While recorded history starts 800 years ago, it is said that Pai has been inhabited for the last 5,000 years. Throughout this time, there have been multiple tribal migrations to the area.
One of the famous conflicts of the area happened 400 years ago between the highly admired Thai King Naresuan and the Burmese kingdom to the northwest. The saga is commemorated at the famous Wat Nam Hu temple, where visitors can gain an insight into the rich history of Pai.
Being a destination for tourists is a relatively recent development. Access to Pai was rather difficult until World War II; the Japanese needed a route for sending troops to Burma. It used to take a few days to a week, traveling from Chiang Mai to Pai. The new road shortened the journey to two days. Further developments were made by the Thai government through the early 1980s. Route 1095 and connecting Pai to the electrical grid were just a few of these improvements. This is when backpackers started coming and the town has continued to grow since.