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Discover Pai in 48 hours - Best itinerary for first-time visitors

Pai - the sleepy and beautiful town in northern Thailand has always been my travel-list destination. The first time I saw photos of this little town 4 years ago and never stop dreaming about it from that day.

In August, I had a chance to make my dream come true. From Chiang Mai, I had a 2-day visit to Pai. Even though the visit was short but the memory was unforgettable. I found so many things in Pai that I can’t help but fall in love with, from the colorful mailbox and poetic ricefields to the laidback vibe that is as if it was made for dreamers.

Below, you will find all information you need to know about Pai and what to do in 2 days. I’m a slow-pace traveler so I don’t put everything into a short trip. Following my itinerary, you can visit must-see places while having time to relax and feel the unique atmosphere that only Pai has to offer.

DAY 1

Getting to Pai

We traveled to Pai from Chiang Mai. There are buses, every hour, that cost only $7 for a 4-hour drive to take you from Chiang Mai to Pai. If you want to be private, there are private cars with drivers that cost around $110 for one way drive and you will get to Pai in 3 hours and 15 minutes. 

You go to Pai from Chiang Mai via road 1095. The road is only 120km but thanks to its hundreds of curves, it is anything but easy. People said that there are more than 700 curves in the last two and a half hours so if you have a problem with vertigo, think twice before you go. Or you can discuss with your doctor to have some pills to prevent motion sickness. I have terrible carsick so we decided to book a private car for 2 days. The price included a round trip from Chiang Mai to Pai and any place in Pai that we wanted to visit. 

Enjoy The Healing Benefit of Sai Ngam Hot Spring

In Japan, famous for hot springs, there is a saying: If you enter the hot spring (or onsen) once, you will become beautiful, and if you enter twice, any illness would be cured. Thanks to its nature’s favor, Pai has a few beautiful hot springs.

We drove to Sai Ngam hot spring to visit on the way to Pai, which means, we had to drive north from central Pai for about 20 kilometers. Located in a national park, surrounded by lush green, you can say Sai Ngam is a jungle spa. No surprise that it is the most famous hot spring in Pai. The water is crystal clear, the temperature is pleasantly warm, and the scenery is captivating, perfect for eye treatment and soul relaxation. 

Sai Ngam Hot Spring is considered the best hot spring in Pai

If you have an underwater GoPro camera, bring it with you. The water in Sai Ngam is so transparent that the photo you take will make all your friends jealous of it. The entrance fee is 200baht and the hot spring opens from Monday to Sunday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.

The water is warm and perfectly clear.

We drove back to the hotel after 2 hours of enjoying the warm water.

Pai Night Market

We left the hotel at around 6 pm for the night market which is located along Chai Songkhram Road and Rungsiyanon Road. The market was lively with lights, small restaurants and bars, and sidewalk stalls offering a variety of nice clothing, jewelry, bags, souvenirs, and delicious northern Thai food at reasonable prices.

Foods at Pai Night Market are all tasty at a reasonable price.

When you are in Pai, I think you don’t need to find a place for dinner, you just come to Pai night market every night and satisfy your stomach. You can find a coconut pie from an old woman with 5 baht. A world of skewers of pork, chicken, beef, squid, or shrimp starts from 5baht to 20 baht depending on the amount of food. Stalls of noodles and smoothies and fresh fruits are everywhere. And vegetarians, you have lots of options both flavor and yummy. 

A woman selling noodles at Pai Night Market. Her father is Thailander and her mother is Chinese.

You will find Pai Night Market along Chai Songkhram Road and Rungsiyanon Road. Opening time is from 6 PM to 10 PM but the market can be up to midnight.

DAY 2

See The Pai Bamboo Bridge

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, the driver took us to Pai Bamboo Bridge which is also known as Boon Koh Ku So. The bumpy path took us to the most peaceful place in Pai. Boon Koh Ku So, which means The Bridge of Merit, is an 800-meter-long bridge that stretches over lush rice fields in Pam Bok Village. We arrived at the end of August when the paddies were at their most beautiful. Walking on the bridge, above the green fields, surrounded by mountains and the fresh morning air, is one of the most pleasant strolls I’ve ever had. 

A poetic scenery at bamboo bridge in Pai

Entrance Fee: 30 baht

Chill at Coffee in Love

Want a place to chill out? You’re at the right place. Coffee in Love not only offers good drinks but also spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and rice fields below. The best seats are on the terrace. If they are full you can walk down the hill on the outside, there are seatings just as nice. Besides the drinks that are from 35 baht, Coffee in Love also serves breakfast, lunch, and sweets such as brownies and cakes. 

Beautiful views of the valleys and rice fields

There are plenty of photo opportunities at this cafe, from the wooden chair outside to the nearby charming yellow cottage. Expect some crowds because this cafe is very famous in Pai. But not at the moment because after the pandemic, there are still not many visitors to Pai so the cafe is still quiet. Only 5 people at the cafe when we were there. 

The vintage house next to Coffee in Love

Another cafe option for nature lovers. Check out the 10RAI where your table is in the middle of a vast grass field. The sunset view is amazing and in the rice seasons, you can see farmers working in the fields just a few steps away.

Visit Big Buddha Pai

Our next stop at Pai is Big Buddha Pai. Its original name is Wat Phra That Mae Yen, which means Big Buddha on the hill. Climb up around 300 steps uphill and you reach a white giant Buddha. It will not blow your mind as many temples you might have seen around Thailand but it has terrific views overlooking the valley. The visit took us only about 40 minutes as there weren’t many things to see at Wat Phra That Mae Yen. If you stay in Pai for more than 2 days, you might want to go there late in the afternoon as Wat Phra That Mae Yen is famed for its gorgeous sunset views.

The entrance to Big Buddha Pai. Very quiet on the day we visited.

Entrance Fee: Free

Vegetarian Lunch at Earthtone

Earthtone is located just opposite the road to the Big Buddha. It’s a small restaurant & cafe with hippie decor and a wide variety of tasty, healthy, and refreshing vegetarian dishes. I’m not a vegan but Earthtone menus made my mouth water. It is full of nourishing food and hard to choose what you want to eat. Buddha bowl is highly recommended but spring rolls, pasta, and vegan desserts are all good and delicious.  

Earth Tone is a rustic cafe and restaurant, just opposite the road to Big Buddha Pai.

The Buddha bowl is mind-blowing. Well presented and tasty. 

Terrific Views from Pai Canyon

Definitely, a place that you should not miss in Pai but don’t expect it as spectacular as Grand Canyons. The canyon is situated eight kilometers from central Pai, along the road leading back to Chiang Mai. Trek the canyon is much easier than I imagined. Just a short walk on the stair to the canyon and you will see narrow sandstone trails winding their way through the forest. From any place, I spotted gorgeous views of the natural surroundings. There were just a few visitors when I got there. I saw a man playing his guitar and singing. His music beautifully resounded in the wild and quiet nature, making my visit unforgettable. 

 People said that it has the best sunset in Pai. I'll save it for the next visit.

Entrance Fee: Free

Note: Getting to the viewpoint of the Canyon isn't for visitors with a fear of heights. 

Memorial Pai Bridge

Located 9 kilometers south of central Pai, this bridge tells an incredible war history. The original wooden bridge was built in 1943 at the Ta Pai village, across the Pai River, during World War II by the Japanese to transport weapons from Thailand to Myanmar. In 1944, they retreated and burned it down when the Allies had the upper hand. After the war, locals rebuilt the bridge but it was destroyed once again in a severe flood. A new bridge with a steel structure which is the current one was erected in 1976 and has become a favorite stop for tourists to Pai.

The Memorial Bridge is built across the Pai River, in Ta Pai village.

Entrance Fee: Free

Where To Stay in Pai

We stayed at Reverie Siam - the most ever romantic hotel I’ve ever visited. The hotel is located right next to the poetic Pai River and only 1,5 kilometers from the night market. It has a theme of the magic of a bygone era with elegant and beautiful interiors. Its decor reminded me of Alice in wonderland, making me feel like I was lost in a fairytale. Reverie Siam offers complimentary elegant white tuk-tuk to take you to the Night Market and bicycles if you want to explore the town with a bike. A la carte breakfast was delicious, healthy, and hearty.  I would recommend this hotel to girls who are romantic and love to enjoy the little beautiful things in life.

Reverie Siam offers one of the best mattresses I had on my Thailand trip ... 

... and hearty a la carte breakfast.

ITINERARY TO DISCOVER PAI IN 48 HOURS

Day 1

- Travel to Pai

- Take a dip at Sai Ngam Hot Spring

- Check-in hotel

- Discover Pai Night Market

Day 2

- Take a stroll on Boon Koh Ku So Bridge

- Chill at Coffee in Love/ 10RAI

- Drive back and hotel check-out

- Visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen

- Have lunch at Earth Tone

- Trek to Pai Canyon

- Take photos of the Memorial Pai Bridge

- Transfer back to Chiang Mai or continue to Mae Hong Son

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