Pai, Thailand

a river cutting through a green landscape

Pai: The Serene, Slow Paced Town In Northern Thailand

Pai is located in one of the prettiest fertile valleys, surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in all of Thailand. It’s one of several small towns and villages scattered through the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province. This large, mostly rural province stretches from just west of Chiang Mai all the way to the Myanmar border. Pai is about 550 meters (1,805 ft.) above sea level, so the weather here tends to be cooler in the hot season than it is in the lowlands to the east.

With a population that is still less than 6,000, it is very much a small town. Pai is just 83 miles northwest of Chiang Mai, but with the winding, twisting roads, it feels quite removed. Though Pai continues to develop, it is doing so in a controlled manner; it’s a laid-back place.

The air is cleaner and fresher and the pace of life is much slower here, with all the ambiance of a congenial, small mountain town. Myanmar is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) directly north of Pai, though you would have to travel much farther to get there by road. The provincial capital of Mae Hong Son, with a population of just over 6,000, is 108 kilometers (67 miles) west of town.

If you’ve ever been to Big Sur or Carmel, California, to Boulder, Colorado, or indeed to any small, artist-oriented town, you have a sense of what is found in Pai. There are many art galleries in town, meditation and yoga are popular activities and locals are accepting towards people from all walks of life. Classes are offered in everything from martial arts to alternative healing. Community-minded Pai residents are involved in reforestation projects and helping disadvantaged minorities in the region.

One of the attractions of Pai is that as a foreigner, it’s possible to live a small town, Southeast Asian lifestyle without having to fully assimilate into Thai culture. English speakers will have few problems here, as many local Pai residents have learned the language and adapted graciously to the increase in tourism and foreign residents.

Pai’s rural setting offers other advantages, as well. It’s far enough away from any large city to provide peace and quiet and all the amenities that come with living in a small mountain town, but it’s only a four-hour drive to Chiang Mai. Some of the best medical care in Asia is easily accessible from Pai, as well as an abundance of shopping, dining, and cultural opportunities.

Pai is a jewel in the center of one of the most attractive landscapes in Thailand. Several waterfalls and natural hot springs are located just a few kilometers from town. There are some excellent caves, camping and trekking opportunities, and a few elephant camps just a short drive away. Bicyclists can enjoy comfortable rides through the countryside, and motorcycle enthusiasts can pass endless hours of pleasure exploring the rural and mountainous roads which lead out of town in every direction.

Cost Of Living In Pai

With few exceptions, foreigners who move to Pai rent homes. In a town as affordable as Pai, there really aren’t many advantages to buying a house; at least until you’ve decided that you want to remain in the area for many years.

Pai is inexpensive, even compared to other Thai destinations; here, a monthly budget for a couple renting a home, including costs for food, entertainment, and utilities comes out to under US$700.

Until you’ve made the decision to live here, you may prefer to rent a vehicle. A small motorbike—typically 110cc or 125cc—costs about US$6 per day, including insurance and a helmet. Bicycles rent for about US$3 per day. Lower rates are available for long-term rentals.

For trips farther afield, many locals utilize the services of one of the local minivans that run east between Pai and Chiang Mai, and west all the way to Mae Hong Son. Minibuses depart throughout the day from Pai and are a safe and inexpensive way to travel.

The little government-run Pai Hospital is the only hospital in town. They have an emergency room, an operating room and surgical suite, and enough medical equipment to perform x-rays and basic diagnostic tests. They have an ambulance and an emergency medical technician to staff it. A visit to the doctor here costs about six dollars. However, this is a small hospital and not designed to meet the health care needs of someone with a serious medical condition.

Monthly Budget For A Couple Living In Pai, Thailand

Click here for currency conversion at today’s exchange rate.

Rent THB 10,000  
Gas N/A Included with rent.
Electricity N/A Included with rent.
Water N/A Included with rent.
Telephone THB 100 Prepaid cellphone plan for 30 days.
Internet N/A Included with rent.
Cable TV N/A Included with rent.
Groceries THB 7,500  
Entertainment THB 5,000  
Total THB 22,600  

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