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A luscious green escape in the north of Thailand, Pai feels like a world away from the bright lights of Bangkok. Instead of skyscrapers and shopping malls, you’ll find mountains and rice fields. It’s where you go to spend days relaxing and seeing more of the Thai countryside and indulging in some incredible street food.
This little town was a bit of a surprise for me and I wasn’t ready for its calmness and small scale. After spending a good few days there (mostly eating) and sleeping in, Tom and I were ready to uncover more of the areas natural beauty. Throughout much of Thailand on the Islands we had hired scooters to get around by ourselves but driving around this part of the country was something we felt apprehensive about. The roads here literally hair-pin around the mountains and for novice bikers like us, it just didn’t feel safe.
In steps the Pai Day Tour. As you go along Pai’s walking street you will be bombarded with tour operators selling this trip and for Tom and I, it literally ticked off all the sightseeing we wanted. But a few questions always cross my mind where I book tours, such as am I being ripped off? And is it actually going to be any good?
If you’re planning a trip to Pai and wondering what there is to do, here’s my review of the Pai day tour I took as well as some of the other great things to do in the town.
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If you want to see a bit more, check out my video below!
How to get to Pai
The most common route to take when travelling to the North of Thailand is to go from Chiang Mai and then onto Pai, which is exactly what we did. Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that the mountain roads between Chiang Mai and Pai are really, really bendy. If you suffer from motion sickness make sure you have some medicine or motion sickness bands on. The journey takes about 3-4 hours by road and is really beautiful.
How to get from Chiang Mai to Pai will depend on your budget and time constraints but you have 4 main options: fly, minibus, public bus or motorbike. Flying is, of course, the most convenient and quickest way but the most expensive. The public bus is probably the cheapest but not the most reliable, but if you’re looking for a local experience then go for it. I wouldn’t recommend going by motorbike due to the nature of the roads, but if you do really want to do it, there are companies who rent you the bikes and will take your luggage in a minibus so you don’t carry it. Last of all, there’s the minibus option which is what we used. It’s pretty cheap, comfy and you’ll get dropped off in a central location.
Things to do in Pai town
Before you head out to the beautiful nature surrounding Pai, you have to dive into the town itself. It’s really small and quaint but it packs some great stuff into it, especially food.
Walk the Pai walking street
This is the main street in Pai and at night it really comes to life. Here you’ll find tonnes of street food stalls. There is a huge range to choose from as well. You can get anything from traditional Thai dishes right down to vegan wraps. Pai has a bit of hipster feel to it so there is something for everyone. Along this street there are also plenty of bars and cafe to dip in to, making it great for a bar crawl.
Visit the Rim Pai food market
Tom and I stumbled across this market as we were just wandering around, but it was a great little find. This is a local produce market so if you’re looking for a more true experience of Pai, is somewhere you should check out. I’m not sure what time it’s on but be sure to ask around and go and check it out.
Cross the woven rickety bridge
As I’m sure you can tell by the title of this one, I have no idea what it’s called. It’s probably not something to put on the top of your ‘must-see’ list but I liked it so wanted to add it on. You’ll find it at the top of Pai walking street and it crosses over the Pai river.
Head out to the rice fields
If you’re craving a quiet, picturesque spot then you’re in luck. Just a short walk outside of the main town, towards the White Buddha you’ll find a number of rice fields to walk by. They may not be as dramatic as Bali’s Tegallalang Rice Terrace, but they are beautiful nonetheless.
Relax at Fluid Pool
This is the ultimate chill-out spot. The pool is a really good size, clean, has good music and great food to eat. It’s one of those spots you could set yourself up for the day and enjoy doing nothing.
Pai Day Tour – the best thing to do in Pai!
Where’s best to buy tickets?
Booking tour tickets anywhere in Thailand is a piece of cake. As you walk along Pai’s walking street you will see an abundance of ticket offices and posters advertising the day tour. There are a couple of different tour options available that go to slightly different places but overall, everyone is pretty much offering the same tours at the same price. As well as here, I recommend asking the staff at the hostel or hotel you’re staying at just to compare prices. This is where we actually bought our Pai day tour tickets from for 500 baht each which was the standard price being advertised everywhere. In all honesty, I don’t think it matters too much where you get them from, as long as you don’t think you’re being ripped off.
What does the ticket include?
I always recommend checking the details of any tour you take, but the Pai day tour I took included everything. We were picked up and dropped off at our accommodation, the entrance to all locations was included as well as the tour at Lod Cave, and also lunch.
To break it down further, if you were to visit all these sights independently, there’s a chance that you might actually end up spending more than 500 baht. Entrance to Lod Cave for tourists is 200 baht per person as you have to take a tour guide with you. Similarly, the hot springs we visited in the national park is also 200 baht each. Of course, on top of this, you would also have to rent a motorbike and pay for fuel, as well as get something to eat along the way.
Personally, I think 500 baht for a full day out where you don’t have to worry about anything is a complete bargain!
So, where does the Pai day tour take you?
The tour started reasonably early in the morning to make sure there was enough time to get everywhere. We were picked up in a Songthaew (a sort of half-open bus that north Thailand is famous for) and did a pick-up route to collect the other tour-goers. The bus isn’t big and the seats face sideways so be sure to only pack essentials in a small day bag. Take a look at the map below to get an idea of where everything is.
The White Buddha
Once everyone has been picked up, you don’t have to worry about anything but relaxing and enjoying the tropical mountain views. Our first stop was just a short ride away to Pai’s famous White Buddha. This beautiful spot can be seen from a number of places around Pai, and I had actually tried (and failed) to walk there for sunset one day. There’s a big flight of stairs to climb when you get there which was tough since 3 months in Asia had turned me into a giant rice ball, but the views from the top are worth it.
We spent about 30 minutes here which was plenty of time to soak in the views over Pai and the mountains before climbing back down to the bus. The next stop was a bit of a random one but I actually really liked it. The Kiew-Lom viewpoint is a bit of a 2-in-1 spot. From up here you get some incredible views across the mountains and tropical forests surrounding you. Even on a foggy day where the clouds were literally rolling in right at our level, it made for a dramatic sight.
The other attraction here is somewhat of a random one that comes in the form of a body-weight-4-person swing. It’s so hard to get more than 2 people on there but it’s hilarious to try. I almost knocked Tom out when he jumped off (you’ll see that in the video) so just be careful about that! I have no idea why or how it got there but it’s definitely different!
Tham Lod Cave
The next spot took a little while to get to, which is one of the reasons why we didn’t want to go by motorbike. Lod Cave is one of the main attractions in Pai but is a brutal and bendy hours+ drive away from the town. It’s a beautiful route though and I was so glad I could relax and enjoy the views.
After arriving it was just a short walk through the forest to the cave entrance with our guides. I really didn’t have too many expectations about Lod Cave but it was impressive. The Nam Lang river runs through it for a few hundred meters and the cave itself is over 1.6km in length. Right from the entrance, you can see the huge stalagmites and stalactites the cave is famous for, but they soon become completely engulfed by darkness which is where the guides step in.
In true South East Asia style and in true ‘Laura didn’t do enough research’ style, we then clambered onto what were very narrow, flat, rickety-looking boats with small stool seats to perch on. It was a short but fun ride through the cave to where we hopped off to then see more of the cave itself.
We followed our guide by torchlight which gave a great idea about just how big it is. In all honesty, we didn’t get too many details about the cave from the guides; it was more them pointing out rocks in the shape of things like elephants but it was still an incredible thing to see. The cave was once occupied by a tribe around 9000BC and inside the cave, to this day you can see carvings and also a burial site from this time. We walked through the cave and the different caverns before leaving to get back to the bus for lunch at a nearby cafe.
Sai Ngam hot spring
This hot spring is actually located in a stunning national park. It was such a serene spot even though there were a number of people visiting. The water was a balmy 30 degrees and was lush, even in the hot Thai heat. The spring is made up of 3 tiers cascading down gently, with the deepest and most accessible being the top. This was definitely my favourite spot on the trip. We spent about 45 minutes here and I took some persuading to get out.
Mo Paeng waterfall
Just a short ride up the road we reached Mo Paeng waterfall. In complete contrast to the calm hot springs, this spot presented high flowing water and pretty chilly water. I’m not complaining though as I adore waterfalls and it was surprisingly not too crowded. We had a short walk through the forest to reach it and there were rocks to sit on and warm up after taking a dip. Some people were sliding down the rock with the waterfall so if you’re looking to get your adrenaline flowing.
Sunset at Pai Canyon
The full-day tour came to an end at Pai Canyon for sunset. The views here were fantastic and I can honestly say I’d never watched a sunset from somewhere like this before. We carefully walked along the narrow pathway to find a spot to watch the sun go down before heading back to the town.
Simply put, the tour was an awesome day. Tom and I got to see everything we wanted to without the stress of navigating the dangerous roads and worrying about directions. We really don’t do tours that often as we love having the freedom to go at our own pace but I honestly think our day would have worked out the same if we had done it independently anyway. Furthermore, this tour was hands down one of the best value-for-money tours I’ve done, and I actually think it works out cheaper to take it than independently. What’s not to love about a true bargain?
The tour was super easy going and we had plenty of time at each spot to really enjoy it. We weren’t herded on and off the bus, having just a snippet of time to visit the attractions. There was no rush which made it an awesome and relaxing day out.
Overall, I highly recommend this tour if you’re on a budget, a novice biker and don’t have loads of spare time to spend in Pai. It allows you to experience the highlights in one day, completely at ease. And trust me, when you visit Pai, you’ll know that it’s all about taking things easy around there!