Lying in the north of Thailand not far from the Myanmar border, the small town of Pai is a very popular haunt among both backpackers and hippies. Its small center is now full of guest houses, souvenir shops, and Western-style restaurants. Due to its lively nightlife scene, it has often been compared to Thailand’s party islands – just without the beaches.
Named after the river that runs through it, Pai is set in a gorgeous mountain valley. The surrounding area is awash with stunning natural tourist attractions, with sparkling waterfalls, steaming hot springs, and scenic mountains.
While the town is undoubtedly quite touristy, its rich heritage and culture still show through in its wonderful temples and bustling market, while the nearby hill tribes still retain their age-old traditions and customs. With numerous different things to do in Pai, the town makes for a great getaway, whether you’re into nature and culture or outdoor activities and nightlife.
12. Pam Bok Waterfall
Located just a short distance away from the town center in a very secluded spot, Pam Bok Waterfall is a great place to head to if you want to take a refreshing dip. As it is surrounded by high cliffs, it sees very little sunlight, so for most of the day, the waterfall and pool are quite shady.
Besides enjoying the magnificent scenery, visitors can go for a dip in the refreshing waters of the pool or dive off one of the cliff ledges into the deep waters below. As it sees substantially fewer tourists than many of the other more popular waterfalls in the region, Pam Bok is perfect if you’re looking to visit a quiet and relaxing spot.
11. Memorial Bridge
Built by occupying Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, the original version of the bridge was burnt down by the same army in 1944 as they retreated before the Allies. Crossing the Pai River, the bridge occupied a strategic location, so after the war, locals rebuilt it in the form we see today.
Coupled with the steel trusses and posts that line its wooden planks, Memorial Bridge – as it is now known – evokes comparisons with the more famous Bridge over the River Kwai. A popular stop on the way to Pai from Chiang Mai, Memorial Bridge is well worth checking out, and there are some fantastic photos to be had on the bridge with the river behind you.
10. Mor Paeng Waterfall
Nestled away among the dense forest with gorgeous scenery all around it, Mor Paeng is one of the most popular waterfalls in the area, and it is easy to see why. Besides basking in the beautiful views, visitors can soak in one of its many pools or even take a ride down one of its slippery slopes before plunging into the cool waters below.
Lying just under ten kilometers from the center of town, the journey there takes you through some beautiful countryside. The only downside to Mor Paeng Waterfall is that due to its popularity, it is often quite crowded.
9. Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp
In the area surrounding Pai, there are a couple of different elephant camps for visitors to check out if they want to get up close and personal and interact with the majestic creatures. Thom’s was the first to be founded, and now four generations of the family have worked closely alongside the elephants in their large sanctuary down by the Pai River.
Guests can learn all there is to know about Tutdao, Ot, and Nguan – its three residents – as well as feed and play with them in the river. As the animals are treated as if they are part of the family, Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp is a great place to head; the elephants are well looked after and seem very happy. In addition to making some new gigantic friends, you can also relax in the camp’s spa, go trekking along the river, or venture into the nearby mountains.
8. Mae Yen Waterfalls
As it is the most remote and inaccessible of Pai’s many waterfalls, part of Mae Yen’s allure is actually getting there. You have to hike for three hours both there and back through some dense jungle.
Following the Mae Yen Luang river, the trail takes you through some stunning scenery. As you often have to cross from one bank to the other, it is a good idea to wear waterproof shoes.
Once you finally arrive, the waterfall certainly makes for a spectacular sight as it is surrounded by lush trees and vegetation. As its idyllic setting is very peaceful and picturesque, many people while away a few hours bathing in the pool or enjoying a picnic on its banks. Due to how long it takes to get there and back, it is well worth setting off early in the morning so you can spend as much time basking in the marvelous natural beauty of the waterfalls as you like.
7. Boon Ko Ku So Bridge
Stretching over 800 meters in length, the Boon Ko Ku So Bridge snakes its way just a meter or so above a huge patchwork of rice fields; its unique look and location make it a delight to stroll along. Hemmed in by forest-covered mountains, the bamboo bridge is set in a scenic spot. The rainy season is the best time of year to visit, as a sea of green rice plants rises around you.
While its picturesque landscape is undoubtedly its main attraction, visitors can also check out its charming little Buddhist shrine, as well as stop off for a coffee at the little cafe that lies amid the paddy fields.
6. Pai Hot Springs
Tucked into the forest in Huai Nam Dang National Park, the Pai Hot Springs are wonderful for relaxing in, and their warm waters are widely reputed to have therapeutic properties. Welling up from the undergrowth, the natural springs can reach up to a whopping 80 degrees Celsius, and these hot jets of water are thankfully cooled by the bubbling stream that runs through them.
Bathing in the hot springs with the forest all around you is a very memorable experience; you’ll come away feeling refreshed and replenished by their soothing waters.
5. Wat Phra That Mae Yen
Overlooking Pai from atop of a hill, Wat Phra That Mae Yen is definitely worth visiting if you have the chance. The spiritual site is a very peaceful place to spend some time in quiet contemplation. Once you’ve panted your way up the 353 steps it takes to reach Wat Phra That Mae Yen, you’ll be greeted with an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and countryside.
Besides its beautiful temple, golden chedis, and astounding view, the main attraction is its stunning white Buddha statue that towers over the complex. Particularly spectacular to behold at either sunrise or sunset, the temple and its dazzling white Buddha are among Pai’s most popular tourist attractions.
4. Conserve Natural Forests
Established in 2014 to protect and preserve the Mae Hong Son Province’s natural landscapes and ecosystems, Conserve Natural Forests will delight nature lovers with its sustainable message, environmental ethos, and successful rehabilitation projects.
Bordering the Pai River, its forests and farms are home to various endangered species, and it is a great place to visit if you want to interact and engage with Asian elephants in their natural habitat.
Besides meeting these gentle giants on their terms, visitors can get involved in some of the foundation’s conservation programs or learn more about Thailand’s biodiverse fauna and flora.
3. Land Split
Located on the way to Pam Bok Waterfall, the appropriately named Land Split marks the point where an earthquake tore apart a local farm with a large crack appearing between his fields. Quite peculiar to gaze upon, the steep, narrow rift cuts its way through his property, and the distinctive geological feature seems to indicate that a fault line runs deep beneath the earth.
Besides checking out this unique phenomenon for yourself, you can also enjoy some fantastic local produce and fresh juice that the farmer has on offer at the entrance to his farm.
2. Pai River Tubing
One of the most fun and popular activities that Pai has to offer, tubing along the river is simply a must if you’re looking for a good time. In contrast to Vang Vieng in Laos‘ famous and raucous river parties, tubing along the Pai River is a very peaceful affair.
Visitors start upstream of Pai and over the course of an hour or two slowly drift with the current back down river until they reach the town. Reclining on the inflatable tubes and feeling the cool water below you as you float past Pai’s many landscapes is a lovely experience, and the whole excursion should only set you back around $10 or so.
1. Pai Canyon
Covering a vast expanse of territory, Pai Canyon will delight nature lovers and outdoor aficionados with its wealth of incredible landscapes that some people rather optimistically claim is Thailand’s version of the Grand Canyon.
While its narrow ruddy red ridges that overlook steep drops and forest-filled valleys do look impressive, this comparison may be a bit of a stretch, although the nature on show in Pai Canyon certainly is beautiful in its own right.
As you explore its many hiking trails and paths, you’ll come across some fantastic viewpoints. Sunset is a particularly lovely time to visit for the soft glow that illuminates the canyon. Lying just under ten kilometers from the center of town, Pai Canyon is certainly worth visiting for its breathtaking landscapes. Many people grab a beer and come here to watch the sun go down.
Best Time to Visit Pai
November through February is the high season in Pai as this is when the weather is warm, dry and the humidity is much lower. These months are ideal for cycling about its lush, green countryside, visiting hot springs, waterfalls and hill tribe villages.
Although the town is quite crowded and expensive during this cool season, temperatures of between 24 and 28°C (75 to 82°F) make hiking, cycling and motorbiking about the mountains much more pleasant. As there are loads of national holidays in December, Pai is packed with people.
While some people still visit in March and April to enjoy the colourful Songkran and Poy Sang Long celebrations, the hot season’s high temperatures make outdoor activities arduous and tiring. In addition, many farmers set fire to their fields during this period so the countryside looks all charred and the air quality is terrible.
From May through October is the monsoon season with most tourists avoiding Pai due to the heavy downpours. While July and August are the wettest, the small town sees a spike in backpackers due to the European summer holidays. If you don’t mind getting wet, the landscape is a gorgeous green with the relaxed Pai Jazz and Blues Fest also being held then.