Pai and Chiang Mai guide
With every long weekend or school holiday comes the excitement of planning for our next trip abroad. But whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or someone who prefers relaxing at a beach resort, we’re all seeking one thing – to sneak in a break from our daily routines.
This is exactly what a trip to Pai and Chiang Mai fulfilled. Situated 3 hours from each other, these towns might not be sprouting with skyscrapers or big billboards, but it has its own unique charm. From night markets to its own version of the Grand Canyon, there’s nothing short of exciting things to do.
As always, we’d recommend calling ahead before visiting any establishment to make sure they’re operating normally, given the current situation.
– PAI –
1. Snap some shots for the ‘gram at Love Strawberry Pai
Love Strawberry Pai is a strawberry farm with cute photo-ops all around. And although the strawberry plantation might not be in season all year, you can still drop by the cafe and gift shop to cop some snacks and souvenirs. If you’re looking to get your hands on some juicy strawberries while the fruits are in-season, come round during the cooler months of November to February for some fresh produce.
Get some shade from the sun in the field of umbrellas or get a photo with life-sized strawberry fixtures
After our mini photoshoot, we cooled off at the cafe which had drinks like fruit shakes and coffee. We opted for the Strawberry Shake (฿80, ~USD2) which was refreshing and had a strong strawberry flavour without tasting artificially sweet – these strawberries are sourced directly from their farm! The cafe also serves traditional Thai dishes like Kang Kong (฿70, ~USD2) and Minced Pork Omelette for the same price.
As you sip on your drinks, take a look around the gift shop which features all things strawberry, from Strawberry Wine (฿420, ~USD13) to Dried Strawberries (฿50, ~USD1).
We also spotted a cute knitted Strawberry Pouch (฿99, ~USD3) which makes for an adorable souvenir
Love Strawberry Pai
Address: 80 Moo 10, Tambon Thung Yao, Pai District, 58130, Thailand
Opening Hours: 8AM-6PM, Daily
Telephone: +66 8 1765 3629
2. Go cave exploring at Tham Lot Cave
It isn’t every day that we get to raft through a cave like Tham Lot Cave, so when you’re planning your trip to Pai, be sure to asterisk, highlight and circle this must-visit landmark.
Armed with a gas lamp, our local guide brought us through the majestic Big Column Cave, Doll Cave and Coffin Cave, all of which have beautiful stalagmite, stalactite and limestone formations.
Although the guides speak limited English, they managed to describe some of the more interesting formations that resemble modern-day associations. Some that stuck in my head were the structures that resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and even King Kong’s face.
The highlight of the cave trail though has got to be the raft ride through clear fish-filled waters.
Keep your eyes peeled as you go about your boat ride because you’ll be greeted by the cave residents – swifts, bats, and plump fish. You can purchase fish food from the entrance as well for a sizeable pack worth ฿20 (~USD0.60).
To enter the cave, you’ll be required to rent a hire a guide. We opted for a package which included raft rental, gas lamps and a guide, costing ฿450 (~USD13), for a group of 3. This can be arranged for at the reception area just in front of the carpark – meaning no prior online bookings are needed.
Address: Tham Lot, Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son 58150, Thailand
Opening Hours: 8AM-5PM, Daily
Admission: ฿450 (~USD13)
3. Hike through the Pai Canyon
Hardly any of us would prioritise fitness routines when we are overseas because it’s an unspoken rule that when on vacation, it’s cheat-day all day. But when you’ve got Pai Canyon’s panoramic views waiting for you, braving the heart-pumping climb becomes all the more worth it.
Pai Canyon offers narrow hiking routes that overlook deep valleys, which is great for anyone who loves a little bit of thrill. You’ll face some tricky paths so be ready to get on all fours as you navigate your way through the canyon. And if you’re the brave one in your squad, drag your friends along to conquer this challenging trail with you.
Since you’ll be facing some skinny paths and slippery sandy terrain, we’d say arms yourselves with your trusty pair of sports shoes. Other than this, the hike is fairly manageable and the view from up top is worth every calorie you burn.
Wait till you’re on flat and gentler terrain before you whip out your phones for a picture. Or if you’re daring enough, carefully inch your way to the edge for a shot that screams ‘adventure lover’.
Address: Pai District, Mae Hong Son 58130, Thailand
Opening Hours: 24/7
Telephone: +66 8 6113 7373
4. Try street food and go shopping at Pai Walking Street
Street markets are awesome because you can settle food, shopping and get a glimpse into the lifestyles of the locals all in one place. You’ll be happy to know that you can fulfil all these at Pai Walking Street.
They sell snacks you can munch on on-the-go like crispy curry puffs with different fillings like Thai Curry Chicken or for a vegetarian option, the Thai Curry Tofu. On top of that, you can get freshly blended fruit smoothies as well.
For something more filling, visit the stores with sitting areas as they serve traditional Thai dishes that will make for a cheap and delicious dinner. Dishes include typical favourites like Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup.
A street market definitely isn’t complete without the shopping element. Here, you’ll find stores that sell clothes with colourful boho prints as well as shops selling elephant adorned trinkets.
And even if you don’t find anything you fancy, strolling through Pai Walking Street is a good wind-down activity as you won’t find yourself having to squeeze through massive crowds as with most street markets you’d find in cities like BKK.
Pai Walking Street
Address: Pai Walking Street, Chai Songkhram Rd, Wiang Tai, Amphoe Pai, Chang Wat Mae Hong Son 58130, Thailand
Opening Hours: 6.30AM-11PM, Daily
5. Soak in the Tha Pai Hot Springs
Image adapted from: @justtravelynn
If you thought Japan or Taiwan were the only places you could find natural hot springs, you’re wrong. Northern Thailand’s little district of Pai contains a natural hot spring hidden in the jungle, the Tha Pai Hot Springs. This is a naturally heated pool of water which people can visit for a relaxing soak. It’s especially shiok if you visit in the cooler months.
Image credit: @amanda_nicole_fitness
There are multiple pools here with different heat levels so be sure to check the signs before you head down for a dip. In fact, some of them are hot enough to boil eggs, which you can purchase and cook as a post-soak snack.
Tha Pai Hot Springs
Address: Tha Pai Hot Spring, Huai Nam Dang National Park, Mae Hi, Pai District, Mae Hong Son, 58130, Thailand
Opening Hours: 7AM-6PM, Daily
Admission: ฿300 (~USD9)
– CHIANG MAI –
1. Get a bird’s-eye view of Chiang Mai from a hot air balloon
When we think of hot air balloons floating all over the sky, common countries that pop up are Australia and Turkey. But just like the famous balloons in Cappadocia that make it to everyone’s IG feeds, hot air balloon rides are actually pretty accessible from many places in Asia as well. We managed to hitch a ride on the Hot Air Balloon Adventure Chiang Mai on our last day in this beautiful city.
We began at 6AM sharp from the Hotel Horizon Village where the staff were busy prepping the balloon, filling it with hot air. And while they were doing so, we were served coffee and tea – a service that is part of the package.
Up up and away we go
The hour-long hot air balloon ride was smooth, so if you’re afraid of turbulence, there really is no need for you to fear. When you’re up in the air, you’ll really feel as though you’re floating, and the sunrise views just make everything so much more dreamy. My favourite part of the ride was spotting nearby balloons that were close by – which, when coupled with the sky’s orange-pink hues, looked picture-perfect.
Make sure to whip out your cameras to capture the sun peeking through the clouds
You might have to sacrifice some of your beauty sleep in order to catch the sunrise so early in the day. However, the good news is that by booking the hot air balloon ride through Klook, you’ll be picked up right from the lobby of your hotel. So no need to stress over getting here on your own – you might be able to catch some extra ZZZs that way too.
Book the Hot Air Balloon Adventure Chiang Mai via Klook here.
2. Take care of elephants for a day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
A visit to Chiang Mai isn’t complete without stopping by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for a day of fun with these gentle creatures. This mountain-top sanctuary is a safe place for its resident elephants, where tourists can visit and learn how to take care of them.
When you arrive, you’ll be given a quick briefing before feeding time. You’ll be handed bananas and pumpkins for the big friendly giants to feed on. I must say, they get a little cheeky when it comes to food, so don’t be alarmed when their trunk reaches for the snacks in your hands when you’re not looking.
We ended off the day at the sanctuary with elephant bath time – you’ll also get to join in the fun as they play and cool off in the mud and after which head to the river for a good bath. Make sure to give yourself a good rinse in the cool waters as well.
Join in the elephant mud spa which helps them cool down in the blistering heat
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has multiple branches in Thailand including ones in Phuket and Pattaya. Unlike locations that allow tourist traps like elephant rides, this ethical sanctuary has been set up as a safe place for the elephants where they are well taken care of by the locals. Donations are also accepted to aid them in rescuing more elephants and ensuring that their welfare is accounted for.
They have lots of packages for you to interact with these lovely animals. We opted for the full-day visit where we learned about the elephant’s lifestyles and requirements to thrive.
As the sanctuary is located up in the mountains and deep in the jungles, getting a ride there might be tricky. But booking the package will let you have a fuss-free time getting here, as there are roundtrip transfers available for any itinerary you pick.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Address: 119/10 Thapae Road, Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
Opening Hours: 7AM-10PM, Daily
Telephone: +66 5 3273 415
Admission: Per package duration
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary website | Google Maps
Book a trip to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai via Klook here.
3. Go cafe-hopping to a nature-themed cafe at The Ironwood
Frequenters of BKK might be familiar with its vibrant scene, and Pai doesn’t trail too far behind either. The Ironwood is a beautiful garden-cum-cafe with many photo spots for you to explore.
They even have a greenhouse filled with little succulents and potted plants
The food offered is as aesthetically-pleasing as the surrounding area. We opted for the colourful Shrimp Paste Fried Rice (฿200, ~USD6) which was served with edible flowers like blue-pea flowers, that added a pop of colour to the dish. The portion might be a little big but the citrusy flavour of the lime, punch of spice from the chillis and freshness of the veggies make it light on the palate.
Aside from this, they also have fusion dishes including the Mixed Thai Herbs Spicy Stir-Fried Spaghetti (฿300, ~USD9). We washed down our meal with an Iced Latte (฿90, ~USD3) and Lychee Rose (฿85, ~USD3).
Closer to the entrance, you’ll also find a sheltered area with hanging ferns and Victorian-style vintage furniture.
Kickstart your holiday adventure in Pai
Having been to Pai, I would liken it to a precious pearl shelled in the northern province of Thailand. Since this small town is only accessible by a 3-hour long drive from Chiang Mai and without a convenient public transport system, we highly recommend booking a Private Car Charter Between Chiang Mai and Pai through Klook. This will make getting around Pai much easier and ensure that you’ll have a comfortable journey as well.
If you’re planning to stay for more than a day, they also have 1-4 day custom charters so that you can get around easily. You can also do up your itinerary as you please to make the trip planning process hassle-free.
Check out our other Thailand travel guides here:
This post was written by Giordan Neoh for TheSmartLocal.com in collaboration with Klook.