Use the quicklinks below to jump to the desired section regarding transport in and around Pai.
Kan Air has 30-minute flights to and from Chiang Mai Wednesdays to Sundays, and on a clear day it’s a seriously scenic flight. Below is their schedule until October 2015, so check for high season amendments. The low season rate is 1,900 baht for 2015 but at the time of writing they hadn’t set their 2015-16 high season rates.
In the high season these can fill up very quickly as they're only small prop planes. You can book through an agent in Chiang Mai or direct on their website -- try May Travel on Chaisongkran Road if you're in Pai already. May can also help you out if you require flights for other destinations in Thailand or overseas.
Note there are as yet no flights from Pai to Mae Hong Son nor indeed any other destination.
Pai’s airport code is PYY and Kan Air offers car rental at the airport.
Chiang Mai to Pai
Wed, Thu: 10:20 and 13:20; Fri, Sat: 10:20 and 11:50; Sun: 11.40.
Pai to Chiang Mai
Wed, Thu: 11:00 and 14:00; Fri, Sat, Sun: 11:00 and 12:30
Kan Air call centre: T: (02) 551 6111; http//:www.kanairlines.com
Kan Car Rent: T: (090) 907 1815
May World Travel: Chaisongkran Rd; T: (053) 699 435, (085) 620 9918; firstname.lastname@example.org
From Pai there are only two roads, southeast to Chiang Mai via Mae Malai and northwest to Mae Hong Son via Pang Mapha. The two road transport options are either minibuses or fan-cooled large buses. The minibuses, running regularly in both directions, are the quickest though they can hurtle around all those bends a bit on occasions, while the slower, once-a-day buses can stop a lot and be crowded, but are a good way to meet locals if you’re not in a hurry.
Fan buses are 80 baht for either Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son. Buses in the direction of Chiang Mai leave at 12:00 and arrive at Chiang Mai Arcade bus station at 16:00. For Mae Hong Son, they depart at 11:00 stopping at Pang Mapha/Soppong at 12:30 and arriving in Mae Hong Son at 15:00. All these buses actually run between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai, so if you're waiting at Pai bus station, don't be surprised to see an already-full bus arrive.
Minibuses Pai to Chiang Mai and Pai to Mae Hong Son are easier, especially if you're stuck at the Pai end, since they merely go when they're full. In high season, this means very frequently. The three to three-and-a-half hour ride to Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son is 150 baht. They do therefore shave a good hour or so off the trip but that does mean they are going much faster around all those bends, which is not to everyone's comfort. They are however, air-con, and you do have a whole seat to yourself.
There are two minibus services in Pai: Prempracha/Aiva, which for all intents and purposes is the same company and the ubiquitous Aya. Both have hourly (depending upon demand) departures but Aya only go to Chiang Mai while Prempracha have buses in both directions. Prempracha terminate at Arcade bus station while Aya end up outside their office near Chiang Mai Station.
All minibuses and buses leave and arrive at Chiang Mai's Arcade bus station despite whatever they may say. The first one is officially 06:30 and last 16:30, and minibuses -- in theory -- run hourly between 07:00 and 17:00 but since it depends upon numbers this is a very flexible schedule.
For any other destination from Pai you will have to change in Chiang Mai whatever the agent claims. We saw 'direct' tickets offered to all sorts of odd destinations -- including Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and Ko Tao (!). You will have to change buses in Chiang Mai and again in Bangkok if you're going further, even if you've bought a through ticket. Luang Prabang tickets by boat include an overnight at the border in Chiang Khong plus a night in Pak Beng. (May's World Travel will sell you tickets to Luang Prabang by speedboat or slow boat.)
For Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai and so on, change at Chiang Mai and for Chiang Dao, Tha Ton and so on, get out at Mae Malai, where the Pai road hits the main Chiang Mai-bound artery, and wait for the next hourly northbound bus. Long-distance bus tickets can also be obtained at May World Travel.
There’s a taxi office close to the bus station with the following prices advertised:
Chiang Mai 2,500 baht (extra 500 baht for the airport)
Chiang Rai 4,000
Mae Sai 5,000
Chiang Khong 6,000
Tha Ton 4,000
Chiang Saen 5,000
Mae Hong Son (day tour) 2,500
Tham Lot 1,500
Around Pai (day tour) 1,200
These are fairly outrageous prices, so if you do prefer a taxi to bus, negotiate hard.
Taxi Station: Chaisongkran Rd, Pai; T: (053) 699 698
Bicycles or motorbikes are easily and cheaply rented in town but please be careful! Check your bike thoroughly before departing, get a helmet and pay a bit extra to get insurance cover -- it's worth it. Motorbike accidents are by far the number one cause of death and injury among tourists in Thailand and many people's holidays have been ruined by forking out loads of money for a smashed up rental bike.
Aya Service on Chaisongkran Road is a reliable spot with okay bikes at reasonable prices but there are plenty of alternatives around. Don't forget to check tyres, brakes, horn and so on. 110 cc Honda Dreams or Waves go for around 100 baht per day or 250cc trail bikes for 900 baht, with various options in between. Full insurance is generally around 80 baht per day on top. Aya will also let you return motorbikes in Chiang Mai, which could be very convenient, though with your rucksack and partner on board, it's further than you think and there will be more hills and bends than you remember from the way up. Also it's a long, straight, busy and boring four-lane stretch from Mai Malai to Chiang Mai. A couple of other hire places (for bicycles as well) are on Chaisongkran Road and some guesthouses, particularly out of town ones, will hire them too.
If you do have a bike and nowhere in particular to go, then go nowhere in particular -- it's nice! Get yourself a free map from the bike hire people and just cruise around the scenic lanes of Pai valley, stopping off at the occasional Shan temple or Thai coffee shop. Most roads will end up looping back to Pai town anyway.
Aya Service: 22/1 Chaisongkran Rd, Pai: T: (053) 699 888, (053) 699 940; www.ayaservice.com; email@example.com