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To Pai and Back, the Long Way

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If a road trip includes at least one crashed bike, betting on some local fights, face drawn up as a cat with bright red marker and a night spent in a town you don’t even know the name of; then you know it’s been a good road trip.

One early morning in Chiang Mai, as the city was still waking up (alright, alright, at 10am, so the town had probably already been wake for about four hours); we walked over to the bike rental shop to get us some motorbikes. Or scooters, as a certain girl was keen to point out to me later; something to do with the size of the engine or something like that. I don’t know, it has two wheels and a motor,  aka. a bike with a motor, a motorbike.

Anyway, we got our motorbikes and started towards Pai, which is only about 130km away from Chiang Mai. There is a fair bit of traffic in Chiang Mai, so you’ll be darting around the cars for quite a bit, but once you get out of the city, the driving becomes much easier. However, it isn’t until you hit the mountains before the real fun begins. This is the part where lot of people arriving to Pai by bus, said they got sick. On a motorbike, it’s just great fun. Constant turns to keep your attention on the road itself instead of the gorgeous views that you can occasionally glimpse from between the trees. And of course as the road goes trough the mountains, you’ll be going up and down all the time; so on a semi-automatic, you will be switching a lot of gears to keep up.

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Visibility is often restricted on the twisty roads, and I was witnessing this first hand, as I saw from my rear mirror how James overtaking a truck failed to see another incoming truck, and pulled off from the road straight into a cement pillar. Thankfully he let go off the bike just at the right moment, and so didn’t actually hurt himself at all, but the bike did take quite a hit. He had to kick the gear shifter back into shape in order to continue. The most visible damage on the bike was the plastic paneling on one side of the bike that was completely wrecked! But the bike still worked ok, so we quickly continued, albeit maybe slightly slower this time.

Eventually the mountains ended and we descended down to the flats mostly dominated by the lush green rice fields, as far as the eye could see. That meant we were getting close to Pai, that small backpacker haven in north Thailand. On a separate note, any city that is pronounced like pie, has to be pretty awesome. Anyway, we reached what is the town centre of Pai, which isn’t really all that much, and continued on to SpicyPai hostel; we were after all driving together with the owner of the hostel, a guy called Noom.

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We spent four very relaxed days at the hostel chilling and enjoying the local night life before, one fine Sunday morning we packed our stuff and headed off. The plan had been to start off early, but as is not surprising in Pai, early mornings don’t really happen. Once we were sufficiently sure that we were in a driving condition, we headed off; bit behind schedule, but you know, that’s Thai time for you.

In the morning the weather had been clear, but by the time we reached the highest point of our trip, the weather had turned cloudy, so views maybe weren’t as great as they could had been, but such are road trips. We made a quick lunch stop at a place called the fish cave, which has plenty of fish swimming around in a small pond. The pond is connected to a small cave that is completely swamped with fish. So much so, that you can’t actually see the water. It was complete mayhem, especially if you threw in some food for the fish! But no, I opted for some grilled pork for lunch instead.

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After our pit stop, we ploughed forward with new vigour; we had already done half of the slightly over 300km that it was from Chiang Mai to Pai, the long way. So we were on schedule to make it in a day, even if we got to Chiang Mai quite late. Or that’s what we thought until we came up on a sign that stated that Chiang Mai was still 343km away. That couldn’t be right, we had already ridden some 150km, which would mean that the total was 500km, not 300km.

We inquired about this from Noom, he just smiled broadly, the sly bastard! Well, there wasn’t much to do about it. And to his credit, he knew none of us really cared that much. What is impressive, is the fact that he managed to keep it a secret until then; none of us suspected anything; all we had to do is look at Google maps to see that the journey was a lot longer than 300 km.


View To Pai and Back from Chiang Map in a larger map

Basically the long route back to Chiang Mai completes the loop that starts from Chiang Mai and goes thru Pai, then Muaeng Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang, before ending back in Chiang Mai. The roads usually are pretty good, but there are certain further away parts that are in a bit of rough shape with plenty of potholes.

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As the night fell, we decided to seek shelter in a local town, where we got ourselves a few huts in a rice field. It was also at this point, we learned that there was festival at the local temple, so naturally we headed there next to sample the local festival food, which turned out to be great. My favourite was, what was basically a spicy meat salad. I for some obscure reason had left my camera back at the hut when we headed out to the festival, I just don’t know what I was thinking there. Sorry.

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At the festival there was a stage, where a lot of very young looking Thai girls were dancing in skimpy outfits. Apparently you could buy a ticket that allowed you to go and dance with them. This seemed to be popular with the women surprisingly enough. We were fascinated by this bizarre seeming tradition.

Our curiosity for the dancing girls was however interrupted before we could learn more about it, when he heard that the Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) matches were starting. Sweet, this is what we really here for. We of course started betting on the matches, the standard bet being a beer (always a good bet on anything). I had won all my rounds when we came to the main match, which meant cheap drinking night for me! And this was some seriously good fighting; apparently there was a lot of money at stake on these fights. This was not that rubbish show fighting you could see for free in Chiang Mai.

However as the main match came on, somebody got the bright idea of raising the stakes; and how can you say no to that. So, we decided to bet that the winners would get to draw on the faces of the losers for tomorrow. Anything they wanted. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that idea!

Well, I am sure you can guess how that turned out for me!

In the morning the staff at the place where were staying were having a laugh as the winners finished their art work on my face. Meowww! To the winners credit, I do have to admit, that a cat face is pretty funny idea, and much more clever than anything I probably would had come up with.

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With my cat face on, we headed on, making a quick stop, which turned out to be one of the most funniest visits to 7-eleven I have ever had. I walked in and got myself a water bottle; as I walked to the counter, the girl behind the counter had one look at me and burst out laughing; as she did that, she also dropped to her knees to hide behind the counter. I am sure it’s rude to laugh at a customer, and I am pretty sure there must be some policy in 7-eleven that says you shouldn’t do that. She stayed there and kept laughing; eventually she had to point me to the next free till, because she still was unable to take my money. I know I needed a shave, but come on.

And for sure, it wasn’t the only funny reaction I got that day. We were not driving around tourist areas, so I’m pretty sure lot of the locals now think westerners are barking mad, or I guess that should be meowing mad!

The weather for the day had started nice, but by three o’clock it changed completely, now it was pouring down, and we still had some over 100km to go. So we kept pushing thru the rain, my rain poncho eventually turning into a few strips of plastic. But we finally made it back to Chiang Mai, late, wet and in desperate need of a beer! But thoroughly elevated, that was some epic road trip we had just finished!

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So if you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai and want to visit Pai, I do recommend getting a motorbike. You can usually get a pretty good discount if you get the bike for a longer period. And when coming back from Pai, the longer route is worth it, but just know that it takes at least two days.

 

Have you done some great motorbike trips? What are some of the best places for motorbike trips in you opinion?

9 Comments

  1. Lovely! Cute pics … so funny you got done up with a kitten face. :)
    Cheryl Howard recently posted..Walking In A Winter Wonderland … A Prague Castle Tour.My Profile

    • Thanks :) yeah, I do have to stay that it actually was quite funny; I have to give it to H, whose idea the kitten face was :)

  2. Looks like you had yourself some fun there Jarmo. I did a motorbike (yes — motorbike!) trip from Pai to Mae Hong Son and back and it was a lot of fun.

    What was the name of the huts you stayed at? I’ll be heading back in that direction soon enough and they look particularly swell.

    Love the green tea btw!
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..The Agony in the Air ConMy Profile

    • Yeah, it’s great fun motorbiking around from Chiang Mai, as I am sure you’ve also realized!

      I really don’t know the name of the huts, I don’t even know the name of the town :) Looking at google maps it might had been Mae La Noi, but could’ve as well been Mae La Luang, maybe. I just honestly don’t know :)

  3. Great photos and what wonderful landscape to ride through. I hear Thais aren’t too concerned with road safety, though. What’s your experience?
    Sophie recently posted..Fiery Furnas: Steamy cauldrons in the AzoresMy Profile

    • I suppose it depends on what you compare it to. Thailand probably has the best road safety out of the neighboring countries like Laos and Vietnam. In Vietnam the traffic is pure chaos. Thailand is close to western type of traffic, not quite as safe maybe, but I’d say it’s pretty ok.

  4. Those are incredible views ! Wish I had a harley and see all those unbelievable places !

    • The views there are stunning and best explored with a motorbike. Harley there would be amazing!

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