One of the first things that Josh wanted to do as soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai, was to hire a motorbike. Not just a scooter – we had done that in the past. Oh no, he wanted a bike that was going to make people turn their heads when he revved and also be able to get up a hill without us leaning forward and hoping for forward motion (like on the rickshaw). Seeing as the past couple of trips of ours had involved bad vehicles, it was not too surprising that he wanted to ramp things up and with a little research, hired the lovely, big, shiny red bike you see above.
After a few days zooming around Chiang Mai and its outer areas, exploring everything we could, it became clear that we would also have to head up to Pai, to the north-east of Chiang Mai, if we were to get the most out of our visit to northern Thailand. Fellow travellers had raved about its peaceful atmosphere and hippie history. Seeing as we were loving our independence so much, it never occurred to us to pay for a bus or truck to take us and so it was decided that we would…drive a motorbike to Pai!
Route 1095 takes you to Pai from the north of Chiang Mai and you better be willing to sit on a bike for a few hours! It takes at least 4 hours to drive the route (with breaks) and the road has 762 bends, as told to us by a helpful cafe owner at one of the three stops we made. The coffee you get in this area is amazing by the way as locally grown. Thank god for the coffee really, as it meant that we could stand an hour on the bike before we had to stop and hobble off to get the feeling back in our legs again. The bike however, really loved the road and it took to the curves really comfortably without any strain. I had a backpack on at the back of the bike, and Josh on his front, but we weren’t too heavy as had agreed to leave some of our stuff at our last hotel and go and collect it later in the week when we returned.
Our friend at our first pit-stop had warned us that diesel that leaked from trucks often doesn’t evaporate – especially in the mornings, and so you were at risk of skidding on patches of fuel that you could not see. The roads really start to get curvy about a third of the way into the journey and you could imagine how many people would have had to puke on the way up and down this road over the years! It’s thrilling but you needs tonnes of confidence on a bike and lots of patience. The view points along the way are really worth the journey (see below) and we got to share a few of them with other travellers on their way up to Pai, but they had to get back in trucks and we got to stay as long as we liked.
Once you’re about 30 minutes away from Pai, you’ll notice your ears start to pop quite a lot and depending on the time of day it can get cold, (we took this trip in January 2013), so make sure that you wear warm clothing for the journey! On the way back I had to make-do with a very thin jumper as my only other thin jacket had been pinched from a bar the night before and boy, did it get cold!
Pai is beautiful and totally worth the journey up on a bike. It sits in a little valley with gorgeous mountains hemming you in and you can find really lovely accommodation overlooking them as we did, spending our days swinging in a hammock, swimming in our pool and then leisurely strolling into town to admire things in the night market and drinking in the cool bars playing reggae. You can see why some people just don’t leave here for a while.
Top tip for getting around Pai – use your bike. Cabs don’t really exist up there (unless you can get your hotel to drop you off and pick you up to places that are more than a walk away). We stayed about 20 minutes walk outside of Pai and were left stranded one night after we decided to stay out late. The friends we made walked a short journey back to their guest houses in town and we walked 20 minutes along the main road, plus down a track without lights to get back to ours. At least they waited up for us…
Top tips for the Chiang Mai – Pai journey on a motorbike:
- Get a bike that you are confident driving. There are a lot of bends on the road (762 remember!) so you’ll have to change gears down and up quite a lot plus break suddenly from time to time.
- Check the tyre pressure at a garage before you head off and fill up as there are not really any fuel stations past the start of the 1065 and any places you’re lucky enough to find fuel at have hand pumps that cost more money to fill up with.
- Keep your eyes open for any fuel on the road and avoid it!
- Stop when you’re tired. This is also a good excuse to drink in some of the amazing views and allow you to stock up on your caffeine intake.
- Leave early both ways. It means less traffic and you can relax a little more on the journey. Once the stream of trucks start overtaking you, you’ll have more to concentrate on.
If you want to know a little more about the bike, then you can find out a few facts in the video below!