In the hills of Northern Thailand you can find Pai, situated in a valley that’s 762 turns from Chiang Mai this small stop on the maehong son loop this area is full of personality and beauty.
To get to Pai from Chiang Mai it’s as simple as heading to the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station’s Terminal 2 and going behind it to buy a ticket for the minibus which has bus leaving all day every thirty minutes from 6:30 am to 5:00 pm.
The bus takes 3 hours or so going up the twists and turns of the highway which as of this writing is undergoing substantial renovation as they extend this 2 lane road to become 4. What this also means in the long-term is more development for Mae hong son as it becomes easier for people to travel into the hills of Northern Thailand.
The minibus usually fits 13 people with luggage going in the small space in the back and the roof. The 762 turns winds its way going up and up before hitting the first valley where Pai and the river for which it was named after are found.
About a little more than half way to Pai, the buses stop at a station where you can go to the washroom for 3 baht, get snacks and or have a quick mean before finishing the long drive through the curves.
The minibus stops at the Pai Bus Station which is located in the centre of town on the same street that becomes walknig street every night. Pai is a small village that has become popular with local tourists because of the thai movie “Love in Pai” and Chinese tourists because of the Chinese movie “Lost in Thailand” which was filmed in Northern Thailand.
It’s proximity to Chiang Mai and the scenic beauty of the region has made it a great place for travelers and backpackers to explore. In general I found it cheaper to live in Northern Thailand than in the south and especially the islands. Although the difference isn’t huge it does make a difference over time.
If you want to learn muay thai, try kung fu, chill at a bar, trek through the hills, meet the natives of the hill tribes, do yoga and or meditate I think Pai offers something for everyone.
It is easy for a few days to become weeks or months for many people who come to visit Pai and that’s what happened to me. Pai’s location means that you are outside of the modernity of Chiang Mai but it’s never that far away if you want to catch the latest 4D movie in Chiang Mai or go down to do battle in the muay thai ring.
Pai is a place that is easy to get to know innately and the movies have made sure there is always new people coming in and new places seemed to open up every week while I was living there.
Although the bus ride to Pai is scenic the twists and turns are not for everyone and I’ve seen people get sick going to and from Pai. If you would rather avoid that you can easily rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai and drive it yourself to Pai.
Being on a bike or renting a car gives you the freedom to explore the small road side villages, hot springs and national parks along the way. Be aware of the construction being done on the road to Pai and the weather because of the sheer numbers of turns on the road rain can be dangerous if you don’t have a lot of experience riding in those conditions.
Another option is to rent a motorbike from the Aya Service in Pai and returning it to their Chiang Mai office for a fee of 500 baht as of this writing. It costs between 120-140 baht before insurance for what will most likely be a Honda Wave. A 110 cc motorbike is good for general riding but it will struggle on even the small hills with more than one person.
I never rented a motorbike, I bought a bicycle instead but when I go back to Pai I will definitely do it so I can explore all those little nooks in the valley that I missed the first time, so enjoy the ride.