I loved Pai. Like, really really loved Pai. I actually think some of my best food in Thailand so far was from there, hence this vegan Pai guide. Now, people love or hate it, and most people visiting Chiang Mai seem to end up there at some point. I think how you find it really depends on where you stay.
It is true it’s super touristy and backpackery in Pai. If you’re into the early 20s pub crawl scene, then stay right in the center near the walking street. If you’re like me, and want to take in the nature and the view, not share a room and sleep at night, then stay on the other side of the river. It’s still walking distance to town, but gorgeous over there and so peaceful. Plus all my favorite vegan spots were on that side!
How I spent most of my time in Pai, lounging in various hammocks. I decided to get in touch with my inner hippy (step 1) by getting this hair wrap, haha. It only lasted a few days before I realized it looked ridiculous with my haircut. This is the hammock at my bungalow complex. See the “Where to Stay” section below for more info.
If you want to see actual video of my time in Pai, Thailand, check out my Instagram on your phone and click my highlight on the top of my profile named “Pai”. It only works if you’re on your phone. My username on Instagram is “unsettleddown”.
How to Get to Pai
Easiest way is to just take the minivans from Chiang Mai to Pai. They cost 150 baht each way (less than 4€). Be warned, it’s a windy road. I don’t get car sick, but if you do, take some Dramamine and book a seat in the front. You can book on the Thai Bus Tickets Online site. The 12GoAsia one I originally booked with takes an additional fee so makes it more expensive, thus I wouldn’t recommend that. The bus station is a little confusing so make sure to get there a bit early. The Prem Pracha buses are in the back to the right. You can just buy your ticket home from the bus station in Pai when you arrive, or do it a day before or so if you’re not sure how long you’ll stay yet. They go every hour.
You can also fly there, as there’s a tiny airport, but it seems ridiculous when it’s so close.
Some people are also brave and ride their motorbikes up there, but unless you are a proficient motorbike rider I wouldn’t do this, as there will be vans overtaking you every 5 minutes on windy mountain roads.
Where to Stay in Pai
Sabai Garden – This place is like a village in itself, a campus set out in the countryside. It’s about a 20-25 minute walk to town, so you may want a scooter if you stay here, but it’s a cool place to hang out. They have an attached bar with hammocks, pool and sometimes fire shows and they offer claw houses, bungalows and dormitories to fit all budgets. I didn’t stay here, but I hung out at the bar a couple nights. Prices start at 4,70€ per night for a dorm bed, 13€ for a bungalow with shared bathroom and 15€ for a place with a private bathroom. You can also do volunteering work there in exchange for free accommodation.
The Yawning Fields – This was a tip from my friend Mostly Amelie, and such a good one. This place really made my stay. For 300 baht per night (approx. 7,80€) I got my own bungalow with everything I needed: surprisingly comfy bed, fan, wifi, nice warm blanket for the cold mountain nights, stunning view, small desk and chair, lounge patio area, free water, and a lock for the door. They are not on booking.com or any of those websites from what I can see, you just gotta email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Yawning Fields is their backpacker option, but they also have a slightly more expensive guesthouse called Ing Doi House if you can afford to spend a bit more than 8€ per night, haha. Ah, and they had a water machine, which seems simple, but since you can’t drink tap water is a big bonus.
My little bungalow at The Yawning Fields.
The bed inside my bungalow, surprisingly comfy and that blanket was super warm for the cold mountain nights.
Common area of both The Yawning Fields and Ing Doi House. I didn’t use it much, but it’s nice! You can order food there as well, not sure but I imagine the owner could veganize something.
Ing Doi House – Same owners and area as The Yawning Fields, this is their guesthouse. If you want your own bathroom instead of using shared, an option for air-conditioning, and a bit more living space with your own table, hammock, bigger patio, this one’s for you. A good option for families traveling together as well. Prices start at 700 baht per night (approx. 17€).
Ing Doi House in Pai, Thailand – starts at 17€ per night with amazing views.
Pai Chan Cottage & Cuisine – Okay it’s more of a cottage/bungalow hybrid, but. If having your own bathroom is a must and you also want a pool, check out this one. Prices start at 350 baht per night (approx. 9€), so only very slightly more than what I paid and you get your own bathroom. My friend stayed here and vouched for it and it’s literally just down the road from the place I stayed.
Small bungalow cottage with own bathroom on calm side of the river at Pai Chan Cottage and Cuisine
Common Grounds – This place kept being recommended to me over and over as THE place to make friends and meet people. I believe they also do a work and travel program if you ask them, where you can work there a bit in exchange for accommodation. I was following someone on instagram doing that and she seemed to have had a great time, so if you can handle shared rooms and wanna make friends, try here!
From their website, “We aren’t a party hostel so if you are looking for an absolutely mad time, you might want to look elsewhere, but each night we do pregame and socialize together in the communal area and then hit the best nightly events in town at the local bars, from live music to beer pong tournaments. We want the people who need a good night’s sleep to be able to get one so please be quiet when coming home later after a great night out!” They are on a side road right off the main walking street, so you can pop down there really easy for dinner. Price is around 8€ per night
The Circus Hostel – This one got semi-famous on the internet. A friend and I walked up one day just to see what it was all about. It’s definitely a pretty cool view, and is basically its own campus. It’s a little out of the center, but they have tons of cabins and dorms with a great view of the city and mountains, plus loads of circus stuff at your disposal like hula hoops, poi and a pool. When we went up people were singing by the fire so we joined a bit then walked home. It’d say it’s more of a party hostel, at least there was a DJ playing the night we came, even if it wasn’t a total rager.
They have private room starting at 320 baht (8,30€) per night and shared rooms in a dorm starting at 200 baht per night (5€). Free circus lessons and yoga for guests are also provided and there is a free driver available to take people the 700meters into town. They have free entertainment for everyone to watch or join in with, free Pad Thai dinners, free curry dinners, open mics, pool parties, quiz nights, pool competitions, etc. They also have two very cute and friendly dogs Jack(Labrador) and Sangsom (Thai). Make sure to read their page linked above with info about different dorm and room qualities.
The famous Pai Circus Hostel
Where to Eat in Pai – Vegan Pai Guide
As usual for most of my SE Asia posts, the best way to find these places is to type the names into Google Maps, then bookmark them for later. A lot of places do not have reliable addresses, so that’s the best way to find everything.
Vegans and plant-based people have it MADE in Pai.
Bom Bowls – This smoothie bowl legit changed my life. I was never into smoothie bowls, but after this one I literally think about them all the time. I still dream about this one months later. This is the snickers bowl with vegan caramel sauce and OMG. They also do pancakes and basically everything on their menu looks good, including the cute dog and nice chill out loft. Must go. Ah, and it’s all vegan.
Life-changing snickers bowl from Bom Bowls in Pai
Fat Cat Cafe – This wasn’t on happy cow when I was there (don’t worry I added it), but I kept walking past it on the way to Earth Tone and saw them when I looked up the #veganpai hashtag so stopped in. They have TONS of vegan options so definitely a great place to go. Nice big coffees and they focus on making most things themselves. They even have a coconut tree in the back they get the coconuts from, plus a really cute cat (who isn’t at all fat but really adorable).
Vegan oatmeal with fruit and granola, really nice texture, I think it’s actually raw and blended. Super fresh yummy fruits and a great iced latte, nice touch with the cocoa powder on top!
View of the baked goods from Fat Cat Cafe.
Vegan brownie from Fat Cat Cafe. It was of the healthy variety (tasted like banana not an indulgence), but some people like that!
Earth Tone Cafe – This cafe/restaurant is up there for one of my most favorite places I’ve ever eaten at, a vegan Pai must do. The vibe and atmosphere is amazing, there’s even a little stream running right next to it you can watch from your seat. They also have ALL the kinds of things I like, and a little grocery section of natural products. Lots of nice healthy but tasty food, and then the best chocolate brownie with ice cream I think I had in Thailand. It’s a bit out of the central walking street area but please go here.
Buddha Bowl from Earth Tone Cafe. Super good and yummy tempeh, which is usually not on offer much in Thailand.
The aforementioned amazing fudgy vegan brownie with ice cream from Earth Tone Cafe. Necessary.
Tempeh Sandwich from Earth Tone Cafe. Yaaaaas.
Big Apple Bakery – Any ex-New Yorker will recognize the deep yearning that comes with living away from an area with great bagels. Well, lucky me that some dude who grew up in Queens moved to this random norther Thai mountain shop and opened Big Apple Bakery. Their bagels and bread was on point AND they offer bottomless coffee, so go tired and in need of caffeination. Plus, they have vegan cookies, and they are BIG and gooey and good. Thank goodness for ex-NYers who move abroad and bring their bagels with them.
Perfect crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside bagel with vegan cream cheese from Big Apple Bakery.
Vegan Chocolate Chocolate Cookie from Big Apple Bakery, heated to melty perfection.
Chew Xin Jai – Your standard vegan jay place, has a buffet option and a la carte, and quite affordable. Get your mock meat fix here. This place was closed for Chinese New Year until my last morning in Pai, so I quickly swung by to get some lunch before hopping on my mini-bus.
Sign leading to Chew Xin Jai, vegans this way, hah.
Assorted items from the buffet at Chew Xin Jai in Pai, a Chinese Vegan Buddhist place.
Places I didn’t get to that are worth checking out:
Om Garden Cafe – Not all vegan but lots of vegan stuff. Seems to be best for breakfast, desserts and shakes.
Art in Chai Cafe – Lots of vegan options, some vegan desserts, and of course pretty good chai.
Walking Street Night Market – Vegan Pai
I ate dinner at the walking street every single night. My lovely routine involved chilling in my bungalow reading and doing some online errands in the morning, wandering out for a nice lunch, spending the late afternoon in a hammock, and then heading into town around 6pm for dinner at the walking street. The night market goes from around 5:30pm until 10-11pm. I wouldn’t recommend you eat dinner anywhere else, as there’s tons of stuff to eat through. Here’s a snapshot of what I devoured during my 5 nights. I still haven’t come across a walking street with such good vegan options yet.
Chinese Vegan Noodle Stall – This place has a few types of noodles out front. You can pick your type of noodle and whether you want it in soup or noodle form. It’s kinda the same ingredients in different forms, but simple, good and cheap. Plus there’s lots of locals eating there, which I take as a good sign.
Noodle soup from the vegetarian stall at the Pai Walking Street Night Market
Noodles with fried tofu on top from the Pai Night Market
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad Stall – Burmese tea leaf salad is a THING in Thailand, or at least in Chiang Mai. It’s so, so good, nice umami from the fermented tea leaves and then lots of fresh veggies and crunchy bean things. However, the original is made with various fish products. This stall didn’t advertise as vegetarian, but I checked with the lady and perused her ingredients, which had the jay symbol on them, so seems to be safe. I got added avocado, and this is one of the best Burmese tea leaf salads I had.
Amazing and beautiful vegan Burmese tea leaf salad at the Pai Night Market
From the same stall you can get these massive rice flour sort of burrito rolls filled with fresh veggies, dressing and avo. Super good and fresh.
Spring rolls – There are a ton of stands offering a billion types of spring rolls. I think I got three different ones here. Some have nutella, etc. so not vegan, but all the veggie ones are.
Assorted fried spring roll goodness from a market stall at the Pai Night Market
Dumplings – If I remember correctly I may have had the option to have these fried or not. Anyway, there are at least two stalls I saw offering fried veggie dumplings (i.e. gyoza). I checked and there was no egg, so yay! They were super tasty.
Fried veggie dumplings from Pai Night Market
Smoothies – There are several stands offering smoothies, the below were my favorites. Smoothies are everywhere in Thailand, thanks to the heat and fresh fruit, but it took me until Pai to get really into them after overdosing on smoothies during my teenage years. I’d like to say I was super experimental with my flavors, but I wasn’t. I pretty much always got some version of pineapple and coconut (pina colada yo). Since it was strawberry season in Thailand while I was there, I also sometimes added strawberry. A combination of three fruits was 30-40 baht (.80 – 1€), two was slightly less. I think I never saw as many options as these stands offered. Both my favorite stands are towards the end of the walking street, away from the river.
This was my favorite smoothie stall at the night market. It cost about 10 baht more than the other, but had slightly more fruit. You can tell them no sugar if you want no added sugar, and they also have these delicious coconut candies made from fresh coconut filled with some sweet coconut paste that are vegan (you can see them to the far bottom left).
My other favorite smoothie stall, almost across the street from the first one.
My go-to strawberry-pineapple-coconut smoothie during my Pai trip.
Chocolate truffles – STOP THE PRESSES. Now, chocolate is not as much of a thing in most of SE Asia, and this chocolate addict suffered quite a bit because of this. When I saw vegan chocolate truffles on the walking street I about died of excitement. Not all are vegan, but 75% are and are clearly labeled. Made from raw cashews, chocolate and coconut oil, oh my. They are not too sweet, but very decadent and no dates involved thank goodness.
Vegan Pai chocolate – all the vegan chocolate truffles at the Pai Night Market
Falafel – This falafel is legit, yo. I say this having lived in a few places (i.e. Berlin) with very legit falafel. The woman who runs it has an Israeli husband so she got this shit down to a tee. I didn’t get a picture of the actual falafel because I happily gobbled it up as soon as it landed in my hand, but here is the stand. It’s at the beginning of the walking street on the towards the river side. Also a vegan Pai must.
Community and Resources
The one thing I struggled with in Pai is finding any sort of community that wasn’t 20-year old backpackers or much older, conspiracy-theory -focused expat dudes. Luckily I bumped into some people I knew from Chiang Mai a couple nights, and befriended some cool people at a bar another night who told me about an amazing vegan permaculture farm called Tacomepai they were doing a work exchange at, but mostly it was a solo trip. Luckily I was quite blissed out with the environment and happy to do my own thing, though I might go back another time for that work exchange.
I asked around in the local groups for more expat-focused meet ups, etc. Everyone kept referring me to this place called Shekina Garden, but when I looked this up it seemed to have a Christian focus, which is not my thing, so I’m not sure if I’m missing something? Anyway, it’s linked in case it is your thing. They do a Community Lunch on Sundays. I’m still confused, as the people who told me about it weren’t Christian, so maybe that’s more of a back-burner aspect like the Buddhist vegan places? Anyway, their marketing has “Christ” plastered over it so I got scared away after my Catholic school upbringing, haha. If you know more about this group, please let me know because I couldn’t figure it out!
Unfortunately there’s no vegan Pai group, but here’s some others to get you started.
Our Pai Family – Group for locals on Facebook.
All About Pai, Thailand – Probably a good place to ask those random questions. Besides that there’s lots of people posting longer term rentals and events.
Pai Conscious Community – For all those looking to connect with all the yoga, meditation, tantra, new age woo stuff in the area. 😉
Pai Digital Nomads – Not especially active, seems to go through phases based on who’s in town, but it’s there. If you wanna meet others I recommend posting and organizing a meet up yourself.
Pai Women’s Circle – I’m not in this group, but its description is, “SHARE, HEAL, INSPIRE, SUPPORT We would like to offer the women of Pai, and travellers alike, a safe space in which we can come together and discuss all aspects of sisterhood.” Maybe that’s your thing.
What to Do in Pai
So I was a lazy f*ck and a horrible tourist and didn’t do any of the things. I also still had not gotten over my motorbike riding fear at this point and some of the activities are better and cheaper if you go by yourself, allows you to choose less touristy places. Anyway, there’s a canyon walk, and you can take kayaks into caves and there’s various hot springs. Be aware that certain places charge you an extra “tourist tax” to enter the national parks. There are also often checkpoints for drugs and to make sure you have a legit motorcycle license if driving yourself.
Here’s another blog that describes all the nature, etc. activities and were way more active than me. You can book these by asking your accommodation or at one of the many tourist centers advertising all possible activities via big pictures on the walking street.
Drugs & Party
Just as a heads up, it is possible to buy weed and mushrooms at a couple bars in Pai. I won’t write them here, just ask around, as it’s pretty common knowledge in the area. If you go this route, be careful. Drugs (even weed) is pretty illegal in Thailand. If you’re gonna do any drugs, I recommend doing it at the place you bought it, and not traveling with them on you.
From what I hear via the tourist rumor mill the bars that sell the drugs and the police seem to be working together. The bars sell the drugs and the police turn a blind eye, then the police crack down on people with checkpoints on the roads, search you for drugs, and demand a pretty high fine/bribe to prevent arresting you. It’s fine if you stay in the place you bought it, as they seem to have an agreement with the police. Just don’t be dumb and end up in a Brokedown Palace situation.
As for the party aspect, I am not the best person to ask, but if you wander the backpacker area there are 1001 things going on every night. There’s a pool bar with floats, and tons of live music and open mics of varying sorts. I went to Mojo Cafe, which is known for the best jazz music. There is also The Jazz House, which seems to have slightly less jazz and is also a hostel, but has good drink specials, a nice environment and lots of live music.
The one party that seemed awesome that I would have gone to if I had my shit together that day is the Boomland party that happens once per month. They set up taxis that bus you in from town, and it’s basically a minimal techno/electro party in the middle of a field. Put techno in some rural middle of nowhere location and I’m in my happy place, maybe it’s the Berliner in me.
Again, I was kinda lazy during my time in Pai. Besides walking around a lot in the scorching midday sun, I didn’t do much exercise. Anyway, here are a couple yoga places I saw.
Acroyoga Pai – For you acro peeps, here’s your group!
Sawasdee Yoga Pai – This place seemed to have the best reviews, and offers a morning and late afternoon class each day. I kept meaning to go but then I didn’t, oops.
This post is a good jumping point for meditation and yoga in Pai, but might be out of date with some things so check. There’s also a magazine/zine-looking kinda thing that comes out every couple months with everything that’s going on in Pai and the different bars, restaurants, etc. I found it near all the flyers at Earth Tone Cafe, maybe go pick one up there. I forgot what it’s called, so let me known if you remember.
Scenes from Around Pai
I often find when reading blogs and deciding whether or not to go somewhere that I want a better idea of what a place LOOKS like. So, here’s some scenes I snapped from around Pai.
Random robot spotting just before the bridge over the river, between my bungalow area and town.
The hammock lounging area at my bungalow place. There’s a lot of hammocks and lounging in Pai and Thailand, especially once you get out of the direct center.
Not a bad sunset in Pai, and not a great photo.
They were not kidding about burning season. That is literally the mountain across from my accommodation on fire. It was really surreal and weird and kinda cool to see, but not great for my lungs.
Just a dog taking a nap in the local 7-11, as you do.
Entrance to my bungalow and guest house area in Pai, I really love this side of the city, it’s way more chill and beautiful. To the left, there’s a farmer’s market that happens once per week on Sunday I believe.
How I spent a lot of my time at my bungalow in Pai. So chill, even wearing my hippy pants.
Beautiful river running through Pai, Thailand.
Spotted while I was walking to Bom Bowls. I love the look of this Saloon Tattoo Parlor on this dirt road.
Another dog, another tattoo shop. A slightly eccentric, but nice older man offered me a free gin and tonic outside here. I drank it while chatting and lived to tell the tale (I did watch him make it at least). Don’t tell my Mom.
Have you been to Pai? What did you think?! Did I miss anything awesome? Let me know in the comments!