Trying to get from Vientiane to Pai without paying a fortune for an organized tour? Here’s how I did it in less than 20 hours for about $20 USD.
1. Public Bus 14 to Friendship Bridge (6000 kip, 45 minutes): Using the same bus you might’ve taken to Buddha Park, you just hop on the 14 from the central bus station and ride it for about thirty minutes until most of it clears at the bridge.
2. Bus Across Bridge (4000 kip, 20 minutes): After heading through the immigration checkpoint and probably paying one last fee for whatever absurd reason they propose, you just hop on the fully organized bus that takes you the few km across the bridge. Be sure to exchange whatever kip you have left before you cross the border, as it’s not widely taken in Thailand.
3. Bus from Nong Khai to Udon Thani (50 baht, 1 hour): Getting cash from the conveniently located 7/11 next door, hop on the hourly bus from Nong Khai to Udon Thani that someone on the street will surely offer you after you reject a few touts and tuk tuk drivers. There’s no need to walk all the way to the bus station, as it picks up right close by.
4. Bus from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai (545 baht, 12 hours): After being dropped off outside CentralPlaza Mall, head to the small gazebo selling bus tickets directly outside. Buses leave multiple times throughout the day, with 5:45 PM and 8:45 PM the two late afternoon/evening options, most likely giving you the chance to re-familiarize yourself with the gargantuan nature of Thai malls after spending however long in Laos.
5. Bus from Chiang Mai to Pai (150 baht, 3 hours): Landing in Chiang Mai around 5:30 AM, the first bus to Pai leaves an hour later at 6:30 AM and every half hour after if you’re ready to continue on immediately. Or you can book the 7:30 AM and go sit at one of the coffee shops in the area to collect your mind and charge your phone like I may have done.
Simple, easy, and an adventurous five buses later you’ll find yourself smack in the heart of Pai, Thailand ready for breakfast, coffee, and a nap in that order.