Pai is one of the most popular towns for tourists to visit in Thailand. Most people travel from Chiang Mai to Pai because Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand.
Luckily, it’s super easy to travel to Pai from Chiang Mai.
The easiest way to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai is by taking the bus. It’s affordable, reliable, and safe to use. You can also take a private transfer, go on a guided tour, or drive to Pai. But, taking the bus to Pai is the best option for most travellers.
While Pai technically has an airport, it doesn’t service commercial flights. If you’re trying to travel to Pai from southern or central Thailand and want to avoid a long bus ride, you’d have to fly to Chiang Mai and then follow the steps outlined in this article to get to Pai.
Even though it’s tough to get to Pai directly from Bangkok, it’s worth the effort. Northern Thailand is my favourite part of Thailand, and I always recommend people take the time to visit it.
If you’re interested in seeing more of Northern Thailand than just Pai and Chiang Mai, be sure to read my articles about travelling from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and about the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai.
Anyways, you’re here to learn about travelling from Chiang Mai to Pai!
This article will cover all the different ways you can travel between the two cities as well as important tips and tricks about taking the bus.
Everybody I know who has visited Pai absolutely loves it. It’s one of the most beautiful and unique places in Thailand.
Taking the Bus from Chiang Mai to Pai
The bus is the easiest way to travel within the different regions of Thailand. If you’re visiting multiple cities in Northern Thailand, the bus if the best way to travel. If you’re travelling from, say, Northern Thailand to Southern Thailand, planes are the best way to travel.
Since Chiang Mai and Pai are both in Northern Thailand, the bus is by far the best way to travel between the two cities.
There are 12 buses that run from Chiang Mai to Pai every day, so it’s easy to find a time that works best for you and your travel needs.
It’s important to note that most of the buses that run between Chiang Mai and Pai are actually mini vans. These are smaller vans that sit between 6 and 9 passengers in a 3 by 3 configuration.
They aren’t as nice or comfortable as the full size buses, but they’re still comfortable enough and get you where you need to go.
How Long Does the Bus from Chiang Mai to Pai Take?
Chiang Mai and Pai are 130km apart, which is pretty far.
The bus from Chiang Mai to Pai takes anywhere between 3.5 hours and 4 hours depending on traffic and the number of stops it makes.
That’s not bad considering the distance travelled and that the bus most likely will make stops between the two cities.
Sit back, relax, and put in an audiobook. You’ll be in Pai quicker than you realize.
How Much Does the Bus Cost?
The price of your bus ticket to Pai varies a bit depending on what time of day you travel. Off peak travel times will cost you slightly less than peak travel times. The difference isn’t very large and shouldn’t be a deciding factor on what bus you choose to take.
You can expect to pay between 200 Baht and 240 Baht for your ticket. That’s between between $6 USD and $7 USD.
That’s pretty dang affordable for a 3.5-4 hour bus ride!
Do You need to Buy Bus Tickets in Advance?
Yes! I highly, highly recommend you purchase bus tickets in advance. Most other blogs on the interest suggest that you can simply show up at the bus station the day of departure and get a ticket for the next bus from Chiang Mai to Pai, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Bus tickets sell out quickly, and you don’t want to end up in a situation where you arrive at the bus station and find out all the buses for that day are sold out.
I know some people like to travel super spontaneously, but you don’t need to buy your ticket too far in advance. Even a day or two in advance should be enough to guarantee you can get on the bus you want.
You’ll want to purchase your ticket further in advance if you’re travelling on or around a major Thai holiday though.
Where to Buy Bus Tickets in Advance
There are two options for purchasing your bus ticket in advance. The first is to go to the Chiang Mai bus terminal and purchase a ticket there. The other is to purchase it online.
The Chiang Mai bus station isn’t in the heart of Chiang Mai near the old city where most tourists stay. You need to take a Grab there and back. That’s annoying because it costs time and money.
I prefer to purchase my bus tickets online in advance. The downside to doing that is you have to purchase your bus ticket through a third-party website. The third-party is super reliable and legitimate, but it does cost slightly more than purchasing your bus ticket at the bus station.
However, if you consider the cost of going to and from the bus station to get your bus ticket, it ends up being cheaper (and more convenient) to purchase your ticket online.
12Go is the third-party you should be using to purchase all your bus tickets in Southeast Asia. They’re the most reliable third-party on the market.
I’ve used them lots of times and have never, ever had an issue with the ticket I purchased. Some other sites are less reliable, and it’s important to make sure you’re using a reliable site to purchase your bus tickets.
You don’t want to use a shady site to save a small amount of money then find out you don’t actually have a ticket for the bus you thought you did.
So, even though there is a small increase in prices to cover 12Go’s services of helping you get a bus ticket, it’s still the better option compared to buying your bus ticket in person at the bus station.
Where Does the Bus Depart from in Chiang Mai?
All buses from Chiang Mai to Pai depart from Chiang Mai Arcade 2.
That’s the main bus station in Chiang Mai. There are three different terminals at the bus station, so you want to make sure you’re in the right location.
Even though the bus station has three terminals, it’s fairly small. Even if you end up at the wrong terminal, it doesn’t take long to find where you need to be.
Just wander around for a while looking for the departure gate number on your ticket. If you still have trouble finding where you’re supposed to be, there is a help desk you can ask to point you in the right direction.
Where Does the Bus Arrive at in Pai?
All buses arrive at Pai Bus Station.
It’s a small station in the centre of the city. A lot of first time visitors to Pai choose to stay close to the walking street. If you’re staying near the walking street, you’ll be able to easily walk to your hotel from the bus station.
If you’re staying anywhere else in Pai (south Pai is another popular area to stay), you’ll want to take a Grab or TukTuk to your hotel. It’s most likely too far to walk. Especially in the heat.
Taking a Private Transfer from Chiang Mai to Pai
Your next option is to take a private transfer from Chiang Mai to Pai.
This is the most expensive option on this list, and it certainly isn’t the best choice for everybody. Especially not budget travellers.
There are definitely some benefits of taking a private transfer from Chiang Mai to Pai. The biggest is the freedom and flexibility it gives you.
You’re able to completely customize your trip. You have the driver for up to 8 hours. That gives you lots of time to stop and see things on your way from Chiang Mai to Pai.
If you have the financial means or travelling in a larger group of people and can split the costs, it’s one of the best ways to see Northern Thailand.
If you’re a solo traveller like I am, I don’t think it’s worth the cost.
It’s also a great option for people who may get motion sick or have mobility issues. A private transfer picks you up at your hotel and drops you off at your hotel. It takes a lot of the guess work and hassle out of travelling to Pai.
It’s definitely the most convenient way to travel between the two cities, but it’s also the most expensive.
Taking a Guided Tour from Chiang Mai to Pai
The next option is to take a guided tour from Chiang Mai to Pai. The difference between a private transfer and a guided tour is that the guided tour is a day trip, and you’re dropped back in Chiang Mai at the end of the day.
A guided tour is a great option for people who have very limited time in Northern Thailand and don’t necessarily have the time to spend multiple days in multiple cities.
A one day guided tour to Pai will be rushed because there is a lot to see and do in the area, but it’s better than nothing.
Although if you can only do one day tour from Chiang Mai, I recommend taking a trip to Chiang Rai. You’re able to see and do more on that guided tour than the one to Pai.
I think that Pai deserves more than a single day to explore. The guided tour doesn’t include all the highlights you’d want to see in Pai, but it gives you a taste of the region.
Driving from Chiang Mai to Pai
Your final option is to rent a car or scooter and driver from Chiang Mai to Pai.
I don’t recommend this option. Especially for people who haven’t driven in Southeast Asia before and/or haven’t driven a scooter before.
A lot of tourists say “there aren’t any rules of the road” in Southeast Asia, but that’s simply not true. There are rules and driving conventions. You just don’t know them as a tourists.
Since you don’t know the driving conventions, you put everybody on the road at a higher risk of being in an accident.
I think it’s unsafe for tourists to drive in Southeast Asia. But if you choose to drive to Pai from Chiang Mai, I suggest renting a car not a scooter.
The roads are windy and sometimes not always the best maintained if you get off the major roads.
A car also gives you more protection than a scooter does in case you get into an accident. It’s also way easier to store your luggage in a car than on a scooter.
Renting a car and driving to Pai is definitely less expensive than hiring a private driver, but there are a lot of cons that come along with it to.
I only suggest people who have lots of experience driving in Southeast Asia rent a car to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai.
The Importance of Internet Safety
You rely on public wifi when you travel, and that puts you at risk of having your online information stolen. Even if you install an esim on your phone, you still rely on public wifi at hotels (at a minimum).
Even if a wifi network has a password on it, you’re still at risk of having your online information stolen. Anybody who knows the password can access the network and steal your personal and private data if they choose to including your banking information.
Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to deal with the headache of having your banking information stolen while you’re abroad. You can’t get new cards, and you’re forced into a really uncomfortable position.
The only way you can stay safe while using public wifi networks is by installing a VPN on your devices.
A VPN essentially puts an invisible forcefield around your devices that makes it impossible for prying eyes to see your personal online information. It makes using public wifi networks as safe and secure as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.
Installing a VPN on your devices is one of the simplest travel safety steps you can take and not enough people do it.
I always say that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect yourself and your private information by installing a VPN on your devices.
My Favourite VPN
I’ve used a lot of different VPNs over my many years of travel. Honestly, I’ve hated most of them.
VPNs are notorious for slowing down your internet speed, and you can really feel the lag in your connection. I’d often get so frustrated with how slow my internet was that I’d turn off my VPN and put my personal information at risk.
All that changed when I started using NordVPN.
It’s the fastest VPN on the market, and you can really feel the difference between it and other VPNs.
I’ve never felt any internet slow down or lag when using NordVPN, and I’ve been using it since 2018. I’ve renewed my subscription with them once already and plan to renew it again next year when my current subscription is up. I honestly have no plans of ever switching from them.
The other great thing about NordVPN is that you can protect up to six devices with a single subscription. You can keep all your devices safe with one subscription.
Because of my job as a blogger, I use a lot of different technology. I have five different devices I use on a regular basis and am able to keep them all protected with one subscription.
If you have fewer devices than I do, you can potentially keep your whole family protected with one subscription, which is a great deal.
A two-year NordVPN subscription costs less per month than a single Starbuck’s latte, so you have no excuse not to protect your devices when you travel.
It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind and security you get knowing that prying eyes can’t access your personal online information.
As you can see, there are lots of different ways you can travel from Chiang Mai to Pai. I think the best option is taking the bus. It’s reliable and affordable. No matter your budget, the bus won’t break the bank.
Out of those options, I think the private transfer is the best choice. It gives you the most flexibility and convenience, but it’s also the most expensive option.
The guided tour is a great option for people who don’t have the time to overnight in Pai but still want to get a taste of the area.
Finally, renting a car and driving isn’t recommend unless you’ve done a lot of driving in Southeast Asia.
How you travel from Chiang Mai to Pai is ultimately your choice. Each option has it’s pros and cons. Each option also suits a different style of travel.
No matter how you choose to travel to Pai, you won’t regret it. It’s an absolutely stunning town and everybody who visits falls in love with Pai.