natural Hot Spring
We drove the scooters on the roller coaster roads to the Sai Ngam secret hot springs. They weren’t exactly a secret, with loads of other tourists soaking in the warm waters, but the natural setting was beautiful and we quickly relaxed into the shallow, clear water of the thermal springs.
I love natural hot springs and this one was fantastic with a smooth pebble bottom and vines hanging down low to the water. It was different from any I had been to before.
Visit the Giant Buddha at Wat Phra That Mae Yen
As the sun began to go down we drove to our last stop for the day, the giant white buddha at Wat Phra That Mae Yen on a hill above Pai. Following our noses, we took the winding roads above the town as the light began to die.
The view over the countryside and the town was beautiful from the top and the sky lit up pink as the sun dipped below the horizon. We rode back in the dwindling twilight to town to check out the night market and grab some dinner.
Eat Street Food and Shop at the Pai Night Market
Pai’s night market is located along Walking Street which is closed off for the market every evening. The eclectic shops along the street offer locally made items along with the general Thai mass-produced clothing and souvenirs.
I bought a handmade blue faux leather handbag, a purple sundress, a locally made elephant print makeup bag and a floaty singlet top – my treats to myself for my birthday.
The market stalls mostly sold food items and there was so much to choose from. Passionfruit smoothies, mango sticky rice, banana and Nutella roti, skewers of succulent chicken, small mushrooms wrapped in bacon and grilled, gyoza pork dumplings, crispy spring rolls. I ate so much and it was all surprisingly cheap as well as super delicious.
To cap off my perfect birthday, we had a couple of two-for-one mojitos at a local bar. Can’t beat a passionfruit mojito.
Learning To Cook Thai Food – One of the Best Things To Do in Pai
We took a Thai cooking class at the excellent Savoei (A Taste of Pai) Cooking School. The lesson began with a trip to a market where we were shown some of the local and fragrant ingredients we were going to use to make our dishes.
A swirling mass of slimy black fish writhed in a tank, ready for sale. Pungent herbs and spices punctuated the air with exotic smells.
Back at the cooking school, we started on our first dish of four. Each of the seven people taking the class were able to choose from three dishes for each of the four courses to make. I chose to make a chicken and cashew nut stir fry, mango sticky rice, a clear noodle broth soup with minced chicken and egg tofu, and a chicken Penang curry including making the paste from scratch.
There were five instructors for the seven of us so we were pretty much given one on one tutorials. The instructors were easy to understand and friendly. I was impressed.
Between each course, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor, along with getting to know our fellow students in our class. At the end of the class, we were given a cookbook with all of the recipes in it. Once I have a home again I would definitely like to try a few out.
Tubing in Pai
The other paid activity we chose to do was tubing the Pai River. There is only one company that offers this and we didn’t see anyone else doing it. We were dropped in the middle of nowhere and drifted on our inner tubes the 1.5 hours back to Pai, passing locals fishing and tending their land along the way. We didn’t see a single other tourist.
The river was mostly a gentle current with a couple of small rapids and waterfalls along the way. Rather than being an adrenaline-fuelled activity, it was relaxed and peaceful. Right up my alley and a wonderful way to spend a hot and sunny afternoon.
This is definitely not the peaceful activity it once was and has become a lot more popular since I did it in 2015. You can go on a Tipsy Tubing adventure if you like to mix drinking and tubing with lots of other people.
Exploring Pai Canyon
Another popular attraction around Pai is the orange-hued Pai canyon, a short scooter ride from town. We visited in the late morning when the heat of the day was starting to intensify. The canyon is full of trees and is traversed by very narrow pathways with steep drops on each side.
Exploring the canyon is not for the faint of heart and involves some climbing and scrambling over boulders. I got myself in a couple of hairy situations when I was exploring and with the heat starting to take its toll, we left to cool off.
Visiting a Traditional Yunnan Village
Near our bungalow is Santichon, a small Yunnan Chinese village. The villagers are descended from Yunnan Chinese that crossed the border into China to escape the Communist regime.
It is a bit of a tourist attraction now with numerous shops selling Chinese tea sets and other trinkets. There are also a handful of restaurants selling authentic Yunnanese food.
It is a cute little place and we wandered around, looking at the shops and traditional mud houses.
Pai turned out to be one of my favorite places in Thailand for the delicious food, the stunning scenery, and all of the fun activities. What’s not to love?
I am firmly in the pro-Pai camp and I couldn’t think of a better place to have spent my 33rd birthday.
Have you been to Pai? Did you love it or hate it? Would you want to experience all these fun things to do in Pai?
Where To Stay in Pai
I stayed at Bannamhoo Bungalows on the outskirts of Pai and loved being in the countryside although you will need a scooter to get around.
Closer to town, Butterfly Hostel Pai is a highly-rated hostel for a relaxed stay with dorms and privates available, Pai Nam Now and Sun Moon Pai Bungalow have private bungalows with patios and garden settings, and Tulip Resort Pai offers deluxe queen rooms and affordable price.
The Best Insurance For Your Pai Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Thailand trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
And don’t forget to pack this awesome water bottle with a heavy-duty filter – it’ll allow you to drink from the tap, saving money as well as being more environmentally friendly.
If you liked this post, why not check out some more of my Thailand content:
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- Things To Do in Koh Lipe: A Real Thai Paradise
- Temple Hopping and Stuffing my Face in Chiang Mai
- Koh Phi Phi Island Tour: A Day at ‘The Beach’