Chiang Mai to Pai is the most popular ‘road trip’ in Northern Thailand taking travellers from the ‘big city’ of the North up into the mountains to what it perhaps Thailand’s most famous mountain town, Pai.
Establishing itself on all self-respective travellers itineraries as far back as the 70’s and 80’s, Pai has now become very much a ‘must see’ destination in the North of Thailand. From what was initially a laid back, hippy hang out up in the hills, Pai now attracts a fantastic cross-section of travellers from all over the world. From those looking for an exclusive mountain getaway to people keen to hike and explore the mountains, from travellers looking to enjoy the wellness experiences on offer all over to those heading to Pai to enjoy the laid back nightlife. There’s something for everyone in this bustling mountain town.
There are a number of different ways to get to Pai depending on how much time you have, how much you want to enjoy the ‘journey’ or even simply, how fit you are!
Here’s our guide to the best ways of travelling between Chiang Mai and Pai
You won’t be able to jump into a Tuk Tuk in Chiang Mai to get to Pai but don’t let this put you off. You can still travel between these two great Northern towns by Tuk Tuk if you join a Tuk Tuk Club Adventure. Whilst it’s a long way round, our 11 Day Adventure heads from Pai to Chiang Mai on Day 10. Keeping well away from the ‘main road’ your convoy of Tuk Tuks take the stunning back roads between Pai and Chiang Mai heading up and over mountain ranges, stopping in small Hill Tribe communities, cooking up some eggs in remote hot springs and venturing through areas rarely visited by travellers.
All this whilst in Tuk Tuks specially built for the mountain roads – more comfortable, better views, and simply the very best way to travel between Pai and Chiang Mai, even if it is part of Northern Thailand very best 11 Day Adventure.
Prices for the full 11 Day trip start at £1,395 and include everything except a handful of meals.
The quickest, if not always the most comfortable way, to get from Chiang Mai to Pai. Taking around 3 hours there are plenty of minivans operating as buses plying the route along the main road between the two towns. However, do note that the drivers don’t take things easy, the road is incredibly winding and a huge number of Thai people tend to suffer from travel sickness! Don’t be surprised to see people looking very ill as soon as you start heading up the first mountain pass.
However, for the quickest and easiest, and probably the cheapest, way to get to Pai, this is it and the most well known company operating this route is Prempracha with rates starting at 150THB per person
A great alternative to a minivan is to hire a car. Chiang Mai has lots of great car rental options, including most of the well known global brands, and renting a car for the route gives you the opportunity to stop off and explore along the way. It also of course guarantees you’re not having to cope with other travellers travel sickness!
The road itself is in very good condition. Sure, it’s fairly winding in places but if you take it easy and enjoy the views it’s not a tough road to drive on and fine even for the smallest cars.
Car rental prices change dramatically depending on the time of year and what offer’s companies have at different times. However, you can usually pick up an entry level vehicle for anywhere between 750 and 1,000THB / day. Great value if you’re a family or sharing with 3-4 people.
The route between Chiang Mai and Pai is part of the famous Mae Hong Son loop – although those in the know take the back roads which are even more beautiful, incredibly quiet and have no trucks or zooming minivans on them. However, in the high season you’ll see plenty of travellers on all sorts of motorbikes and mopeds heading between Chiang Mai and Pai. Some looking very professional and clearly enjoying the hairpin bends, others wobbling dangerously across the road!
Whilst this is a classic journey we’d urge you not to do this by motorbike or moped unless you’re an experienced rider. And if you do head to Pai by motorbike, please please please make sure you wear a helmet – it is the law (even if you’ll see plenty of people without helmets) and it just makes sense!
You may have wondered why we mentioned how fit you are! Cycling between Chiang Mai and Pai is a classic route and a superb ride, but only for those who really do enjoy cycling uphill. If you decide to ride between the two towns you’re looking at a day of over 120km’s and roughly 2,000 metres of climbing. If you’re reasonably fit it’s going to take you around 5-6 hours, if you’ve never ridden uphill in your life it’s going to take considerably longer and probably won’t be hugely enjoyable. However, for those who are into cycling in the mountains this is a superb day on the bike and then you have all the great traditional massage shops in Pai itself to help soothe your aching legs.
There are plenty of places in Chiang Mai where you can rent bikes – just make sure you choose a good one with the right gearing to get you over the mountains. A good place to start your search for a bike rental is Spice Roads – a great company with excellent carbon road bikes on offer.
Whichever way you decide to travel to Pai, do make the effort. It’s a fun town to spend a day or two in and very much the gateway to the province of Mae Hong Son which is full of stunning areas and travel adventures. And even if you do opt to go by minivan and suffer from travel sickness – don’t worry, it’s only a three hour journey and well worth it when you arrive!
Ready to find out more about The Tuk Tuk Club and our adventures, including our 11 Day trip which travel through Pai? Take a look here at our superb Northern Thailand adventures
Or for more information and articles about Pai have a quick (or long!) visit here…….