Are you looking for the top 10 things to do in Pai Thailand for free? Of course you are. Pai is the quintessential hub for stingy backpackers and hippies. Consequently, most visitors are as tight in the pocket as their yoga pants are on their behinds.
Well, that’s not entirely true of course. Pai is no longer the quiet, hidden paradise it once was. In fact, Pai is now well and truly paved in as a destination pin on the northern Thailand tourist trail. But does that mean it’s doomed? – Far from it. Pai is still one of my favorite destinations in Thailand, with a good mix of authenticity and liveliness while still housing plenty of opportunities for adventures.
Map of Things to do in Pai
Here’s a quick map to reference all of the locations for the stops and attractions listed in this blog.
Top 10 Things to Do in Pai Thailand For Free
There’s plenty of things to do in Pai, and even the activities that do cost money are cheap. However, here’s my Top 10 things to do in Pai if you don’t want to spend a cent.
1. Mae Yen Waterfall Hike
My favorite hike in Pai was the Mae Yen Waterfall Hike. The trail picks up in the jungle only a short distance from the center of Pai and leads through dense jungle and banana plantations.
In total, this hike takes around 4 hours return but is relatively flat and easy for most people. You’ll cross dozens of rivers along the way, so make sure you prepare to get your feet wet!
GPS Coordinates: 19.36135, 98.46149
Need a van to Pai from Chiang Mai or reverse? – Book in Advance for under $15.
2. Stroll Down the Night Market
You’ll find the night market on nearly all of the other lists of Top 10 Things to do in Pai Thailand. That’s because Pai’s Walking Street is one of the best in all of Thailand. Here, you’ll undoubtedly struggle to not spend any of your precious Baht, since the street is filled with delicious Thai street food.
However, even if you are feeling stingy, the vibe at Pai’s Walking Street at night is energetic and is definitely the place to be after the sunsets.
GPS Coordinates: 19.36006, 98.44154
3. Rent a Motorbike and Explore
If you don’t rent a motorbike in Pai, then you’re doing it wrong. By far, the best way to see Pai and the outskirts is to rent a motorbike and explore by yourself.
Motorbikes can be found for rent all through the main town. Per day, a motorbike costs 150 Baht, so don’t be fooled into paying more.
Once you’ve got your two wheels, hit the road without a plan, or pin some highlights from this article.
4. Visit the Big White Buddha on the Hill
Do you see that big white Buddha statue on the hill? It’s called Wat Phra That Mae Yen, and it’s one of Pai’s resident Buddhist temples.
Visiting Wat Phra That Mae Yen is free, and you’ll find plenty of other travelers and backpackers here at sunset, which makes it a great spot to meet like-minded adventurers.
If you visit in the morning, you’ll most likely find much fewer people, most of whom will be meditating at the foot of the white Buddha. Funnily enough, the only people I saw were Farangs.
GPS Coordinates: 19.35015, 98.45463
5. Spend Sunset at Pai Canyon
I was pretty surprised to find out that I was able to add Pai Canyon to this list of Top 10 things to do in Pai for free. This place is incredibly popular, especially for sunset, and still, no one is charging a cent to visit it.
Pai Canyon, or Kong Lan, is apparently referenced as Thailand’s Grand Canyon. However, this is a little more than a slight exaggeration. The canyons have been formed by continuous erosion over several centuries.
While it can’t really be compared to the canyon in Arizona, the Pai Canyon is still an impressive spot to watch the sunset and hang out with other travelers.
GPS Coordinates: 19.30613, 98.4525
6. Stop By Yun Lai Viewpoint
Yun Lai Viewpoint is a great spot to watch sunrise or sunset in Pai. The viewpoint is located on top of a hill approximately 15 minutes from the center of Pai.
Unfortunately, to get to the official viewpoint, you’ll have to pay 20 Baht. However, if you’d prefer to stick to a completely gratis itinerary, you can enjoy pretty much the same view at the cafe just before the Yun Lai Viewpoint.
GPS Coordinates: 19.36903, 98.39538
Tip: Looking for a 3-day trekking adventure in Pai or Chiang Mai? Consider this Chiang Dao trekking package. This one is the highest rated tour online and includes: home-cooked meals, homestay accommodation, transport from Pai or Chiang Mai, and small group trekking.
7. Drive to Ban Santichon (Chinese Village)
For those with a motorbike looking for more things to do in Pai for free, the Ban Santichon (Chinese Village) is a worthwhile addition to your spontaneous day trip.
If you drive to Yun Lai Waterfall, you’ll probably pass it on the way. Here, you’ll find a traditional Chinese immigrant cultural village much different from a typical China-town you’ll see elsewhere in the world.
You can enjoy traditional Yunnan food, tea shops, and dragon architecture.
GPS Coordinates: 19.37103, 98.4027
Tip: Don’t miss this awesome 2-week Northern Thailand itinerary.
8. Visit Wat Nam Hu Temple
If you’re still in a temple mood, then the Wat Nam Hu Temple is a less-visited but worthwhile place to visit in Pai.
The Wat Nam Hu Temple isn’t as grandiose as Wat Phra That Mae Yen, but still has a tranquil aura complete with garden views and a large fish pond.
GPS Coordinates: 19.3649, 98.41315
9. Cross the Memorial Bridge
Another completely free activity is to visit the famous WWII Memorial Bridge located 13 minutes south of Central Pai.
The bridge was erected in 1941 by the Japanese who wanted better access between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son on the border of British occupied Burma. The bridge was built in a fashion common of the era, using elephants to tow huge beams of wood. The steel-structured bridge which crosses the Pai river today isn’t actually the original bridge from WWII, but a reconstruction.
Truth be told, this site isn’t that great unless you’re an avid history buff. However, due to its close proximity to the Pai Canyon, you may as well make the stop. You can read more about it here.
GPS Coordinates: 19.29745, 98.465
10. Drive to Chiang Mai
The ultimate northern Thailand mountain drive! The drive from Pai to Chiang Mai or reverse is one of my favorite routes in Thailand and probably my number one on this list of top 10 things to do in Pai Thailand for free.
The entire journey is 130 KM long and will take you roughly 3-4 hours of riding. The route winds up and down the winding mountain roads, with a total of 762 turns!
This road is definitely not one that you want to take if you’re not confident on a motorbike. The hills can get steep and the turns are near hairpin on many corners. However, if you’ve got the skills and the guts to do it, it might just be one of your favorite Pai adventures!
More Things to Do in Pai
Alright, so if you’re willing to spend a few extra Baht, here are some bonus activities worth considering. Yes, they aren’t free, but they are cheap (like you).
Pam Bok Waterfall
There are a few waterfalls in Pai, and unfortunately, they all have an entry cost. The Pam Bok waterfall entry ticket is 20 Baht, which I believe is well worth it.
Located only 20 minutes from the center of Pai, Pam Bok waterfall offers calm flowing rivers and a cavernous waterfall with a deep swimming hole. There’s even a secret side trail at the back where you can find a sneaky jump spot. Read about it here.
Pai Bamboo Bridge
At first, you’ll be excused for thinking that the Pai Bamboo Bridge is a bit of a tourist trap. To be honest, I did too.
However, the 800-meter, hand-woven bamboo bridge that stretches over green rice fields was quite an impressive stop and one that I’d recommend. Apparently, it was first built to serve as a raised path for monks who used the bridge on their daily walk from the nearby temple to the village.
Entry Price: 30 Baht
GPS Coordinates: 19.32302, 98.39441
Best Accommodation in Pai
My Pai Accommodation: Wake Up in Pai
This place was one of the cheapest options for a clean dorm with free breakfast in Pai. Located in the center close to motorbike rentals, cafes and the walking street market.
Highest Rated Guesthouse: Pai Yard Backpackers
Super cheap accommodation with incredible reviews. Clean rooms, good location, decent price, and good food.
Famous Pai Hostel: Circus Hostel Pai
This place has been a favorite in Pai for those looking for a great vibe. There’s a big pool with rolling mountain backdrops and bonfires every night. If you want to meet other backpackers looking for the top 10 things to do in Pai Thailand for free, then this will probably be the place.
Where to go After Pai
For many, the question of where to go after Pai usually ends up being answered by Chiang Mai. However, traveling to either Chiang Rai or even a quick hop into Myanmar are also great options.
Finished this list of top 10 things to do in Pai and looking for more free adventures in Northern Thailand? Make sure to check out some other relevant guides below.
Have any unanswered questions? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email, I answer every single one personally!