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Getting From Chiang Mai to Pai – Travel Tips

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Making our way from Chiang Mai to Pai on a 125cc scooter was not an easy drive, but it was one of our favourite road trips of all time. You can read about how we conquered all 762 turns up highway 1095 from Chiang Mai to Pai, but if you’re looking to get to Pai yourself, there’s probably a few additional details you’ll need in order to decide on how to best make your way from Chiang Mai to the valley town of Pai.

During our decision process, we did a lot of research on our options and our own drive gave us quite a few insights into the route. The following are some tips for making your way from Chiang Mai to Pai, including the different methods possible and costs associated with each one.

3 Different Ways of Getting From Chaing Mai To Pai

 

Chiang Mai to Pai On a Bus:

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Minibus: You can take either a minibus or a standard bus to Pai. The minibus will run only about 150-200THB each way and will only take 3+ hours but it’s the one where you’ll probably feel the most motion sickness as they drive fast even on the turns (There’s even a “vomit here” sign on the road to Pai)

Air-conditioned Bus: These buses take a little longer to navigate through the bends but you’ll save a little money compared to the minibus (100-150THB). If you’re prone to motion sickness and not up for making the drive yourself, this is a slightly better option to the minibus.

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While you don’t need to rent a scooter to get around, there are many things to see outside the main area. If you’ve taken a bus into Pai and aren’t going to hire a tour, you’ll probably need to rent a scooter once in Pai. The cheapest scooter we saw in Pai is roughly 100THB per day plus gas and we are pretty certain that is without insurance. The total for a week would be 1200+THB (700 for a 7-day scooter rental, 100+ in gas depending on how much you drive, and 300+ for the transportation to and from Pai)

 

Chiang Mai to Pai On Your Own:

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Renting a scooter, bike or car offers you the ability to take an amazing drive through the mountains. It was certainly one of our most memorable road trips.

Scooter/bike: A 125cc scooter will cost you minimum 200THB per day and that cost increases as you look at bigger bikes. We recommend Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai as insurance was included, the entire staff was friendly and helpful and we received great service the entire time we had the bike. A full tank cost around 100-110THB and we spent less than 200THB in gas to get there. If we had stayed a week, we would have paid 1400 in rental fees, and about 500 in gas total.

Car: A car rental, from a company such as AVIS Thailand, for one week will cost about 6400THB plus gas. It is also difficult to find parking, especially for cars, in the main strip of the walking street and the immediate surrounding areas. If you choose to rent a car, be sure you have a place that offers parking or have confirmed an area to use.

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If you choose to make your own way to Pai, either by car or scooter, there are a few tips that will help make your journey a little easier. While most of these directly apply to driving a scooter or bike, they are definitely good to keep in mnd if you are planning to rent a car.

  1. Gas. Depending on the size of your tank, you may need to fill up more than once. Since there are long stretches of road without any available areas to purchase gas, we suggest you make note of the meter, and start looking when your tank hits the half-way mark. This is especially useful if you are driving a rental as the gauge may not be correct. Roadside gas pumps and even bottles of fuel can be purchased at almost every small village you drive through. If you’ve forgotten to check and are desperately low on gas, don’t hesitate to stop in a local area and ask for fuel/gas/petrol. Chances are they’ll be able to help, even if it’s at a premium price.                                                        Gas on the way to Pai, from Chiang rai to pai, driving to pai, how to get to pai
  2. Vehicle. We drove a 125cc scooter and while we made it to Pai and back without any real problems, there were a few moments we weren’t too sure we had made the right decision. The tank is small, the bike is small, and there’s not much power. If you’re budget can afford it, you may want to consider a larger bike or a car that can handle the inclines and also ease the drive over the potholes.
  3. Potholes. There are many and they are unavoidable. It can be a bit tiresome and straining to be on constant lookout for the obstacles on the road: traffic coming both ways, potholes, sharp curves, steep hills, and sometimes gas slicks from the trucks. Of all of these, potholes are the most frequent and can be pretty dangerous, especially when driving a vehicle with fairly narrow tires.Drive to pai, how to get to pai, from chiang mai to pai, potholes on the road to pai
  4. Hydration. It can get pretty hot driving through the mountains in the middle of the day. Unless you end up leaving early, or it rains, chances are you’re going to get quite a bit of sun and having ample water on hand is important. We have two hydration packs (water bladders) and ended up filling one up as emergency water and bringing two bottles with us in the scooter’s cup holders. Even if you go early, we still suggest having extra water on hand as you never know what the day will bring. We also brought some snacks just to be on the safe side and they ended up being incredibly handy to have, especially when we lengthened our trip by stopping at the geyser.
  5. Take your time. Like we mentioned, we left late, stopped for a total of 3 hours and then again when it rained once we entered Pai and still made it to our accommodations for 7pm. There’s no need to rush the ride. Take it slow, gas up when you can and make sure you’re prepared and make stops when you need. Not only is a smart thing to do with the length of the drive, there are also some pretty great views to take in on the way!                                                                             Drive to pai, view on the road to pai, chiang mai to pai, how to get to pai, tips on getting to pai
  6. Gauge your experience level. Macrae had ridden a scooter before this trip to Thailand and had been driving this particular one for a little while before we headed out to Pai. Make sure you are comfortable, not only with driving a scooter, but with driving in Thailand. It’s a completely different experience and it can take time to get used to.
  7. The route. The route is fairly simple. Once you get to the 1095 there’s really no where to go until you hit Pai. The complicated part is in the road itself. As we discussed, there are tons of potholes, fast drivers, and incredibly winding, narrow roads. Weather conditions are also variable as you are heading up into the mountains and then down into the valley so they can change at any moment. While we didn’t find the route nearly as difficult as we had read, we were also expecting the absolute worst. The route is tricky and has it’s dangers but caution and preparation goes a long way.drive to pai, wildlife pai, how to get to pai, tips on getting to pai, from pai to chiang mai on a scooter

Chiang Mai to Pai On A Plane:

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Taking a plane straight to Pai is also an option. The airport is located Northwest of the central part of town and flights can be taken direct from Chiang Mai. The flight is only about a half hour and while prices vary depending on airline and time of year, we found a cheap flight through Kan Airlines for around 1900THB at the start of their high season. Other airlines to look at within Thailand are AirAsia, Thai Smile Airways, Nok Air and Tiger Air.

 

Comment below and tell us which way you’d choose to travel to Pai!

 

23 replies
  1. Denise Patten
    Denise Patten says:

    Thanks for the info. My husband and i are about to take a trip to Pai from Chiang Mai on scooters. Invaluable info, thanks so much.. cheers Denise

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      It was a great trip! If you’ve checked out our other posts on Pai you’ll have seen our suggestions on where to go, where to stay and what to eat – but if you have any questions please feel free to ask and we’ll try and help as best we can!

      Reply
  2. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Hi! Excited to do this trip by motorbike. I am wondering if it is possible to motorbike there, and leave the bike in Pai and return to Chang Mai by bus?

    Also, did you happen to make it to some places listed on Lonely Planet; Edible Jazz and the Sappong River Cafe?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We’d say we’d be very surprised if you found a company to drop off the bike in Pai as they are usually small, privately owned companies. You could ask Tony from Tony’s big bikes if he knows of any place that does do that – he was super helpful and i’m sure he wouldn’t mind offering suggestions! The ride back was less stressful as we knew what to expect but do remember to take it easy on the bends (some people got a bit too comfortable and less cautious on the way back!) We didn’t make it to those places but there are so many great options there you almost can’t go wrong! You’ll have to let us know how it goes and where you stayed and ate!

      Reply
    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Hey Kristen! AYA Motorbikes lets you drive one way and leave the bike, they also transport your luggage. Researching the trip now and apparently it’s the only company that does it 🙂 Good luck!

      Reply
      • Julian
        Julian says:

        Hi we were wondering about the same option to do in 2 days time. Did you choose them in the end? Great post btw!

        Reply
        • onemoderncouple
          onemoderncouple says:

          We drove a scooter up (2 of us on the one) and that took us a full day with stops and breaks. If you’re looking to drive it in 2 days, there may be an issue finding a place to stay in between (we have not researched this and didn’t see anything on our drive). If you meant you only wanted to stay in Pai for two days, we’d schedule a full 4 days for the whole trip as a day there and a day back is needed just to drive.

          If you decide to go by bus, it’ll knock some time off that. Does this help? Let us know if you have any other questions!

          Reply
  3. Alex Bond
    Alex Bond says:

    Hi Guys , thanks for this post is really helpful.

    I was in Chiang Mai myself 2 years ago but shied away from the Motorbike trip as I was on my own.
    I am going back this year in august with the Mrs and two other friends and was just wondering if you had any tips for the journey in general (things to bring, should we leave majority of luggage in chiang mai etc ?).

    Also what is Pai like ? is it worth the trip is there any beaches near or waterfalls ?

    Tanks for your help

    Reply
  4. Powin Lau
    Powin Lau says:

    Hi there! Awesome post! Going from Chiang Mai to Pai via scooter, should we stay the night or just make it a day trip?

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We’d definitely recommend staying more than one evening to rest, recover and explore a little. It can be an intense drive and there’s enough to do and see for a few days before heading back at pretty reasonable prices!

      Reply
  5. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    I’m debating doing this drive alone on a scooter. I’m completely comfortable with the hills and turns but what scares me are the bus/minibus drivers. I’m afraid of being run off the road or side swiped by them. Did you experience that at all?

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      No, nothing like that happened to us but saying that you need to be careful… everytime a truck or bus was going to pass we made sure we were off to the side of the road so they can pass because they were driving much faster than us at certain points. So like we always say, you need to be very careful if you decide to do it on your own, we don’t condone it but it’s totally up to you. have fun!

      Reply

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