The size of Pai allows the town to retain a small village vibe, while its middle-of-nowhere location lends to its appeal as a commune hideaway hidden in the valley and surrounded by lush peaks. Strewn around the mini-town are picturesque coffee shops, artistic guesthouses, and boutiques selling hemp souvenirs, all adding up to a charming bohemian ambiance.
Visitors can easily spend a day away wandering around the city center or floating leisurely down the river on a bamboo raft. The outskirts of town are sprinkled attractions and points of interest, including hot springs, a sprinkling of temples, and hiking trails. Back in town when the sun sets behind the forested mountains, kindred friendships can be forged at any of the town's watering holes.
For visitors who use holidays to slow down and smell the proverbial roses, Pai makes a perfect destination to while away days on end. If the pace of life is too slow, visitors can also consider taking a one- or two-night detour from Chiang Mai, which is just three hours away by car on one of the most scenic stretches of lazy winding roads in Thailand.
Located at the end of a long flight of some 350 steps, Wat Phra That Mae Yen is a traditional however humble temple. You can also take a car up to the top, but the view across Pai is that much more satisfying when you've put in the effort to get there. There is a massive Buddha statue seated hilltop nearby, which is expected to open no earlier than 2015.
Just outside of town, the WWII Memorial Bridge remembers the region's history when it was occupied by the Japanese army; there's not much else to do but to walk across it and take photos, but it does provide a poignant reminder of the area's past.
Every Wednesday, Pai Walking Street sets up from around sunset in the middle of town, which during winter high season, increases to a nightly frequency and balloons in size with additional vendors joining the fray. In the cool night air under the glow of exposed lightbulbs, vendors sell everything from handmade crafts, paintings, and souvenirs that proudly display the town's name. As with any night market in the kingdom, there is street food galore with plenty of local delights for visitors to take a break from browsing. Many shops also cater to the “postcard from Pai” trend, where you can send a “wish you were here” taunt to your loved ones.
Other than the walking street, Pai Town is also home to a handful of shops that are open for business during the day time, selling trinkets, handmade bags, and all boho-essentials.
Ing Doi Guesthouse also organizes regular Sunday Farmers Markets where visitors can pick up fresh baked breads, organic juices, and other produce from the surrounding land. Do check in advance with the guesthouse, because this isn't held every week without fail.
In line with the town's late-to-wake attitude, Art in Chai, a hippy hangout if you will, opens at 11 a.m. from Mondays to Saturdays, including jam nights on Saturdays. If live music floats your boat, check out Edible Jazz on Chaisongkram Road on Thursdays and Sundays and try one of their famed burritos. The Witching Well is a cafe slash restaurant with wooden interiors and a parking area for brooms (of course) with a hearty all day breakfast that rivals that of Boomelicious Cafe at Soi One Corner Plaza.
Nocturnal venus close relatively early in Pai town, but those on the outskirts tend to stay open later. Some of the livelier nocturnal venues include the compact Blah Blah Bar, where they serve no-nonsense beer and whiskey, rocking tunes, and a friendly vibe. Almost Famous is definitely famous with the locals, while Bebop Bar and Buffalo Hill both feature nightly live music. Al beach towns in Thailand and many other popular tourist spots seemingly have a Reggae Bar – Pai's, located on the road leading to Chiang Mai, is as laid back as they come.
110 cc scooters go for about THB100 (~US$3.20) which can go up to THB700 (~US$22.40) per day for a Honda CRF motocross and trail bike from rental shops.
There are no direct Bangkok – Pai flights. The only airline that services the small Pai Airport is Kan Airlines, which flies from Chiang Mai once daily at 10:20 a.m. – a 25 minute flight that costs just under THB2,000 (~US$64) per passenger.
The closest railway station to Pai is Chiang Mai. There are five trains that leave from Bangkok every day, from 8:30 a.m. (arriving 12 hours later) to the last one leaving at 10 p.m. (arriving about 15 hours later).
From Chiang Mai, buses and mini-buses leave the main Arcade Bus Station off Kaew Nawarat Road regularly for a journey that takes give or take between just under three hours to five hours. Budget THB200 for the fare, which leaves change for a drink during the mid-way pitstop.
Alternatively, if the budget allows, the last leg of the journey can be via Kan Airlines from Chiang Mai.
There are no direct buses from Bangkok to Pai. Sombat Tour is one of the few (if not the only company) that plies the Bangkok – Mae Hong Son route leaving thrice daily (3, 5, and 5 p.m.). The ride is some 17 hours long, so if the budget allows, go for their VIP buses for THB 905 (~US$29). From Mae Hong Son, travellers would have to make their way to Pai via bus or minivan.
Plenty of bus companies leave the capital's Mo Chit 2 bus station to Chiang Mai, where travellers would again have to change to another bus or minivan for the final leg of the journey to Pai. Travellers can also complete the Chiang Mai to Pai leg on a Kan Airlines flight.