Pai, Thailand’s Mountain Town

The town of Pai is a small, laid-back hippie hangout in the mountains of northern Thailand. Along its edge, the slow moving Pai River adds to its charm. Mountain activities range from river raftng in Lod Cave to visiting waterfalls. No matter which you chose you’ll have a great time if you travel to Pai.

Pai, Thailand is located 150 Km northwest of Chiang Mai in the midde of the Northern Highlands. The highway from Chiang Mai is a winding, narrow road with over 770 sharp switchbacks as it climbs up and down the mountains. We had heard many stories from other travellers of how bad the road is and how fast the minibuses race around the corners. They warned that many passengers will get car sick. It didn’t sound like an enjoyable ride, but we decided to go anyway. Either those stories are a few years old or we lucked out with good drivers both to and from Pai. Our drive wasnโ€™t as bad as the reputation, and no one was sick.

When we finally arrived, main street welcomed us with funky coffee shops and casual restaurants. The street sets the tone for the town. In the evening main street is closed to traffic when it becomes a huge night market.

Lod Cave

An hour outside of Pai is the large Lod Cave. It is over 1.6 km long (1 mile) with many different high-ceilinged caverns filled with elaborate stalactites and stalagmites. Our guide shone his light on the formations so we could see them better. We had fun trying to see different objects in their unique features.

The tour begins on foot. We walked through a few large chambers, over bridges, up stairs and through narrow passages.

After walking through a few large chambers, we came to the river’s edge. Nam Lang River runs through the cave and prevented us from walking further. Our next transport was a bamboo raft. A guide steered the raft with a long pole and took us deeper into the cave. Rafting on the river was a nice, peaceful way to travel.

Deep inside Lod Cave, we arrived at Coffin Cave. It received its name because there are remnants of teak coffins, scattered in the cavern. They are believed to be thousands of years old.

After Coffin Cave, the bamboo rafts took us to a large exit. It was beautiful to see the green jungle bursting around the large cave opening.

There are a few waterfalls in the area. We were supposed to go canyoning at Mar Paeng Waterfall like Richard did near Chiang Mai but it was too cold. In fact no one in our group was tempted by the perfect slide.

Pai Canyon

It’s touted as being Thailand’s Grand Canyon but that description raises your expections too high. Pai Canyon is not really even a canyon, but it is an interesting rock feature. Not far from Pai a sandstone mountain eroded over many years leaving narrow spiny ridges with steep sides. There are sandy pathways along the tops of the spines allowing you to walk along the features. We went to see the canyon at sunset since itโ€™s supposed to be spectacular. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating and we didn’t see the sunset.

White Buddha

Within walking distance of Pai is a large White Buddha statue, high on a hill. Over 300 steps takes you to the top where the statue over looks the valley. There is a small temple, Wat Phra That Mae Yen, behind Buddha. If there are clear skies the site offers excellent views. For us however, the thick clouds kept the views a secret.

Getting around Pai

Pai has interesting taxis for short trips. Instead of tuk tuks or cars, passengers ride on a motocycle sidecar. They didn’t always feel stable, but they’re not intended for long trips on the winding mountain roads.

Getting to Pai

Mini-buses depart from Arcade Station in Chiang Mai (3 hrs). Tickets can be purchased from hotels/ guesthouses and travel agencies (150-180 baht), or directly at the bus station (150 baht). Large buses also make the trip, but they take over 5 hours and are not recommended.

Coming Next – Extravagant Buddhist Temples in Chiang Rai

To see more of our pictures go to Gallery at

To read our other stories from around the world go to Destinations.

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