Soaked in history, Chiang Mai is a great city to get a sense for Thailand’s culture and tradition, and, when you’re done here, head north to the small town of Pai and enjoy some of the country’s breathtaking scenery. Pai’s small town, laid-back atmosphere has made this a popular destination for backpackers, but frankly anyone who loves good scenery is going to love Pai! Popular with both Western tourists and Thai tourists, Pai is growing all the time and so too are the transport options to get you here.
Getting from Chiang Mai to Pai, what are the options?
Pai may only be a small town but it’s a popular one so this means there are several different ways for you to get here from Chiang Mai. By road, it’s just under 150 kilometers (93 miles). This may not sound like much but bear in mind that you’ll be driving over the mountains and the journey will involve a never-ending number of bends in the road. If you’ve already done some research into the trip from Chiang Mai to Pai you may have read many reviews from travelers who were motion sick and/or scared by the road. We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but for now, let’s just say that traveling by road is not the only option – you can also fly from Chiang Mai to Pai!
The Road from Chiang Mai to Pai
They say that getting there is half the fun, but when we’re talking about a long and winding road through the mountains this may not be everybody’s idea of fun! Travelers in the past have complained about crazy minivan drivers who overtake slow vehicles on bends, and give their passengers motion sickness. Unfortunately, a few slightly crazy drivers have given the road from Chiang Mai to Pai a bad name when this really isn’t the case. Route 1095 (the name of the highway) is actually an extremely beautiful road and one which should be enjoyed. Minivans are just one option for getting to Pai from Chiang Mai by road; you could also take a taxi or a bus or you could rent a car or a motorbike and make your own way.
From Chiang Mai to Pai by Minivan
Minivans have the advantage of being very affordable and you should find that the seats have better cushioning than on the public buses, plus there’s air conditioning. And, with hourly departures throughout the day starting at 06.30 until 17:30 there are plenty of times to choose from to suit your own schedule. The scheduled travel time is 4 hours and 20 minutes but if the roads are quite clear and the driver is driving relatively fast then it will actually take more like 3 hours.
Minivans to Pai from Chiang Mai are operated by a company called Prem Pacha, although you may find services offered by other minivan companies too. If you are someone who may suffer from travel sickness it’s strongly advised that you take medication before the van begins heading into the mountains. The first section of the journey is along quite straight roads but once you do start climbing, the bends will come frequently. In total there are said to be 762 bends so even someone who does not usually suffer from motion sickness could find themselves affected. Sitting towards the front of the minivan can also really help to alleviate the feeling of nausea.
From Chiang Mai to Pai by Public Bus
The public buses are the cheapest way to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai but they are not especially comfortable. The buses are older and have quite hard seats, so bring a cushion if you can! Without air conditioning you would expect the buses to feel warm but traveling through the mountains with the windows open is actually quite a pleasant experience. Public buses will take longer as the drive is slower and they will make stops along the way, however, if you’re not in a hurry this is a nice way to travel.
The Expensive Option – A Taxi from Chiang Mai to Pai
A taxi to Pai from Chiang Mai is another option. Taking a taxi is great if you still want to see the beautiful scenery but don’t want to drive yourself. Taxis are obviously very expensive when compared with the minivan or bus but if you treat it more like a private tour it’s actually good value for money. The taxi can stop whenever you want to, and the driver will know where all the best viewpoints and attractions are along the way.
Catch a Flight from Chiang Mai to Pai
Despite Pai being such a small town it does actually have its own airport. Pai Airport is situated just 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) outside of the town so it’s quick and easy getting into Pai once you land. Kan Air and Wisdom Airways are the only two airlines offering flights to Pai from Chiang Mai and it’s a very quick 25-minute flight, making this by far the quickest way to travel from A to B.
The drawback is that a flight to Pai is going to cost you far more than traveling by bus or by minivan. However, one seat on a plane will be less than a taxi ride, so technically a flight is not the most expensive option.
So, which is the best way to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai? Well, that depends upon your preferences. If you want to get there in the quickest time, catch a flight to Pai, but as we said above, getting there is half the fun and the drive from Chiang Mai to Pai is so beautiful that taking a minivan is what we’d recommend! Also read our guides from Pai to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
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