5 Fun Things To Do with Kids in Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand is a wonderful getaway for families or couples, a nice retreat from the city!  Pai is a small mountain town near the Burma border, just a 3-hour curve filled minivan ride away from Chiang Mai.  You will feel instantly relaxed and transformed on arrival as you breathe in the clean mountain air.  My family and I spent 3 weeks enjoying this beautiful but tourist-driven town as well as its surroundings and came away with nothing but good things to report!  One disclaimer though is that it was quite cool (February visit) in the evenings and early morning, so come prepared with warm clothing.

One of many Pai scenic lookouts, no shortage of photo ops here
There are plenty of cabins, bungalows, guesthouses, and resorts that can be enjoyed and will suit many different budgets.  We booked a night at Pai Chan and were so thrilled we didn't even look at any other accommodations.
Great temporary pets

Beautiful, albeit cold pool, great atmosphere
They offer a wonderful family room in a no frills but perfectly acceptable cabin, it even come with a private outdoor picnic table and lounge area.  They also have a pool, great restaurant, and adorable friendly cats and dogs to entertain the whole family.  They offered a discount for our extended stay and treated us like family, even inviting us to a huge family birthday party they threw at the hotel.  Pai Chan is a leisurely 5-minute walk to town yet far enough away to avoid hearing bar noise late at night, making it a great relaxing get away. We highly recommend staying there if you're planning to go to Pai. 

Here are a few of the things we enjoyed most in Pai:

Tham Lod cave

Entrance to the subterranean river and cave
One of the most amazing things we did in Pai was to take our rented motor scooters up to Tham Lod cave.  (have a full tank before leaving as there was NO gas between Pai and the cave)  It was a somewhat stressful 1-1/2 hour ride through some gorgeous countryside and we made it without incident.

The view along the way
We got there around 12pm, and after paying for our guide (roughly $20 total for all of us) with a lantern we trekked down to the cave entrance.  Here we were shuffled onto a bamboo raft and literally pulled into the cave.  The guides were wonderful at lighting our way once we embarked on the raft, heading deep into the cave.  They giggled often at our blonde children and made sure to point out all the incredible structures of the cave.  Their extra lighting was a big help to snap great photos as well.

Well placed staircases
On we went farther into the cave, stepping off the boat and up long staircases several times to explore.  As we reached the end of the river we got off the boat one last time.  We approached where we could hear the bats and then the smell hits us.  Guano has a very strong, gagging effect. We were prepared and took out our scarves and wrapped them around our noses.  It helped minimally and to be honest I was ready to get this part of the tour over with.

5000 year old wooden coffins
That is until we crawled up (through loads of bat guano) and reached the wooden coffins.  Over 5000-years-old, brought up by tribal men, it is hard to imagine the procedure involved in hauling them, in the darkness, up into the cave.  We discovered there was not only 1 but close to 20 coffins.  Incredible and thought provoking to say the least!

As we boarded the boat a final time to return the same way we came, I found myself wondering how we would fight against the current and battle through the massive fish to get back to the cave opening.  An older gentleman surfaces out of no where and wades through the water pulling our boat against the current.  I felt guilty just sitting there but what else can you do?   We sat back admiring the day we had created for ourselves!

*The best time to go is at dusk when the bats fly out by the ten of thousands and the swallows fly in.  We weren't able to do this as we needed to return to Pai by the time it was dark.  There are lodging option up by the cave if you have the time to stay a night.

Karen's Elephant Camp

Riding back after our playful swim
One of the main attractions in Thailand, especially if you are traveling with children, is elephants.  They are magnificent creatures so it is no wonder that kids and adults alike long to get close to them.  Depending on where you find yourself in Thailand, the offerings are numerous as to the different types of interactions you can have with these gentle creatures.

I decided to do some research and was so glad that I did.  As it turns out you want to be very careful about what type of facility you support.  You have to make your own decisions, but I chose to be very selective and scope out the place before committing to support it.  We drove around on our scooters hanging around the different elephant camps along the countryside.  (they are usually right on the road as to entice tourists)

Elephant hugs on the side of the road, helmets still on:)
In the end, I picked a spot that did not use any bull hooks, had been with their mahouts their entire lives, were not ridden but just a short distance, and seemed well taken care of.  Karen's was the only place that fit the bill.  We took a short ride to the water where we simply played with the elephants in the place they love most!
The cost for 3 of us was about $25 US.  The mahouts clearly had a loving relationship with the elephants and explained to us how they were raised.  After all the bad things you hear about elephant tourism in Thailand this was a refreshing glimpse into a place that does it right.

If interacting with elephants is on the list for you or your kids I don't think you'll be disappointed at Karen's camp, located just past Thom's (one of the most popular though less conscientious of the elephants) camp on the left.

Spa Exotic Hot springs

Enjoying the different temperature pools
There are many options for hot springs in Pai but most cost quite a lot.  We visited a few but really enjoyed the springs at Spa Exotic.  They were a fraction of the cost at $15 US for 4 of us including a bottle of water each.  They have lovely changing rooms, beautiful grounds, and although the pools are not very big you also do not get much of a crowd.  We had more than enough space!

*We visited 4 times while we were in Pai and the water temperature was slightly different each time.  If you are specific about the temps that you are looking for, then simply pop in and feel the water first, they are happy to oblige.

Pam Bok Waterfall

Pam Bok's main waterfall
We went to most of the waterfalls in the immediate area around Pai and the Pam Bok waterfall was by far the best.  I think all the waterfalls are worth heading to if you have enough time, but if you are short on time and want to squeeze in just one then Pam Bok is your waterfall.

Again, we just took our scooters but you can easily get a taxi to take you there as well.  A 10-minute ride from town through more beautiful scenery and you come to a parking area on your right.  There are well marked signs so you should have no trouble finding it.  The springs and small falls near the entrance (free by the way as are all the waterfalls in the area) are perfect for cooling off and splashing around.  Hike up an easy 5 minutes to the main falls and enjoy!

Fluid, Scooters, and Manual ferris wheels

Chinese manual ferris wheel
Hands down the best way to see Pai is to rent a scooter.  Aya, the same company that will most likely bring you up to Pai, also rents them out.  We rented 2 and that comfortably held all of us.  They are $3-4 US per day so well worth the cost.  Try and order them ahead of time through Aya or wait until evening when lots have been returned.

Fluid is the local hangout/pool place.  They have games, a weight area, a pool with lots of great hang out areas, fabulous food (although you feel it in the price), ping pong tables, and once per month they hold a night time party.  Again this is not a spot to go if you are in town for a day or 2 but if you have a week to spend I think 1/2 a day is a great choice.

Finally, the Chinese manual ferris wheels are great fun.  Of course you need someone strong enough to hoist you butt around and the rider must have no fear of heights, but if you have those 2 things then go for it.  There are several in town and on the way out of town as well.  If it was me I would opt for the ones that have a seatbelt type apparatus, some of them are simply a swing with no belt and you end up at least 30 feet in the air!

Be sure to try and see as many of these spots as you can while in Pai!   But if you are really short on time or just want to relax simply enjoy all the beautiful landscape, diverse restaurants, and daily night market for yummy food and trinkets for all.  You can even get some hats and gloves which you may very well need for your stay!   Also the big strawberry on your way into town has the BEST strawberry smoothies I have ever tasted, so put that on your list too!

*I did not experience it but I see that April is NOT a good time to visit Pai.  They burn the crops and the air quality is terrible and unpleasant.  So avoid April if you can.*

Have you already been, do you think another spot should make the list?  Add it in the comments below!

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  1. Thanks so much!

    1. You are welcome, Pai is a great spot to visit! One of our favorites so far!