How to Travel From Chiang Mai to Pai by Motorbike, Taxi, or Public Transport

Driving to Pai, Thailand, on motorbike

Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

The steep and winding mountainous Route 1095 from Thailand's northern capital of Chiang Mai to the small town of Pai 79 miles (128 kilometers) away has more than 750 twists and turns, so travelers are in for an adventure no matter how they make the journey. If you have more time, you can take a minibus (best avoided if you get carsick) or a slow public bus. If you are looking to arrive quicker, you can gutsily drive a motorbike or spend more on a taxi, probably the most comfortable way of getting to Pai.

  Time Cost Best For
Motorbike 75 minutes $15 plus insurance Quicker ride and sightseeing
Taxi 2 hours $45 Convenience
Minibus  3-4 hours $10 Adventure like a local
Public Bus 5 hours $3 Budget travel

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Chiang Mai to Pai?

Large public buses are the least expensive yet slowest way from Chiang Mai to Pai; they usually leave hourly and take around five hours or more, depending on traffic. Costing roughly $3 each way, these buses make fewer passengers sick than the minibuses. However, there is no guarantee you will have a seat for the long ride. Take a taxi or tuk-tuk to the Arcade Bus Station (also called the New Terminal) located in the northeastern part of Chiang Mai. Pay for the bus at the station; if anyone offers to book your ticket in advance, it's probably a scam to pocket the difference in the ticket price.

Another affordable option—despite its reputation for making some passengers carsick and some drivers showing little regard for safety—is the minibus to Pai. Taking between three and four hours, Prem Pracha minibuses usually depart every two hours, costing around $10. You can arrange a minibus through Chiang Mai travel agencies, or your hotel or guesthouse. Midday and afternoon times can fill up during Thailand's busy season. Book at least one day ahead during big events such as Songkran and Loi Krathong.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Chiang Mai to Pai?

The quickest way to Pai is driving a rented motorbike, which takes about 75 minutes and is a memorable experience, assuming you don't join the scores of travelers who add crashing and paying for a motorbike in Thailand to their collection of road stories. Only attempt this option if you are comfortable with maneuvering steep, curving roads. Drive on the left, wear a helmet, and read the rental agreement carefully. Visitors can rent motorbikes from Cat Motors or Aya Service in Chiang Mai for about $15 one way (or $30 round trip). Prices depend on how long you use the bike for, which type of bike, insurance, and other factors. You could also take a taxi with Taxi Kingdom or Grab Taxi, which will get you to Pai in about two hours and starts at $45.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Pai?

An ideal time of year to visit Pai is during the cooler and less rainy season from approximately late November to February. Though December may be busy, in January there are fewer tourists. However, January through March is the burn season when farmers set their fields on fire and the air is polluted, so people with sensitivities to air quality may want to avoid those months. From April to June is the hot and very humid season: Tourists can enjoy cooling off in several waterfalls easily reached from Pai by motorbike.

What’s the Most Scenic Route to Pai?

Though you'll pass through chilly air at higher elevations and need to watch out for speeding drivers, having your own transport like a motorbike allows you to take in the great mountain scenery of northern Thailand. As you ride up the road, you can also stop off at the numerous sights. Check out the beautiful Mok Fa Waterfall, enjoy several cafés, and catch a view of the green hills from a tree swing at the Mari Pai Resort.

What Is There to Do in Pai?

Pai, a riverside town boasting scenery from mountains to waterfalls and hot springs, has grown into a major tourist stop in Thailand. An improved road and the famous 2009 Thai film "Pai in Love" have transformed this town into a busy place that is even a permanent part of the backpacker Banana Pancake Trail. The nightlife in Pai is arguably wilder and more accessible than in Chiang Mai, offering bars, live music, and late-night restaurants. Despite the influx of visitors, Pai is still a great destination to catch your breath for a few days, ditch the moat-encircling traffic in Chiang Mai, eat healthy food, do yoga, and relax in some pleasant cafés.