With its villas and rice paddies, yoga studios and organic eats, the mountain city of Pai is a bohemian backpacker’s dream. Located roughly three to four hours from Chiang Mai by bus or car, Pai is known for its spiritual sites, including the White Buddha Temple.
Perched high up on the mountainside in the Mae Hong Son Province, you can catch a glimpse of the elegant white statue from all around the city of Pai. Getting to the top, however, requires a bit of effort—353 steps, to be exact.
In the rainy season, the walk up isn’t that bad—even if you’re not all that athletic. The key is to pace yourself as you ascend the stairs, especially under the hot sun at midday or when the humidity is high. Bring extra water along for the journey, just in case you get dizzy when you reach the top. You can buy beverages beforehand from a vendor at the base of the stairs.
Once you’re at the top, you can catch lush views of the surrounding mountains and rice paddies, as well as a breathtaking sunset just behind the mountains. The White Buddha faces west, so you simply have to look back to see it. It’s also a particularly peaceful place at sunrise. Visitors can light candles in front of the White Buddha and meditate anywhere on the large tiled platform that surrounds its base.
Know Before You Go
Be aware that the temple enforces a very strict dress code: both men and women should not wear tank tops, revealing clothing, or shorts/dresses that go above the knee. If you already happen to be wearing a tank top (or something similar) for the day, just bring a sarong, wrap, or scarf with you to cover up as you ascend and descend the stairs. There’s no entry fee and the temple is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday.
At the very bottom of the road that leads to the temple stairs is a must-try fresh, organic lunch spot called Earth Tone vegetarian cafe. There’s also a health shop/general store stocked with handcrafted tinctures, oils, and artisanal beauty products located inside the restaurant.