Take a Magical Trip with This Guide to Pai, Thailand

Guide to Pai Thailand

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. It offers a slow pace and easy living for expats. Here, you’ll find a range of affordable lodgings, artisanal shops, craft coffee, and restaurants catering to both meat eaters and vegans alike. Join us as we explore the Guide to Pai, Thailand.

Its combination of local heritage, proximity to neighboring countries, and growing western vibes provide a diverse atmosphere. Moreover, its location at the foot of the Daen Lao Range offers stunning jungle views and numerous outdoor activities, making Pai a bohemian traveler’s paradise.

Brief History of Pai, Thailand

Brief History of Pai, Thailand

The area of modern-day Pai has a rich history spanning over 5,000 years. About 2,000 years ago, the Lua (or Lawa) Tribe held sway over the entire region of present-day northern Thailand, with some of their descendants still residing in villages located just 20 km away from Pai.

Recorded history in the area begins around 800 years ago when a settlement, now known as Ban Wiang Nuea, was established about 3 km north of present-day Pai. In 1251 AD, Shan immigrants from modern-day northern Burma founded this settlement. The region remained relatively secluded from outside influences, but in the 14th and 15th centuries, conflicts arose as settlers arrived from Chiang Mai, leading to wars over territorial dominance.

Eventually, the Lanna troops emerged victorious in 1481, allowing the Shan families to stay in the area with cultural autonomy, and Ban Wiang Nuea became a village divided into a “Shan” and “Lanna” section.

In the latter half of the 19th century, colonial powers France and England exerted their influence in neighboring countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma.

Visa Requirements: Guide to Pai, Thailand

Visa Requirements: Guide to Pai Thailand

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. Guide to Pai: 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.

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 that this change is in effect until March 31, 2023. After that time, the visa might revert to its previous 15-day status, though the change could be extended. Keep an eye on the Embassy website for updates.

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 bring an ATM card that works abroad so you can withdraw money at the airport as soon as you get off the plane.

Visa Exemption

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.

Previously, travelers were granted a 30-day stay on a Visa Exemption, but a new rule came into effect on October 1, 2022, extending this to 45 days. The Thai Embassy website states that this change is in effect until March 31, 2023. After that time, the visa might revert to its previous 15-day status, though the change could be extended. Keep an eye on the Embassy website for updates.

If arriving by land or sea, you’ll be eligible for Visa Exemption twice per calendar year. More on that under Long-term stays.

Important Rules to Keep in Mind

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.

Can I stay long-term in Pai, Thailand?

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.”

Most people can receive Visa Exemptions only twice per calendar year when arriving by land or sea, but there is no limit for air arrivals.

Southeast Asia’s geography makes it very convenient to do a border crossing, also known as a border run, to obtain a new legal entry into Thailand. From Pai, taking a bus into Myanmar, walking through the border, having lunch, doing some shopping, and returning is a straightforward process.

For those unable to do a land crossing, flights to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are remarkably inexpensive by US standards. With just $50, you can cross the border and return.

Best Place To Stay: Guide to Pai, Thailand

Pai Smilehouse

The charming town of Pai offers a plethora of accommodation options, which can sometimes make the decision-making process overwhelming. However, the key to ensuring a delightful and memorable experience lies in discovering a place that strikes the right balance between affordability and comfort.

Pai Smilehouse truly lives up to its name as a home away from home. As soon as you step foot into this cozy abode, you’ll be greeted by a warm and inviting atmosphere that instantly puts you at ease. One of its most alluring features is the breathtaking views it offers. Imagine waking up to the serene beauty of Pai’s landscape every morning, setting the perfect tone for your day of exploration and adventure.

Another appealing aspect of Pai Smilehouse is its reasonable price point. For just $20 per night, you get to enjoy the comfort and convenience of this lovely retreat. Such a budget-friendly option allows you to allocate more funds towards experiencing the local attractions, indulging in delicious cuisine, and immersing yourself in the cultural richness of Pai.

Pai Smilehouse Features and Services

Pai Smilehouse offers a delightful blend of comfort and affordability, providing a ‘home away from home’ experience for travelers. With immaculate views, welcoming accommodations, and attentive service, it’s the perfect base to explore the charming town of Pai, Thailand.

Features and Services Pai Smilehouse
General WiFi in all areas
Services Laundry, Valet parking, Baggage storage
Internet Internet, WiFi, Free WiFi
Outdoors Garden, Terrace
Parking Parking, Free parking, Parking on site, Private Parking
Safety & Security Fire extinguishers
Safety Features Staff follow all safety protocols as directed by local authorities, Hand sanitizer in guest accommodation and common areas, Process in place to check health of guests, First aid kits available, Access to healthcare professionals, Thermometers for guests provided by property, Face masks for guests available
Physical Distancing Cashless payment available, Physical distancing rules followed, Mobile app for room service, Screens or physical barriers between staff and guests in appropriate areas
Cleanliness & Disinfection Use of cleaning chemicals that are effective against coronavirus, Linens, towels, and laundry washed in accordance with local authority guidelines, Guest accommodation disinfected between stays, Guest accommodation sealed after cleaning, Property cleaned by professional cleaning companies, Guests have the option to cancel any cleaning services for their accommodation during their stay
Food & Drink Safety Physical distancing in dining areas, Food can be delivered to guest accommodation, All plates, cutlery, glasses, and other tableware sanitized, Breakfast to-go containers, Delivered food covered securely

Top 3 Best Restaurants: Guide to Pai Thailand

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.

1. Bom Bowls

Bom Bowls

Bom Bowls is the go-to destination for the best vegan eats. This plant-based restaurant specializes in delightful vegan Thai cuisine, offering a perfect spot for a healthy breakfast with an açai bowl or a delicious lunch featuring options like pad thai, green curry, or massaman curry. Moreover, the fantastic views surrounding the place will captivate you, urging you to extend your stay and immerse yourself completely in the enjoyable experience. 

Whether you’re a vegan food enthusiast or simply seeking a delightful dining experience, Bom Bowls promises a treat for both your taste buds and your senses.

2. Ohm Garden Cafe

Ohm Garden Cafe

Foodies will find delight at the Ohm Garden Cafe, another fantastic spot. The cafe boasts a charming ambiance, accompanied by adorable doggos roaming freely. Surrounded by lush greenery, it creates a soothing atmosphere perfect for a tranquil break with Thai tea or coffee. The restaurant offers a diverse menu, catering to both vegan and non-vegan preferences, as well as gluten-free options.

Highly recommended are their feta, beetroot, and cashew salad, along with their scrumptious smoothies and delectable French toast. Ohm Garden Cafe promises a delightful culinary journey amidst a serene and picturesque setting.

3. Ganita

Ganita Cafe

We cannot overlook Ganita when talking about wonderful places for vegan and plant-based food enthusiasts. Here, you can indulge in delicious pancakes and acai bowls served with fresh local fruits. The ambiance is incredibly relaxed, and the service is absolutely fantastic, thanks to the incredibly friendly and helpful staff. Dining at Ganita is a real treat in every way. 

Moreover, the best part is that it offers affordability, with meals and a drink costing less than $10. If you’re looking for a delightful and budget-friendly culinary experience, Ganita is the perfect choice.

Best Activities: Guide to Pai, Thailand

While in Pai, make sure to set aside time to explore the stunning outdoors. The vicinity of the town offers incredible views that are waiting to be discovered. Whether you love hiking or simply relish taking in scenic beauty, in this Guide to Pai we listed some of the top things to do in Pai.

Pai Canyon


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, making it 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 grab a bite to eat while you’re strolling.

If you’re looking for a place to let loose and have some fun, Pai’s Famous Walking Street is the place to be.

Visiting the Big Buddha

Big Buddah

Perched atop the lush green hills in Pai, Thailand, the majestic Big Buddha, also known as Wat Phra That Mae Yen, stands tall, visible from almost every corner of the village. To reach the summit, one must ascend 353 white steps, a climb that proves worthwhile once you behold the grand Buddha statue and the breathtaking vistas it offers. 

The panoramic view encompasses the charming village, serene rice paddies, and verdant mountains. At sunset, witnessing the sun dip behind the mountains from this vantage point is a profoundly tranquil and humbling experience. This sacred site holds significant spiritual importance, attracting locals who come here to meditate.

While there is no entrance fee, visitors are encouraged to make a small donation as a gesture of respect. As it is a spiritual place, dressing modestly (covering knees and shoulders) and removing shoes when reaching the Buddha is essential. The Big Buddha is open daily from 6 AM to 6 PM, offering a serene sanctuary for all who visit.

Things I love in Thailand: Guide to Pai

As I wandered deeper into Pai’s beauty and followed this guide to Pai, Thailand, I absolutely fell in love with the place during my visit. From the stunning natural beauty and the warm, welcoming locals to the hidden gems of art, culture, and gastronomy, Pai has a way of capturing your heart like no other place.

Exploring Pai Canyon

Exploring Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon is a natural wonder that never fails to mesmerize me. The rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas make hiking through the narrow ridges an exhilarating adventure. Each step unveils stunning panoramas, and the feeling of being on top of the world is truly unforgettable.

As I traverse this unique landscape, a sense of awe and appreciation for nature’s beauty fills my heart. Pai Canyon’s allure lies in its unspoiled charm, and it remains a must-visit destination for any adventurer seeking an immersive experience in the heart of Pai’s wilderness.

Sunset at the Big Buddha

Sunset at the Big Buddha

The serene ambiance at the Big Buddha during sunset is truly magical. As the sun dips behind the mountains, a warm glow envelops the colossal Buddha statue, creating a spiritual atmosphere. It’s a moment of tranquility and reflection, where time seems to slow down. Standing in awe of the majestic statue amidst the splendid natural backdrop is a humbling experience.

The peacefulness of the surroundings invites introspection, and I find solace in the beauty of the setting sun. Witnessing this spectacle has become an essential part of my Pai journey, leaving an everlasting impression on my soul.

Riverside Relaxation

Riverside Relaxation

The gentle flow of the Pai River creates a tranquil backdrop for ultimate relaxation. As I lounge by the riverbank, the serenity of the surroundings envelops me, washing away any worries or stress. The soothing sound of water, the cool breeze, and the idyllic scenery invite me to unwind and recharge. It’s the perfect escape from the bustle of everyday life, where time seems to stand still.

I often find myself lost in thoughts, appreciating the simplicity and beauty of nature. The riverside relaxation in Pai is an oasis of calm, leaving me refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to embrace all that this charming town has to offer.

Final Thoughts

From its tranquil surroundings and diverse lodging options to a rich culinary scene catering to all tastes, Pai promises an unforgettable experience for travelers seeking a laid-back escape. In this Guide to Pai, Thailand offers a captivating glimpse into the serene charm of this mountain village. Whether you’re an adventurous soul exploring the lush landscapes or a wanderer relishing in the local culture, Pai is a destination that will leave you enchanted and yearning for more.

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