Spotlight, Thailand, Travel

The Road to Pai: Interview with Dave Dean

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…

This is the photo that sold me. Ready to go?

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.

You can follow Dave @DriftingKiwi and read about his Asia-trekking ways at Please tweet or Facebook share this post. 


6 thoughts on “The Road to Pai: Interview with Dave Dean

  1. Sounds fun! Oh, when I was mentioning you should get a phone that runs on SIM cards for international travel, I forgot to say that there are a bunch with GPS included. I’m planning on picking up a low end Android smartphone before next summer’s travels, as I think it’d be neat to have one of the apps that tracks where you are and can then gps tag your photos (make sure time/ date is synchronized with the camera) later.

      • The SIM card gives you the phone number, so every time you get a new one you get a new number. You can get phones that will take 2 cards, though, so you could get one of the international sim cards and then a local one when you’ll be in one place for a while.

        Yes, it works with smart phones. This is how almost all mobiles outside the U.S. run.

        I went through 5 SIM cards last year – one in Turkey, then in Croatia at the summer school, one for Berlin, one for Stockholm, and then one when I got back to Russia. They cost about $5 plus whatever you want for pay as you go minutes – which are much cheaper outside the U.S., btw – I pay $10-15 a month for my phone service here – so it’s a really convenient system.

        In some countries you have to provide i.d. when you buy a card, others you just get one at a street stand and pop it in your phone. Some companies have better service than others – my Russian SIM card has worked everywhere I’ve taken it, from the Seychelles Islands to Minnesota.

        Transitions abroad (magazine you’d love btw) has a slightly dated page on staying in touch abroad with some links to international sim card providers:

          • It definitely is. That’s why one of the dual-sim phones might work best for you when you’re trekking; you could get one of those “works worldwide, pay on the internet” cards and then also a local number wherever you’ll be for a month or more.

            Other than that… You could always make business cards that have email, skype, long term phone, and then a blank spot for local phone that you can fill in as needed.

  2. Can I come with you! The colors in that photo are so rich–quite the contrast to here where everything is getting covered in a fresh blanket of snow (which is, of course, very beautiful, too). Have fun on the road (and happy holidays).

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