The road to Pai – Mae Hong Son loop

Weds. 25th Oct. 2023 – Pai

By 8 am we are packed, checked out and walking to the bike rental shop to pick up our bikes.

On the way we bump into Joanne. She is also going to Pai, by minibus.

At the shop we sort out all the paperwork and eventually we are on our way. We leave our large backpacks in the shop and only take with us the bare essential for a week.

The traffic across Chiang Mai is busy but not too bad. We get into the 4 lanes going north, for about 40 kms then take the turn off toward Pai. The road so far is still fairly flat.

After few miles we stop near a little roadside restaurant and get our usual breakfast of rice and omelette. Don’t fancy a red curry or pad Thai in the morning!

Pai is only 126km from Chiang Mai but it has 762 curves. We eventually hit the curves and the ride to town is excellent. The road is tarmac all the way and the scooters are going fast enough as we don’t really go that high, just across plenty of hills.

We arrive in town around 1 pm and get straight to our hotel. Accommodation in Thailand I must say is ridiculously cheap. We rarely pay more than 20 USD per night. Often less now we left Bangkok! And we pick decent places, no dorms or shares bathrooms!

Pai is much bigger than we expected, we thought it would be a village in the hills! In fact it is big, and overrun by tourists. Most tourists are styled like hippies with plenty of tattoos, long dreadlocks, piercings, funky jewellery and colourful clothes. Funny enough though, the many cannabis shops i see remain empty and no smell ever of anyone smoking pot, despite being legal now! Hippies are definitely not what they used to be!

As we explore Pai we bump into Joanne and agree to meet in the evening for a drink.

There are many shops selling everything you can think off in term of clothes, bags, food, fashion etc…

Late afternoon we decide to ride to the “white Buddha” high on a hill overlooking the city. There is a nice view from up there as the sun sets.

Later on we go for a walk. The Main Street is brimming now with little stalls selling any sort of food you can dream of. We sample the local stuff. We start with a selection of gyozas ( pork, chicken or prawns). Delicious. We continue with a red curry filled pastry and end up with pork satay.

We then spend the rest of the evening with Joanne, who meets us in a bar.

Thursday 26th October 2023 – Pai

We have brunch in a little shack near our hotel ( rice and omelette or rice and vegs). Then we ride to the bamboo bridges. They are famous and connect two small villages, rising above many paddy fields.

The lady checking the tickets takes pity on me as I have no hat and it is very hot. She hands me over her traditional asian hat to use during the visit. I brace myself for stinky looks from the other tourists as these days wearing anything like that is deemed “cultural appropriation”! Ha well, who cares?

The bridge is very long and after a while we turn back. The place is peaceful and beautiful.

On the way back we bump into the Swiss guy we met back in Ayutthaya. The one who, while on holiday in Khao Samui got stuck there during Covid lockdowns and eventually never left. A retirement visa is fairly easy to obtain if you wonder.

My stomach problems, which’s tarted in the morning, manifest again and I have to run to the local “facilities”. We ride back to the hotel for a rest.

Mid afternoon, as I am feeling a bit better we ride off to one of the few local hot springs, few miles out of town. We pick one that is set in a monk meditation centre. No obligation to meditate, we can go straight to the pools. The place is great, almost empty. There are 3 pools, one way too hot for me, one fairly hot and the last one warm. It is very pleasant and peaceful, and we just go from one to the other.

I guess only few people are there because the local tour operators take the tourists to the most expensive hot springs near the luxury hotels. This is the advantage or having our scooters as we can go where we want without relying on organised tours.

In the evening we go back to the high street. The place is mobbed. And noisy. There is a huge parade going on. It is the anniversary of the previous king’s funeral. It’s like a carnival but Thai style. Lots of car carrying a tower of decorations, dancers, music, processions with people wearing traditional clothes… it is absolute chaos but really nice.

We crash into a restaurant for some time to watch the parade while drinking iced tea.