Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai

Off we go, to Pai!

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to Pai we go!

The Road to Pai

The road to Pai from Chiang Mai is a stomach-churning nausea-inducing blood-pressure-increasing 80-mile-long nightmare.  According to legend, the road has 762 hairpin turns and is one of the most dangerous stretches in all of Thailand.  Zoom in on the map below to see all the twists and turns as the road nears Pai – it’s quite the ride!  In spite of it being just 80 miles, the drive usually takes 3-4 hours unless you’re a crazy daredevil.  Being the idiots that we are, we still wanted to make a trip to the cute little mountain town of Pai, Thailand, but it was harder than we thought it’d be to decide how to get there!  We visited no less than 8 travel agencies here in Chiang Mai to assess all of our options.

Option #1: Fly

The quickest way to get there is to take a half-hour flight with Kan Air, a tiny airline that only serves a handful of towns in North Thailand.  But they only make the trip Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, and only once per day!  Their flights are close to $60 one way, and were mostly sold out for the next few weeks.  Also, as a former Boeing employee, I tend treat small domestic airlines in foreign countries with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Option #2: Public Bus

The word on the interwebs is that a bus fare to Pai costs 150 Baht, or about $4.60. I’ve read that the “air conditioned” busses don’t have very good air conditioning, so what ends up happening is that you’re just stuck in a hot bus with windows that won’t open!  Non-air-conditioned busses also make the trip to Pai, but  stories of fruit rolling around on the floor and random loose chickens deterred us from bussing it.  We’ve only been in Thailand a month, after all, so we aren’t sure we’re ready yet for that experience.

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Option #3: Motorbike

We were encouraged by several strangers to attempt to motorbike up to Pai.  Now that we’ve seen the road, we are about 95% sure that motorbiking to Pai would’ve killed us.  Neither of us has driven a motorbike before, so a 3-hour trip through the mountains in the rainy season with tons of hairpin turns would have been an absolute disaster.  I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now if we had attempted to motorbike to Pai.  This road is definitely for advanced motor bikers only!

Option #4: Aya Minivans

When we started looking into the Minivan option, we found that the most popular van operator, Aya Service, has a plethora of terrifying reviews online.  Phrases like “don’t use this company if you value your life” and “someone threw up everywhere in the van” were commonplace. Some people’s reviews even said their drivers were acting erratic, like they had used some sort of drugs to stay awake.  More than a few people mentioned that the Aya drivers go way too fast, hustling up to Pai so they can load up a new vanful of passengers and race back down to Chiang Mai.  We even read a post online claiming that the passengers in one Aya van revolted, forced the driver to pull over, put him in the back seat, and a passenger finished out the drive up to Pai!

Before I snapped this photo, I asked Kevin how he felt about our upcoming journey...

Before I snapped this photo, I asked Kevin how he felt about our upcoming journey…

Reading these reviews had us rethinking our trip to Pai altogether.  It made us nervous for the trip no matter how we got there, as shown by Kevin’s face in the photo above.

Option #5: The winner, a Minivan with Terminal Green

Luckily, we found Terminal Green!  This company operates the same style of 16-passenger minivans as Aya Service, and their tickets are the same price.  The fare for a ride up to Pai is 180 Baht (about $5.50) and includes pickup at your hotel/apartment.  The ride back down costs just 150 Baht (about $4.60), and ends in Chiang Mai’s Old City, close enough to our condo that we could just walk home afterwards.  We could hardly find any reviews online for Terminal Green, but we felt “less unconfident” about them just because of the lack of bad reviews online.  It seemed like the least evil of all options.  To book the Chiang Mai to Pai portion, call Terminal Green at 081-960-9283 (and be sure to request seats in the front of van!)  The return journey can be booked at the Terminal Green storefront in Pai.  Seats on the return journey are first come first served for the trip back to Chiang Mai, so you have to arrive early and throw some elbows to sit in the front.

The Journey

We each took some Bonine for motion sickness before leaving the house to head to Pai.  This turned out to be a great idea – highly recommend a Bonine pill or two.  A Terminal Green van picked us up near our condo at 9:45am and drove us over to the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station to load up into another Terminal Green minivan.  Try to show up with an empty bladder – it costs 3 Baht to use the filthy bathrooms at the bus station.  Do you at least get toilet paper or soap since you paid 3 Baht?  No way, man!

This is the ticket counter at the Arcade Bus Terminal where you can buy tickets to Pai

The Arcade Bus Terminal Ticket Counter

We loaded up into the van, packed like sardines.  One seat even had two passengers – a mom with her 5 year old daughter on her lap!

One last selfie before the drive - hopefully not the last selfie ever...

One last selfie before the drive – hopefully not the last selfie ever…

By 10:30am, we were en route to Pai.  We were probably the only passengers who wore seat belts.  Even the driver didn’t buckle up.  Luckily, the air conditioner worked well and it wasn’t too warm!

Please Expect Seat Belt

We chuckled at this sign in the van: “Please Expect Seat Belt”

We stopped at a rest stop halfway up to Pai. Using the bathrooms at this stop cost 3 Baht, toilets were of the squatting variety, and it did not include toilet paper or soap.  Sigh.

We were glad we brought snacks along – it was a long drive and the food at the rest stop was expensive (and by expensive I mean $3/meal) and it looked like it had been there for more than a few days.  After eating our makeshift egg sandwiches (not egg salad… just a boiled egg wrapped in a piece of bread… we are simple folk), we piled back into the van.

Our trusty van which got us safely up to Pai

The trusty steed which got us safely up to Pai

En route to Pai, we drove through a herd of cows on the road and passed several big semi trucks on the windy road.  We arrived safely at the bus station in Pai at about 2pm, hungry, tired, and with a Bonine hangover.  Luckily, no one threw up in our van.  Success!

If we had to make the trip up to Pai again, we would definitely use Terminal Green.  They were one of the cheapest options for getting to and from Pai, and we never felt unsafe.  We liked both of our drivers – they took their time getting us safely through the mountains and always passed slower cars/motorbikes carefully.  We did spot a few Aya vans that seemed like they were really zooming around other cars on the road – several zoomed passed us on our journey – so we were happy with our choice to use Terminal Green.

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever had a terrifying journey on your travels?  We want to hear all about it!  Please leave us a comment with your story.


5 thoughts on “Getting to Pai from Chiang Mai

  1. Did you take any video or photos of the windy road? Our scariest trip was driving the Amalfi Coast in a rental car. The tour buses nearly drove us off the road and you never know what you would encounter on the other side of the crazy hairpin turns. The motorbikes zipped in between adding to the madness. It was beautiful though!

    • We didn’t get any video of that road, unfortunately! But we did take video later when we were on our motorbike. I’ll post that up before too long.

      The Amalfi coast sounds beautiful and terrifying! The best things usually are, though.

    • It is in 1less than 100km & takes over 2.5hrs in mountains! Dont ever go to dsea y wont like it & no big buses or semis on the mountain roads ,yes if been drinking chang before u r a fool!!!!

  2. Pingback: Prices of Everyday Living in Thailand

  3. Melanie, I was thinking… we are travelling a 2nd time to Thailand next year in March. We also booked 3 nights in Pai. Since we are arriving in Chiang Mai (from Krabi) around 10am, and KAN airlines runs only one flight at 7:30… we aren’t able to make the flight. That leaves us with the bus options :-) When seeing the mini-vans I’m wondering: how do they get in 2 suitcases?? We never travel with a backpack so… :(

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