Bus from Chiang Mai to Pai Cost: 150 Baht
Getting to the Bus Station in Chiang Mai
Most likely your bus or van from Chiang Mai to Pai will be leaving from the Arcade Bus Station in the upper right hand corner of the city if you’re looking at a map. This is the older bus terminal, not the updated Terminal 3. So if you think the station looks really clean and modern, this is not the place you’re supposed to be at.
Yes, You Need Dramamine
Whether you get motion sickness or just want to pass out to avoid hearing the Thai man snoring next to you, you’re gonna wanna pop some pills either way on the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai
I had heard rumors about the drive to Pai from Chiang Mai. I was also warned to take the big bus instead of the smaller passenger vans. A friend was in charge of getting the tickets and I thought we were luckily riding on the charter bus until 10 minutes before departure when we learned we were in fact in the smaller passenger vans – which are notorious for speeding, accidents, and overall little regard for basic traffic laws.
OK, Dramamine was needed. I headed to the nearest little shop at the bus station and asked for what I needed, but the language barrier made it difficult to communicate what I needed so I started swaying my shoulders back and forth and articulating “motion sickness” the best that I could.
Suddently the woman knew exactly what I needed and handed me 2 pills and said “5 Baht” — wow, that’s a small price to pay to prevent the massacre of my insides. Ring me up!
Thank goodness I snagged those before we loaded up the van because I would not be able to handle the…
762 Hairpin Curves from Chiang Mai to Pai
Seven hundred and sixty two. Ugh, I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it. Being knocked out for the majority of the drive was a godsend. But honestly, I’m not sure what was more uncomfortable: the bends or the severe lack of personal space between me and my fellow travelers in this van – which coincidentally smelled like vomit. I guess not everybody before our trip had the forethought to pack motion sickness medicine.
Aside from the drive itself, what was also super fascinating to me was the military checkpoints we had to pass through. Apparently this is common throughout Northern Thailand. The drivers pull over and wait for a Policeman? Military Personnel? to open the van and check inside. I’m not sure what they’re looking for, maybe drugs, but luckily we had no problems and it was a very efficient process.
Don’t want to take a van?
Other options to get from Chiang Mai to Pai:
Cost: Between 200 and 300 Baht per day
Taking a motorbike or scooter to Pai from Chiang Mai is a popular option for many travelers who have either lived in Chiang Mai for longer than just a “vacation” or have experience on scooters. The first half of the drive to Pai is reasonable for a novice, but be prepared for those 762 curves on a motorbike. Busses and vans are notorious for recklessly speeding past motorbikes around these curves and if you get motion sickness, you’ll feel the affects of every curve down to the pit of your stomach.
This may be why you’ll see AT LEAST one tourist a day walking around Pai in a cast, crutches, or some sort of large bandages. These are called “Pai Tattoos” … very fitting.
BUT, for pros who love this method of transportation, I’ve heard it’s an amazing way to see the countryside first hand and at your own pace. You’re likely to use 2 tanks of petrol on your journey so refuel whenever you have the chance to avoid being stranded on the side of the road.
Cost: 3800 Baht
If saving time is important and you’re not on a limited budget, flying to Pai might be your best bet. Served by Kan Airlines, these small prop planes will have you there in about 30 minutes. These flights book up fast so be sure to book well in advance or coordinate with a travel agent.
Cost: 3,000 to 4,500 Baht
If you’re staying in a hotel or guest house, ask your host to recommend a private driver who can take you to Pai. This is usually more economical when you are traveling with 3+ people. A private driver will usually drive slower (aka more safely than busses) and provide a more pleasant experience.
You will most likely be charged at an “all day rate” and therefore, feel free to ask to stop at certain tourist destinations or temples along the way and make the roadtrip part of the experience!
Bonus points: Your car will most likely not smell like vomit, unlike my bus from Chiang Mai to Pai… 😉
Anyway you get to Pai, you’re going to love it once you get there
– I sure did!