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Pai is a quaint village nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand. Located along the Pai River, just south of Myanmar, and around 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, Pai’s official population is less than 3,000 people, affording it a slow pace and easy living for expats. Here you’ll find a range of affordable lodgings, artisanal shops, craft coffee, and restaurants covering all the bases — from meat eaters to vegans alike.
Its combination of local heritage, proximity to neighboring countries, and growing western vibes provide a range of diversity. Add to that its location at the foot of the Daen Lao Range, providing gorgeous jungle views and numerous outdoor activities, Pai is a bohemian traveler’s paradise.
While Thailand provides numerous visa options, your average traveler will use a standard tourist visa or visa exemption status. Visa on Arrival is available to 19 different countries, while an additional 64 nationalities receive the privilege of Visa Exemption. Anyone not eligible for Visa on Arrival or Visa Exemption will need to obtain a visa through a Thai Embassy or Consulate prior to arriving.
Visa on Arrival
As of October 1, 2022 the Visa on Arrival option grants passport holders from places like Bulgaria, China, Ethiopia, and Mexico a 30 day stay. The Thai Embassy website states this change is in effect until March 31, 2023. After that time, the visa might go back to its previous 15 day status, though the change could be extended. Keep an eye on the Embassy website for that info.
The visa fee of 2,000 THB ($53) must be paid in cash, and only Thai currency is accepted. This means you’ll either need to exchange money before you arrive, or you’ll want to bring an ATM card that works abroad so you can get money at the airport as soon as you get off the plane.
Visa Exemption status applies to most travelers from the EEA, the United States, the United Kingdom, and APAC, as well as a handful of South American countries. Visa Exemption allows entry to Thailand without applying for a visa, and you can arrive by air, land, or sea.
Travelers used to be granted a 30 day stay on a Visa Exemption, but a new rule set in play on October 1, 2022 extended this to 45 days. The Thai Embassy website states this change is in effect until March 31, 2023. After that time, the visa might go back to its previous 15 day status, though the change could be extended. Keep an eye on the Embassy website for that info.
If arriving by land or sea, you’ll be eligible for Visa Exemption twice per calendar year. More on that under Long term stays.
It’s important to keep in mind that you do need to have a confirmed return ticket exiting Thailand to receive a Visa on Arrival or to be approved for a Visa Exemption. You will be denied if you have an open ticket or if you indicate a desire to travel by land to a bordering country. You’ll also need to show proof of funds equating to around 10,000 THB (about $265) per person to support you during your time in the country.
Long term stays
If you’ve spoken to anyone who’s stayed long term in Thailand, you’re probably a bit confused at this point. “My friend stayed in Thailand for a year by doing border runs! He didn’t have a return ticket when he arrived!”
Regarding a return ticket, most people do have a return flight when they enter Thailand. Or at least…they find a way to “show proof” of one. Most people we know do one of two things:
- Book a very expensive flight. Doing so usually means you get the option of a full refund within a certain time period. But you’ll still have that email “proving” you booked yourself on a flight out of the country.
- Book a super cheap flight. The flight doesn’t need to be to your home country. It just needs to show “thru travel”. So a $150 flight to India will do it. Just accept you’ll lose that money if you don’t leave.
Officially, Visa Exemptions are only allowed to be given twice per calendar year for most people — if arriving by land or sea. There is no limit when arriving by air.
Because of the geography of Southeast Asia, it ends up extremely easy to make a border crossing — i.e. border run — in order to obtain a new legal entry into Thailand. This is extremely easy to accomplish from Pai by taking a bus into Myanmar. Walk through the border, have some lunch, do some shopping, and walk back over. Simple as that.
If you’re not able to do a land crossing, flights to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are all extremely cheap by US standards: $50 will get you across the border and back.
Best place to stay
If you’re planning a trip, of course you’ll need a place to stay. The options in Pai are endless, so finding the perfect accommodation can be a bit overwhelming. The key to having a great time is finding a place that is affordable yet comfortable. Our pick is Pai Smilehouese.
Pai Smilehouese is a home away from home. With immaculate views and a price point of $20 a night, the icing on the cake is that it’s only a five minute walk from the famous Pai Walking Street. You really can’t do much better.
Food is one of the most vital parts of travel, and for good reason. When done right, cuisine can be a true adventure for the taste buds. Fortunately, Pai is a food lover’s paradise, with a wide variety of both vegan and non-vegan options.
For the best vegan eats, head to Bom Bowls. A plant-based restaurant specializing in vegan Thai food, it’s a great place to enjoy a healthy breakfast of an açai bowl, or grab some lunchtime grub of pad thai, green curry, or massaman curry. To top it off, the views are fantastic, only encouraging you to stay longer and fully immerse yourself in the experience.
Ohm Garden Cafe
Another great spot for foodies is the Ohm Garden Cafe. It has a wonderful ambiance with cute doggos roaming around. A green and rich environment creates a soothing atmosphere as you seek a peaceful rest with Thai tea or coffee. The restaurant provides a range of both vegan, non-vegan, and gluten free options. We recommend the feta, beetroot, and cashew salad, as well as their smoothies and french toast. Don’t forget to top your meal off with one of their home made desserts.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Ganita. It’s a wonderful place for vegan and plant based food lovers. You can try the pancakes and the acai bowls that are served with fresh local fruits. The vibe is very relaxed and the service is absolutely fantastic. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, which makes dining here a real treat. And the best part about the place is it’s affordable with meals plus a drink coming in less than $10.
Things to do in Pai
You’re going to want to take the time to check out the beautiful outdoors while in Pai. The area surrounding the town has incredible views that are begging to be explored. So, whether you’re a fan of hiking or simply enjoy taking in the sights, here are some of the best things to do in Pai.
Pai Canyon is a must-see. If you’re tired from your day’s work and just want to take the next day off, you can always visit the canyon & relax. It is a great picnicking point where the canyon stretches about 3 kilometers long with a river running through it. The place is really beautiful and you can spend hours just strolling around & enjoying the scenery.
There’s this serene cafe that is mostly empty for you to enjoy sightseeing & relaxing. There are many other hiking trails as well if you want to explore more. All in all, a great place to unwind and take in the natural beauty of Pai. Have a fun-filled trip without breaking a sweat.
The famous Pai walking street
If there’s one thing that Pai is famous for it’s the Walking Street. Walking Street is, quite simply, a street that you can walk down. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the beating heart of Pai, a place where locals and tourists alike come to eat, drink, shop, and be merry.
Pai’s Walking Street is closed to traffic from 6 pm until late at night, so it’s the perfect place to stroll around, people watch, and do some window shopping. There are all sorts of shops on Pai’s Walking Street, selling everything from souvenirs to clothes to handmade jewelry. And of course, there are plenty of food vendors, so you can snag a bite to eat while you’re strolling.
If you’re looking for a place to let loose and have some fun, The Pai’s Famous Walking Street is the place to be.
Best place to work
After the sites and food, the next best thing about Pai is the remote worker environment. The city has a number of cafes and bars that make it an easy place to set up shop and get some work done.
Although there are a number of places, our favorite is The Pedlar. It’s a clean & tidy workspace where they have certainly paid close attention to detail. The staff is easy going and the drinks are great. The cafe is a bit expensive compared to other places around town but the coffee, food, and the environment altogether make it a great place to work from. If you are seeking a quiet and focused environment to get some work done, this is the place for you in Pai.