Tuesday, 22 February, 2022 09:56:20 AM

THAILAND  >  Mae Hong Son Province  >  Pai Town


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Pai town in Thailand

Pai Town in Mae Hong Son Province of Thailand

Pai is a popular destination for travellers as it is a small rural town located in the northern parts of Thailand and has a casual and relaxed vibe.

The small Pai town is easy to walk around with majority of guesthouses, bars and restaurants clustered.
 thatched-roof bamboo huts, Buddhist temples and a Muslim mosque.

Pai is in Mae Hong Son Province. 50 miles/80 km north of Chiang Mai. A misty town on the Myanmar Border. At 600 meters above sea level, surrounded by high mountains. It lies along the Pai River with a population around 3,000.

Pai district is situated about halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Sorn, Pai offers one of the most fertile and beautiful nature in the North of Thailand, clean air and no pollution. People from many different tribes live here peacefully together and still maintain their traditional way of living.


Good Morning Pai

Pai town
Northern Thailand is a land of natural resources rich in mountains, tropical forests and a variety of culture including Sukhothai, Lanna, and a diversity of ethnic groups such as Akha, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, and Lolo.
Before it declined this decade, Northern Thailand was continental tourist destinations of ethnic tourism in hill tribe trekking tours.

In the last decades of the 20th century, Chiang Mai was a center for ethnic tourism popular among young western backpackers,
The decline in ethnic tourism this century was a result of national socio-economic changes and changing composition of tourist populations

Pai District is in The Mae Hong Son Province in the northern part of Thailand.
The northern part of Pai District is adjacent to Burma. The eastern and southern parts connect to Chiang Mai.
Pai Town is in between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. 110 kilometers from Mae Hong Son and 135 kilometers to Chiang Mai.
The route between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai is steep and has 762 curves through the mountains

Mountains in Pai District
Mountains in Pai District

Pai District geography is plain surrounded by mountain terrains. Is about 508 meters above sea level with Doi Mae Ya as highest point at 2,005 meters.
This high land is a beautiful forestry area.
Pai District has a tropical climate and is covered by fog a whole year.

The weather of Pai District :
(and its effect on the Pai River)
1- March - May : Very hot (around 38 degree Celsius) in summer;
2- June - October : Lot of rain in rainy season;
3- November - February : Cold at average around 13 degrees Celsius in January, winter
Winter is the high season for tourism.

2018 October Rainy Season
2018 October Rainy Season
As you can see the high raise level of rushing water down from mountain with mud particles.


2019 April Hot & Dry
2019 April Hot & Dry
As you can see from the low level still water which has been clear down from mud and sand condensation.
Pai District has several rivers. The Pai river is the main river with six other small rivers originated from the same mountain range.
The river water have been water sources for living and farming of the people here.
Pai River flows from Pai District through Mae Hong Son until it meets Salween River in Burma.
Rainy seasons cause floods to Pai District. The latest serious flood was in 2005.

Climate in Pai
Cool season: 12º C - 28º C from November - March

Hot season: 24º C - 35º C from April - June

Rainy season: 24º C - 32º C from July - September

Pai Town
Pai downtown

Pai is a town in the Mae Hong Soon Province of northern Thailand. It sits in a valley on the banks of the Pai River. It's known for its nearby gorges, hot springs like the Tha Pai Hot Spring and waterfalls like Mo Paeng Waterfall. Downtown, food stalls and handicraft shops line Pai Walking Street. West of town lies Baan Santichon, a traditional Chinese village with clay houses and eateries serving Yunnan cuisine.

The downtown of Pai District has changed to tourism town since the early 2000s.
Almost all resident living in down town are having some form of tourism related business.
Recent tourist types had become more various and had more number of private mass tourists (both foreign and Thais) in the area.
The growth and changing in Pai District tourism configuration had gradually occurred since 1999 but Pai District was developed into significantly important and nationwide tourist destinations after the broadcast of movies and media after 2006.

The new type of tourist was more attracted on diverse activities providing in this era, such as Thai boxing training, yoga, cooking course or night life activities.

Mosque in Pai
Al-Israa Mosque in Pai

 ... whose speakers fill the town with the call to prayer several times a day.

Motorcycle for rent at 100 Baht a day
Motorcycle for rent at 100 Baht a day

Pai is a small town with motorcycle rental service that you can rent to explore the landscape on your own!
Bicycle rental is also available at 50 Baht a day but less popular then motorcycle. You just have to walk around and ask where to get one.

Improved Road Surfaces
Improved Road Surfaces

Road surfaces have improved now to sightseeing areas such as villages, water falls, hot spring and canyon. With a rented motorcycle, tourists be able to go to these attractions by themselves.
Most tourists to Pai today do not use guide in order to reduce expense. Thus the importance of trekking guide role has decreased


Pai Bus Station is a small station located in the centre of Pai town. This is the terminal for mini-buses (converted vans) to and from Chiang Mai. The ticket booth is on the left hand side.
Many restaurants alone the road around the bus station.

Pai Bus Station is at the centre of Walking Street (Night Market)

Taxi Cabs/Songthaews/Tuk-Tuks driving on the street aren’t common in Pai.

How to get to Pai?
Start from the main tourist hub: From Chiang Mai on route 1095 towards Pai it is 132 kilometer. The bus from Chiang Mai Arcade bus station takes about 4 hours.

Buses from Chiang Mai to Pai:
7.00, 8.30, 10.30, 12.30, 16.00

Buses from Pai to Chiang Mai:
7.00, 8.30, 11.00, 12.30, 16.30


Movie : The Letter จดหมายรัก Jod Mai Rak 2004
Movie :  The Memory รักจัง Ruk Jung 2006
Pai was featured in two popular Thai-made romantic movies,
1- Movie : The Letter จดหมายรัก Jod Mai Rak 2004
2- Movie : The Memory รักจัง Ruk Jung 2006

After the two movies, Thai tourists to Pai began catching up in numbers since 2006. Prior to 2006, only western foreign tourists predominated.

During high season, Thai and foreign tourist numbers swell to the point that Pai experiences traffic jams, as well as shortages of electricity, water, and petrol.

The impact of the two movies on Pai showed there were three tourism model in Pai District.

The first one was constructed in 1980s as ethnic tourism expanding from tourism in Chiang Mai. After the area had been named in tourist guidebooks, the number of backpackers in the area had increased and they began to build their own community inside the area. The dense networks of these backpackers provided new norms and vision on Pai District. In this tourism configuration, Pai District was defined as the destination for relaxation and enjoying live music, international foods, and nature. Pai town, the center of the district, gradually turned into a hub for backpackers in 1990s.

In 2006, Pai District was used as a location for Thai romantic-comedy movie. The image of Pai District was shaped by the movie‘s story line which impacted Thais‘ perspectives on the destination.

After that, Pai District has been focused by domestic tourists as the romantic destination and the number of domestic tourists in the area was incredible increased. The new tourism configuration was constructed by having Thai tourists as focal actors.

A small Lychees fruit garden in Santichon Village
A small Lychees fruit garden in Santichon Village

From Poppy fields to Lychees garden
In 1989 there were new Chinese people migrated to the Santichon Village to plant Litchi fruits.
These Yunan Chinese people has connection with drug producers in golden triangle area and eventually they became middle mem in drug dealing.

Traffickers used Santichon Village as distribution center of drug trading and created drug problems in Pai District and Thailand as a whole.

The high profit of drug dealing also made other poor hill tribe people Lisu Villages got involved.
The situation was serious in the late 1990s and Santichon Village and some others hill areas in Pai District became warning zones of government.

The drug business was quite underground activities thus it did not affect the increasing numbers of tourists to Pai town.
In fact, many international backpackers came to Pai to use cheap opium.

Occupation in Pai
Agriculture - mainly garlic, rice, fruits, lychee, cotton

Pai Town

From Mae Hong Sorn town: Along this route pine trees and wild vegetation line both sides of the gently rising road passing nice scenery along the way. In Mae Hong Sorn are motorbikes and jeep available for rent.

China Town of Santichon Village
Tourists come here for costumed outdoor photography

China Town of Santichon Village (Ban Santichon's China Town or Yunnan Chinese Cultural Centre)

Pai District used to be a backpacker hub 20 years ago, by now has progress from rural area trekking to a destination for filmic mass tourists.

A popular tourist attraction, which has more than 1,000 Chinese hill-tribe villagers.

The popular dishes in the restaurant in Culture Centre – braised pork’s leg with Chinese bread. Support the community by buying local souvenirs. Take a horse ride for sightseeing.

Mud houses for two are for rent at Bt1,000 per house, two-bed houses for four at Bt1,500 and six-bed houses for 12 people is at Bt4,000.


Chinese Yunnan  Culture Center, Pai

The fall of Local Trekking Tour

Since 2000 Trekking tourism in Pai District started to decline because changes in hill tribe villages.
The hill tribe villages nearby Pai District had changed through economic, transportation and communication development in the area. Their lifestyle became closer to modern lifestyle of having electricity, television, and house architecture.
Thus, the quality in term of trekking tour was drop and decreased impression of foreign tourists usually wanted to see something more under developed.
This situation made the incentive explorer tourists left Pai District and went to the new emerging trekking destination in other countries, such as Laos and Vietnam.

Guest houses  with local architecture style
Guest houses with local architecture style

Guest houses with local architecture style are backpackers's perception on Pai District.
Village houses were built with bamboo, grass Tong Teung leaves from tropical tree Gloriosa Superba L.
This style of guest houses are lowcost in construction, suited to local culture and nature, and also provided satisfaction for tourists who wanted to change from their normal life in concreat city to experience the rural lifestyle close to nature.

There were two types of tourists came to visit Pai District :
1- Organized mass tourists
2- Explorer tourists

Both organized mass tourist groups defined Pai District as non-interested destination that had a few sightseeing attractions, and did not focus Pai District as the main destination. On the other hand, the explorer tourists saw Pai District as the destination that provided authentic culture and nature. Therefore, these two types of tourists had different practices while they were in the destination. The first left after having their break or lunch, but the latter tried to stay longer and created relations with local people. Moreover, the number of organized tourist groups was higher and had more power of purchasing than explorer tourist group. Therefore, tourism development and promotion policy of government focused on Mae Hong Son, the main district, more than Pai District, Thus, Pai District was translated by relations between explorer tourists and local people only.

Thom's Elephant Camp, Pai
Thom's Elephant Camp, Pai

Before the law announced in 1921 that capturing wide elephants was against the law, Pai District was the area where wild elephants roam about.. That time, Thom‘s family business was taking the wild elephant from the nearby forest, then training them for work in transportation and pulling logs and timbers in the wood cutting business.
In 1921, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) decreed in the Wild Elephant Protection Act that all wild elephants were the property of the government, to be managed by the Department of the Interior as the King's representative.
In 1992, The Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, protects wild elephants, but excludes registered draught animals.

Activities in Pai:
Padelling rubber boat along Pai river

Adventure rafting and canoe along Pai river

Explore caves or go mountain trekking

Elephant riding through jungle

Mountain bike cycling or motorbike-trekking (Nop's bike shop offers 2 - 3 - 4 days motorbike trekking with 250 ccm trail bikes around northern part of Mae Hong Sorn province. Guide available or on your own. Also available Honda Dream, good maps and other information.)

Jungle-treks: Pai is well known as a base camp for trekks to hill tribes. Walk through green jungle and spend the night in a hill tribe village to experience their traditional way of life. In Pai there are local or hill tribe guides and porters available.

Herbal Sauna and Thai Traditional Massage as well as herbal medicine or Burmese Massage

Thai cooking course at Peter's and Wandee's Hut in Mae Yen


Tourist Attractions in Pai and around:
Old temples:
Wat Nam Hu

Wat Phra That Mae Yen (mountain temple)

Wat Klang and Wat Luang (temples where Thai Yai / Burmese architecture is preserved)

Tourist Attractions in Pai and around:
Wonders of nature:

Ta Pai hot spring

Pong Duad hot spring

Mo Paeng waterfall (near Lahu village)

Mae Yen waterfall

Lod caves (these are beautiful and ancient caves on a large area where graves of prehistoric civilization was found. The area is a national park with lots of different birds.

Since the 1980s, Pai trekking agencies used the same four main activities as those in Chiang Mai with :
1- Trekking
2- Visiting hill tribe villages
3- Bamboo rafting
4- Elephant riding


The hills surrounding Pai are lovely scenic landscapes for hiking. This area has hosted organised treks for decades now.

Visiting hill tribe villages
Visiting hill tribe villages

Advice when visiting hill tribe villages near Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Thailand.

Population of Pai
Mainly Thai Yai (from Burmas Shane state) and hill tribes (Lisu, Lahu, Karen). In town mainly Thai, Thai-Chinese, some Thai-Muslim and some foreign residents.

Bamboo rafting
Bamboo rafting

Leisurely ride down the scenic Pai River in a unique bamboo raft

The serene Pai river runs from the northern border with Burma through Pai town and along virgin jungle to Mae Hong Sorn. Hardy adventurers use this route for exciting rafting.

Elephant riding
Elephant riding
Life of Pai, one of Thailand’s most pleasant places

1889 photograph of a Shan woman
1889 photo of a Shan woman
By Felice Beato (1832 - 1909)

At the beginning of 20th Century, Pai was still a small agricultural village inhabited by Shan people (ethnic Tai) whose culture is influenced by Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Today, Pai primarily thrives on tourism. At the very beginning Pai was only a stopover points for tour groups on the way to Mae Hong Son. The tranquility of this village was discovered by the Hippies of the 1960s who made Pai one of the heavenly remote escape from modern world. Then in 1980s Pai appeared in Lonely Planet Travelers Survival Guide. Western backpackers eventually turned Pai into a backpackers hub in Northern Thailand. Then 2004 and 2006 local Thai movie makers used Pai's scenic locations as background setting for romantic stories of young city lovers. Almost instantly, Pai became Bangkok city young people's destination for romantic holiday experience. A place for tons of essential Facebook snaps upload. 2010 onward young adventurous Chinese from Mainland China began to arrive in small group.
Well-known among backpackers for its relaxed atmosphere, Pai town is full of cheap guesthouses, souvenir shops, and restaurants. In the environs of the town are spas and elephant camps.

All About Coffee Cafe

- an artist's cafe

(Business moved to Chiang Mai in 2015)

Watcharee and her husband together with several friends are artists from Bangkok who run several of the shops. "All about Coffee Cafe" was an exceptional example of functional installation art.

This coffee shop was a detailed wood structure, refurbished with rustic sophistication. Every bit of furniture had been built by Wat and her husband with hand tools during the low season. The artwork was hung with quiet precision that reflected their grace and good taste. Across the street was the Tea shop and the Mit Thai boutique that had works by the proprietor.



Temples in Pai


Batu Niah Town
Batu Niah Town


Batu Niah Town is 3 km before the Batu Niah National Park.
From Batu Niah town you can walk to the entrance of the National Park, its about 3 km of paved jungle walk, where you will occasionally stumble upon a hut or two where people live. But beware of their dogs. Local villagers like to keep fierce dogs to keep on guard of their territories.

Farmers Market (Open Air Market)  Sri Aman Town 農產品市場
Sri Aman Town in Sarawak


The town of Simanggang was established by the White Rajah in 1849 and served as a fort as well as an administrative centre for the government.

South East Asia