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Chiang Mai to Pai is a route not short of travel options. The small mountain town of Pai, Thailand is located in the northwest of Thailand not far from the Myanmar border. It is roughly a three hour (135 km) drive from Chiang Mai on twisty, wooded, and elevated mountain roads. The route is simultaneously dangerous and beautiful and offers endless breathtaking mountainside views of rural northern Thailand.
How to Get from Chiang Mai to Pai
There are actually several different options if you plan to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai. Whether you want to go it alone on a motorbike, or travel with a group of friends via bus or flight, there is no shortage of available methods.
We drove our 2013 Honda Forza from Chiang Mai to Pai, but we only recommend traveling on a motorbike if you are experienced. You must be willing to ride through possible rain showers (bring a poncho) and dodge rampant potholes as you navigate the over seven hundred turns on Route 1095. If you do ride a motorbike, make sure you have plenty of gas before turning off of Route 107 onto Route 1095 as the gas stations are very few and far between for the remainder of the trip. Also, during the rainy season be prepared to negotiate muddy portions of the road. With all this said, we had a blast riding through the mountains!
If you are not conformable driving a motorbike from Chiang Mai to Pai, there are other ground transportation services that can be booked, many of which leave several different times throughout the day.
Larger buses operated by Prempracha Transport depart from Chiang Mai’s Arcade Station Terminal 3 every few hours, but take a bit longer because they are forced to drive slower given the road conditions. These cost 150 baht. We recommend buying them in advance and arriving at the bus station at least 30 minutes prior to departure. The bus schedule departs at 7:00am, 9:00am, 10:30am, 12:00pm, and 2:00pm daily and takes 3.5 hours.
Van and Mini Bus
Vans and mini buses can be booked at various agencies in Chiang Mai and average between 72 and 180 baht ($3.50 to $6 USD) for a one way ticket. Often, your hotel or guesthouse can hail a van for you for a small booking fee. We’ve heard good things about the AYA Bus Service, which runs mini vans with air conditioning from Pai to Chiang Mai and back. They will pick you up from your hotel in Chiang Mai’s Old City thirty minutes to one hour before departure. They leave from Chiang Mai to Pai every hour between 7:30am and 5:30pm.
As a warning, the twisty road between Chiang Mai and Pai often makes people car sick. We recommend taking an anti-nausea pill (such as non-drowsy formula of Dramamine) before getting on the road to prevent discomfort and possible embarrassment during the ride. Remember, it is about a three hour trip and drivers make a 15 minute bathroom stop about halfway through the trip. However, they don’t stop if you get sick!
As a final option to get to Pai, Kan Airlines offers very short flights between Chiang Mai and Pai that cost 1890 baht or $60 USD for a one-way ticket. Flights operate between Chiang Mai International Airport and land at Pai’s small local airport located roughly 2 km north of town. As of September 2013, Kan Airlines is operating one flight per day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Flights depart from Chiang Mai at 10:20am and arrive in Pai at 10:45am. Flights depart from Pai at 11:00am and arrive in Chiang Mai at 11:25am.
Directions from Chiang Mai to Pai
Leave the Old City of Chiang Mai via Route 107 (Chang Phuak Rd), which is a north bound highway that originates at Chiang Mai’s North Gate. Drive approximately 30 km and then turn left onto Route 1095, which will be at a big intersection with signs pointing towards Pai. Route 1095 passes through several very small towns, goes up and down two mountains, and has 746 turns. Stay on Route 1095 for 95 km until you see Pai’s city limit signs.