My time in Thailand grows short. I’ve come to love Chiang Mai, but what I love even more are the quiet sunlit roads just outside the city. Those roads call to me. So does the Thai countryside, which is invisible from inside Chiang Mai.
The result? I’m planning a road trip, by scooter. I want to see some proper villages, and then scoot through the mountains along the Burmese border.
This is unknown territory for me, so I sat down with fellow traveler Dave Dean. Dave had sold me on the town of Pai with his brilliant photo of the road there, “the road to nowhere.” I asked him what to expect, and he schooled me…
Ask the Drifting Kiwi
Drew: Is the road hard to navigate? Is there a chance of getting lost?
Dave: Not at all, if you take a look at a map beforehand and have a vague sense of direction. Basically you head north out of Chiang Mai on the main road, and the turnoff is well signposted about 40 minutes later. From there it is literally one road for the next 3+ hours. If you’ve got lost it’s probably because you’ve driven off the mountain, in which case you’ve got slightly bigger issues to worry about…
What are the roads like? Are these some Ireland-style roads, one lane hugging a cliff and you might come around the bend to see a semi bearing down on you? Or what?
The roads are generally well maintained – a lot more than you might expect for a non-main road in Southeast Asia. I think that’s because it is used by the Thai army if there are border issues. Having said that, it is one lane each way along some very winding, hilly stretches and small potholes aren’t unusual – especially near the shoulder where the scooters ride. Keep your eyes open for them, and also for the minivans that happily pass on blind corners and force you to take evasive action as they bear down on you.
When I get there, what should I expect in terms of accommodations?
The standard of accommodation varies a lot, from basic guesthouses to high end places. The prices vary a lot too – this time of year (Nov – Feb) is peak season as loads of Thai tourists come from the south to enjoy the cooler weather, and accommodation prices can easily double compared to other months.
In the village, can I get wifi? Can I plug in my laptop? How rustic is it?
You can definitely get wifi in several of the cafes and bars, and many of the guesthouses will have it too. The rustic days of limited power and internet are long gone in Pai, for better or worse…
Are there any dangerous critters I should know about? Snakes? Scorpions? Poisonous spiders?
Crazy minivan drivers are probably your biggest threat. Or drunk tourists. Although there was something rustling around in the thatch roof of my bungalow all night squeaking away… I choose to think that it was a mouse rather than anything larger. Really though, I didn’t see anything much bigger than a cockroach in terms of insects, and only one or two of them.
Is there any hostility in the countryside around Pai? Guerillas, rebels, ambushes, etc.?
Not these days – as dangerous as it used to be back in the ’70s and ’80s, the area around Pai has been cleaned up significantly and anywhere that you are likely to find yourself as a visitor is totally safe.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Pai?
Relax! There is a deliciously laid back feel to Pai, and chilling out in with a book in my hammock for a few hours, gazing out over the rice paddies and nearby mountains, was absolutely my favourite activity! It’s not a party town and you can see most of the nearby attractions in a couple of days, so after that it’s time to chill!
What’s the one thing I should avoid in Pai?
Probably the minivan ride there and back, judging by the green faces of the people tumbling out of them at the end. Failing that, I’d suggest not choosing a guesthouse on the main ‘walking’ street—it is a bit of a backpacker jungle—and find somewhere elsewhere in town. I stayed just across the river and it was scenic and tranquil, but only a 2 minute scooter ride / 10 minute walk to the main street.