11th Apr 2023
Nok Air, a Thai budget airline, has said it will stop flying to Mae Hong Son Airport in the northwest of the country on April 19. This will make it impossible to fly to the backpacker town of Pai. Nok Air was the only commercial airline servicing the airport, and the journey will now only be accessible by road on three routes:
The mountain road to Pai has 762 turns, so anti-sickness medication is advised for travellers.
Nok Air said it was cancelling the route because it was getting rid of its fleet of Q400 turboprops with 80 seats and replacing them with bigger Boeing 787-800 planes with 189 seats. The airline said operating the route with a larger aircraft was unprofitable, as demand needed to be higher. Chanakhet Boonyakhan, the Senior President of the Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce, said that the 70-seat ATR-72 propeller aircraft owned by Bangkok Airways could be an alternative.
Pai is a popular backpacker town known for its laid-back vibe, scenic beauty, and outdoor activities such as trekking and rafting. It has become a place where people get away from Thailand's crowded cities and enjoy the countryside's natural beauty. The province of Mae Hong Son is in the northwest of Thailand. It is known for its rough terrain, mountains, and hill tribes. The region is a popular destination for nature lovers, with attractions such as Pai Canyon, Tham Lot Cave, and Salawin National Park.
The service was initially promising, connecting the capital of the north to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in northeast Thailand, which takes 10.5 hours to drive. However, passenger numbers decreased over time. Nok Air had previously stopped all flights between Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima in September 2022, leaving Korat Airport deserted due to unprofitability.
Despite cancelling flights to Mae Hong Son, Pai remains accessible by road, and minivans from Chiang Mai to Pai are a popular and cost-effective alternative to flying.