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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Road to Pai

15th November

Despite our enthusiasm for going to Pai, we were both daunted by the prospect of the potential six hour bus ride into the mountains, a journey notorious among travellers for being particularly gut-wrenching! At the eleventh hour we had the inspired decision to travel a motorbike and take advantage of the service offered by Aya travel whereby we could collect the bike in Chiang Mai and drop off in Pai, whilst they transported our backpacks. Perfect, all this for less than the price of two local bus tickets.

Well, it wasn’t quite a “motorbike”, but one of the popular Honda Dream step through models we’d been using all week to pootle around town, complete with a front shopping basket! Unsure of how quickly (indeed, if at all) we’d make it up those mountains, we set out on the road to Pai. At least we had all day…

We actually made good time out of the city and in just over an hour started the slow climb into the sky. The scenery was absolutely spectacular and we pulled off the road on numerous occasions to check out the view or an interesting landmark (usually a temple!). Satisfyingly we also passed several local buses travelling the same route, whilst still managing to stop at the sights and for some lunch. The road was in surprisingly good condition and remained so for the entire journey to Pai. It turns out that the loop via Pai and Sappong to Mae Hong Son and back to Chiang Mai is one of the great driving roads of the world and one we’d like to return to in the future to complete. A better bike would be a must though!

The ride was going beautifully and the weather was perfect. With just another 60km to go we spotted a sign for some hot springs and so pulled off the main road to take a closer look. No sooner had we done this the condition of the road deteriorated quickly and dirt and gravel suddenly replaced the smooth tarmac. Not wanting to blame the road surface, the giant potholes, the rider* or the scooter with balding tyres, we hit a sharp bend after a steep descent and skidding on a heap of gravel, took a small tumble off the bike! The initial shock warded off the forthcoming pain of grazing knuckles and elbows – the dangers of riding without proper gear and something we know more than most…

*The rider came off much worse than the pillion so we can’t blame the rider too much either, even though the said rider has loads of off-road experience in far tougher conditions than this!

We turned the bike around and set off back to the main road, feeling a little sorry for ourselves and trying not to dwell too much on our oozing cuts and bruises. Though the bike was completely unscathed after our fall, Ady had badly ripped his trousers in several places and the biggest concern was now how to deliver the bike back without loosing our deposit. Not a good look for one whose journey was without incident! Fortunately our good friends Lucy and Rene were waiting for us in Pai, patched us up and leant Ady spare trousers to return the bike in.

Top Traveller Tip #3 – Without wanting to sound like your mother, cover up bare skin and feet when hiring a motorbike or scooter abroad. Even at very slow speeds there’s so much blood!

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