A tiny town with a bohemian spirit, people often combine Pai with a trip to Chiang Mai 4 hours south. But it's also a worthwhile destination in its own right, surrounded by the emerald green rice paddies and mountains of northern Thailand. Get ready for motorbiking through lush landscapes to natural hot springs and atmospheric shrines by day, topped off by lively pool parties at night.
Hostels in Pai range from the rustic to the upmarket: you can stay in jungle-style huts or contemporary boutique accommodation decorated with eclectic artwork. Some Pai hostels organise free entertainment like poi fire shows, and you can even find a hostel with its own skate park. Look for a Pai hostel with an infinity pool to bring a bit of luxury to backpacking, or a spacious hammock-filled garden to factor in some chill time.
With a handful of streets, Pai's more of a village than a town, but it really comes to life at night – especially on Walking Street. This is the main area to explore the bustling atmosphere, with plenty of market stalls selling takeaway cocktails, innovative street food and cool local crafts. If peace and quiet is more your thing, take a wander down by the calm river or head out to the jewel-bright rice paddies that surround the town. Alternatively, trek into the nearby hills.
You can see Pai's main sights by motorbike on a loop within a couple of days. Pai Canyon is great for small hikes, and you can check out Pam Bok and Mo Paeng waterfalls for wild swimming. For a memorable view, you can't beat a climb to the White Buddha shrine (Wat Phra That Mae Yen) in the mountains. If your hostel doesn't have a place to swim, get down to one of the popular local bars – some have pools for sunbathing and meeting other travellers, along with live DJs.
The journey to Pai is part of the adventure, so many travellers rent motorbikes in Chiang Mai after touching down at the airport and wind their way up a mountain road with 762 curves. You can also take a bus with air con, or ask your hostel in Chiang Mai to organise a door-to-door minibus – it'll take 3 to 5 hours. Motorbikes are the main way to get around the narrow roads in town, but you'll also find taxis and tuk tuks.