Are you wondering how to get from Chiang Mai to Pai? Then you are in the right place. Here we describe the various means you can use to get to this beautiful rural oasis of calm in the north of bustling Thailand.
If you haven’t been to Pai, then you are missing something special. Yes, Chiang Mai is a great tourist destination, soaked in Thai culture, traditions, and history. But to the north, Pai stands in breathtaking scenery of rolling hills and with a stunning waterfall that would justify its status as a destination in its own right and it should be on your Thailand itinerary.
Despite its laid back atmosphere, Pai is a popular spot among foreign and local tourists, and there are several ways to get there. Below is a review of the most popular.
The Road from Chiang Mai to Pai
Unless you fly, every travel option takes the same road. It was improved in 2015 and has a good surface, but it’s steep and takes a twisting route with over 750 sharp turns. We consider ourselves pretty solid travellers but this road beat our bellies!
If you are prone to car sickness, you probably have your own ways of reducing the effects. But for anyone and everyone else we suggest booking a seat close to the window at the front of the vehicle. Try looking out of the windows – enjoy the scenery, don’t try to read or look at your phone. Traditional remedies include Peppermint and Ginger root. We discovered that all the pharmacies in Pai sell travel sickness pills. They probably do in Chiang Mai too but we weren’t tuned in to the risks on the way out!
Along the way, there are break stops with toilets and washrooms. Make use of this time to get some fresh air in case you are feeling unwell.
How to get from Chiang Mai to Pai
Travelling by means of a minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai is a very common means among the locals as well as tourists.
Benefits of using the minibuses.
- They are cheap,
- They have comfy seats
- There are plenty of timing options with departures any time from 06:30 to 17:30.
There are both government minibuses and various private ones. We used a private one because we found one on the web at $7 and looked no further but the slightly cheaper Government minibuses are air conditioned too. We booked minibus using 12go.asia website
You can get tickets from local travel agency offices or online which is what we did. The advantage of booking online was that we could check a few options, get what we wanted and know that our seats were reserved for us.
Expect both types of minibus to be crowded, so sit near the front and hope that your fellow passengers have stomachs at least as strong as yours.
The length of the trip depends on the weather as much as anything. In bad weather you may find yourself hoping for a slow driver for road safety even though it prolongs the agony! Keep reminding yourself too that the destination justifies the discomfort.
- Cost: $6 if you are using the government minibus. Private ones are a little more expensive, maybe $7
- Fairly comfortable but crowded
- High risk of either you or your fellow passengers being sick
- Length of the trip: 3hours to 4½hours
We rented a small bike when we were in Pai, but not for the journey there and back. That journey over the mountains would have been too much for me with two eight year olds!
If you do want to rent a bike, you can pay between $7 to $30 a day depending on the size of bike. Consider that we spent a week in Pai, and how much luggage you will be carrying to make your decision and cost calculation.
So if you are up for the adventure of a lifetime and you want stories to tell of your survival, then the advantages of motorcycling are that you can stop for a break or to see the view as often as you want, and you probably have a better chance of avoiding travel sickness.
Bikes vary in quality and their ability to carry luggage so we recommend going to the hire company at least a day before your trip to see the road-worthiness of the vehicles they are renting and to which you will be entrusting your life. Check the tyres and the general condition of the bikes from a couple of places before you choose.
For this journey you should have not only helmets but riding gear which will give you some protection if you do drop the bike and find yourself on the road. Also consider insurance and navigation.
Insurance: Institutions like World Nomads offer cover for these activities. They do cover travel as well as exploration activities.
Navigation: when we travel by road we use Google maps which works fine offline after you set the route. A big advantage of a smartphone over a paper map is that it will always show you where you are even if you are offline. If you will be using yours, consider whether you want to clip it onto the handlebars or whether you will be keeping it in your pocket and getting off to check it when you stop.
The route goes north from Chiang Mai old town on the 107. Start by following Mae Rim’s signs then signs to Pai. After travelling for almost an hour, take a left turn onto the 1095 all the way to Pai
Tips for the road on a motorbike:
- Always wear a helmet, strong shoes and protective clothes before any bike journey.
- Fill the tank before the trip.
- Ride defensively. Remember it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. If there is an accident between two vehicles it’s always the cyclist who gets hurt.
- Always carry your identification and valid driving license.
- Higher cost
- Additional responsibility of driving and navigating
- Risk of accident
- More adventure
- Lower chance of carsickness
Buses are the cheapest form of transport for this journey. You will save one or two dollars compared with minibuses.
They are the slowest form of travel and probably the safest apart from air The vehicles are old, so don’t expect a/c or comfortably padded seats. Get yourself a window seat and not too near the rear end of the bus to avoid swinging out at bends.
Note that the longer the bus the slower the journey, but expect at least 5 hours including comfort and fresh air stops
Buses start from the Arcade bus station, and there are about five buses a day. The buses are crowded, so buy your ticket in advance to ensure your place. Bus tickets are available for purchase at the bus ticket counter in the main bus station in north eastern Chiang Mai.
Bus to Pai – Summary:
- Cheapest from $5
- Longest travel time
- Less comfortable seats
- No a/c
Taxi/Private Hire Car
Depending on the number in your party, taking a taxi at prices from $120 for the car and driver means that the cost per head can be anything upwards from $30.
You are paying for comfort, flexibility of where you stop for both comfort, fresh air and sight seeing. With the drivers’ experience of the route, you will also have a chance to explore the best view points they are aware of.
This means of travel is convenient and reliable as the taxis are readily available for hire in Chiang Mai. You will be free to travel at a time convenient for you. Also, there are hire cars available at the airport if you want to make Pai your first excursion as soon as you land at Chang Mai.
Taxis are available in various types ranging from the small cars to SUVs. You will of course pay accordingly.
Taxi to Pai – Summary:
- Cost starting from $120 for up to 4 passengers.
- Shortest journey time
- Most comfortable
- Flexibility for stopping en route.
Are you planning visit in Thailand – read our guide to Bangkok with Kids
Flight Chiang Mai to Pai
By flying you can cut the journey time down to half an hour and save yourselves the risk of car sickness. But unless you are travelling alone, this is the most expensive option.
The airport is situated a kilometer away from Chiang Mai and 2km away from Pai town. So the time and cost of getting to the airports is no so great. However before opting for flight as your means of travel, you do have to visit the airline and confirm the schedule. This is because the flight schedules are irregular, and at times, your flight may be cancelled indefinitely due to one reason or another. Thus the quickest means of travel is also potentially the most inconvenient or unreliable.
Flight Chiang Mai – Pai summary:
- Journey time 30 minutes
- Cost of flight: $50 to $60 per seat. Plus airport transfers.
- Reliability of service: intermittent and can be difficult to arrange.
Ways to get from Chiang Mai to Pai – Conclusion
So what criteria will you use to determine how to get from Chiang Mai to Pai?
Well if like us you are travelling with kids, and if money is no object and then probably taxi is the best way to go, and elsewhere we have hired cars with drivers for similar journeys. For this one however we went and returned by minibus and paid the price in travel sickness.
The bottom line – was Pai worth the inconvenience of the trip? We give that one a unanimous YES!