Pai is located on Thai highway 1095, which connects Chiang Mai with Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand. It is a small, rural mountain town with an interesting mix of Thais, short-term Thai and farang tourists, and long-term expatriate foreigners.
As Pai lies at the foot of the mountains, many tourists use it as a base for trekking and visiting hill tribes like Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu. Another notable attraction is the town's excellent Wednesday Market which brings large and colorful crowds of local villagers and tribal people from all around the Pai Valley.
The area of modern-day Pai has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years. About 2,000 years ago, the Lua (or Lawa) Tribe was the dominant ethnic group all over the area of today's northern Thailand, and a few of their descendants still live in villages only about 20km away from Pai.
Pai's recent history is one of waves of migration: in addition to the aforementioned waves of old Shan and Lanna immigrants, Karen immigrants arrived in the 18th century, Lisu and Lahu people from areas of southern China arrived in the early 20th century, Muslim families from Chiang Mai began arriving to establish trade businesses starting around 1950, a group of Kuomintang fleeing Mao Zedong established a community in Pai in the early 1960s, and finally a new wave of refugees from the Shan State of Burma have arrived in the last few decades, fleeing the turmoil caused by the Burmese Junta to work as laborers in Thailand.
What makes Pai Special?In the last years there was much development inside Pai. So now we have a lot of bungalows close to the city. But the locals are very different from the people you meet further down south - here the pace is slower and gentler. If you come to do some trekking with us you have a chance to see some of the Hill Tribes of Pai, Mae Hong Son and the North:
- The Karen (Thai: "Kariang")
- The Lahu (Thai: "Muser")
- The Lisu (Thai: "Lisor")
- Other tribes (Meo, Akha, Paduang, Yao, Lua, Mlabri, ...)
How to get ThereBy road
Route 1095 which connects Pai with Mae Hong Son (50km as the crow flies, but approx. 110km by road) and Chiang Mai (135km) is a very scenic route through the mountains which takes several hours (but worth it). It's a steep and windy drive, with lots of curves, so take a plastic bag and some motion-sickness pills if you need them.By motorcycle
Route 1095 isn't as bad as people make it out to be. There isn't much traffic and you can hear the cars and trucks coming. If you're a little adventurous, rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai and make the ride up to Pai. You can stop at the waterfalls and small towns along the way, and you'll really enjoy the trip, as opposed to being motion sick in a bus for hours, and being forced to stop at the driver's friends restaurants. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and being on a bike makes you feel like part of the mountains. Make sure to take some warmer clothing on your bike, as it tends to get a bit chilly in the higher portions of the ride. As a novice rider, expect the trip to take around 5 or 6 hours, including stops at sites and restaurants along the way.
aYa Service offers motorcycles that you can rent only one way and drop off in Pai or Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai Office: Tel. 053-247889 opposit the Train Station.
Buses and minibuses go to Chiang Mai (Arcade terminal) and Mae Hong Son. Regular public buses take around 4 hours and charge about 80 baht; minibuses take around 3 hours and tickets (sold by travel agencies) cost about 160 baht. One strategy is to get to Pai using the public bus so that you can get an idea as to how winding the road is and then you can decide if you want to splash out and get the mini bus back to Chiang Mai.
Almost every hotel in Chiang Mai will sell you a ticket for a mini bus to Pai as well
To feel less travel sick and save some money take the regular public bus. The scenery is lovely and the winding roads are much easier on one's stomach if you take things slowly.By plane
The nearest domestic airport is Pai. It now has daily service from Chiang Mai. Tickets can be bought at Aya Services in Pai, or from the ticket office in the Chiang Mai airport. It's near the Air Asia office, on the far end. Chiang Mai to Pai - SGA departs daily from Chiang Mai at 10:55am and arrives in Pai at 11:30am. Return flights are at 11:45am arriving at Chiang Mai at 12:20pm.
Bus Schedules :
Price is about 80THB.
Mini Vans are available at both bus stations for 150THB.
The ride takes 3 hours.