The most common way to get to Pai is by catching one of the regular mini-bus services from Chiang Mai. The buses run each hour from 6.30am to 5.30pm, 7 days per week.
Both minibus services to Pai will drop passengers in the centre of Pai Walking Street. If you arrive after 7pm, you may be dropped off at the beginning of Walking Street.
From the Walking Street drop-off points you’ll make your own way to your hotel. If your hotel is far from the main Walking Street, it can be a smart idea to arrange a hotel pick-up before you arrive as there are no taxis in Pai.
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How To Book A Bus Ticket To Pai
Minibus tickets from Chiang Mai to Pai cost around 150b-250b each way ($4.70-$7.80).
The price difference depends on how you book your ticket. If you book direct with the bus companies, you’ll pay 150b (as of January 2019).
If you book through a hotel or travel agent, they’ll typically add an extra 50-100b to the price.
With that said, the easiest way to book a minibus ticket to Pai is through your hotel. The extra 50-100b you pay is worthwhile the hassle saved.
Booking tickets direct
To make a direct booking, you’ll need to go to the minibus offices. Technically you can book directly via the Prempracha & Aya Service websites, but the experience is often difficult and rarely works.
For both companies, you can book a ticket when you arrive at their offices, but you may have to wait several hours for an available seat.
The bus companies will only reserve you a seat once money has been transferred to them, which is difficult for tourists who don’t have Thai banking apps. For this reason, it’s much better to book through your hotel so your booking can be penned in.
Furthermore, if you book with Aya, you’ll save 100b on a tuk tuk to the bus station as they’ll pick you up from your hotel.
How long does the journey take?
Taking the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai takes 3 hours. The road is famed for its 762 hairpin bends – not ideal for car sick travellers – and scenic views along the route.
If traffic on the roads is minimal and the drivers are keeping good time, both minibus companies will stop for a short break at the halfway point of the journey. This gives you chance to take a short rest, use the toilet, eat/drink at a cafe and have a smoke.
However, if the drivers have been delayed, this break time is often skipped, so be sure to use the toilet beforehand!
How much does the bus cost?
Taking the minibus to Pai cost 150-250b each way depending on where you book your tickets. (tickets booked through your hotel or travel agent typically have an added 50-100b commission.)
The two main minibus companies operating routes to Pai are Prempracha & Aya Service.
Prempracha are the largest of the minibus companies with a large private bus station in the centre of Pai Walking Street. The buses are very regular and rarely more than 10-15 minutes late.
Aya Service is a smaller minibus operator, however, they offer a more customised service. Aya Service will pick you up from your hotel instead of you needing to make your own way to the bus station.
Are road conditions safe?
The 1095 road to Pai is a notorious road. Over the years there have been several high-profile minibus accidents that have resulted in tourist deaths.
However, over the past few years, a number of improvements have been made to increase safety on the road. The entire road has recently been rebuilt and as of 2019 safety barriers have been added along the most difficult sections.
Are the minibus drivers safe?
Over the years, minibus drivers in Thailand have been known for their reckless driving, but recently, things have been improving.
In 2017 the Thai government introduced a new safety system for all “chartered” minibuses which limits their speeds to 60km/h via installed GPS systems.
Along with the GPS, drivers need to scan their personal driving license to start the engine of a chartered minibus (like the ones used on the Pai road). If 60km/h is exceeded a large beeping noise alerts the driver, and if the speed is exceeded for more than a few seconds, the driver is automatically fined.
From my own personal experience as both a passenger on the Pai buses & as a driver on the Pai road, these changes along with the renewed road surface have had a marked improvement
Don’t want to spend 3 hours driving? How’s about flying to Pai instead?