Wild Ride to Pai

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Wild Ride to Pai

Last time I mentioned that I was looking for a more authentic Thai experience. I have finally found what I was looking for, but not in Pai. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I really enjoyed the days I spent in Pai. It is a really beautiful and laid back little town in the mountains of Northern Thailand. It did, however have a very westernized feel to it. I came across more Americans here than I have since I left New York on October 22.


It sure has been a journey to get this far north. The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai took over 12 hours. It was a very comfortable ride and for only about $18 total for the trip, they sure did feed us well. Then I still had another 3 hours by van to get to Pai. This is where things got interesting.

Save some time, take the van

Everything I read and everyone I talked to in Chiang Mai told me to take the private van to Pai instead of the public bus. It cost twice as much but you get there an hour earlier than the bus and it is air conditioned. Well anyone who is planning a trip to Pai, I can definitely recommend taking the bus instead.

I booked a seat on the 12:30 pm van out of Chiang Mai on Friday morning. It seems like everything in Thailand so far is late or slow, so when we left at exactly 12:30 I thought it was a good sign. Once we got out of the Chiang Mai traffic and on the mountain roads I started to regret my decision to take the van though. The road to Pai is famous for having 762 curves and is a very popular motorcycle route.

The driver was a psycho. He was flying around the corners on 2 wheels and passing every car, truck or motorcycle on the road at any point he had to. I was very happy that at least I was sitting in the front seat. About half way we stopped for gas and a quick break. Two people bailed out at this point since they were getting sick and scared from his erratic driving.

At one point after the break someone in the back tried to open a window to get some air since everyone in the back was starting to get car sick. He came to a skidding stop and shut the van off until they closed the window. Then out of spite he started to drive even worse. Soon after we flew past a big truck on a blind corner. Just as he was starting to turn back in another pickup truck was coming directly at us. We got very lucky and did not have a head on collision, but the truck clipped the driver side mirror which got flipped right into the window. Here is the outcome of that.


We pulled over and our driver flipped out at the driver of the pickup even though it was his fault. They finally calmed down and started to exchange information. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal and we would soon be on our way. That didn’t happen.

After about a half hour the Thai police and the Royal Army showed up. I have no idea what they were doing, but after an hour of them talking, the passengers of the van decided to get out to see what was going on. None of them spoke a word of english, but somehow they got that we were interested in getting to Pai sometime that night. The police and army officers started to flag down pickup trucks to see if they were going to Pai.

I couldn’t believe it. The Thai Royal Army was actually helping us hitch hike. We got a ride in a small pickup that could fit six of us. It turns out that 4 of us were actually Americans so we were really surprised to see this go down. Anyway the rest of the ride was much nicer than the part in the van, and we actually enjoyed ourselves talking about where we were coming from and where we are going. When we got to Pai the 4 of us went out to dinner and discovered town a little.




We went our own ways and I hung out at my hostel for the rest of the night. It had a great deck in the common area which is set up on a hill and has incredible views of the valley and surrounding mountains.


Riding around Pai

The next day I decided to rent a motorbike since it seemed to be the best way to see the surrounding area which is a little spread out. Plus it only cost me about $3 for 24 hours.

The first place I went was Mo Paeng waterfall. It was about a 20 minute ride out of town and has some great views on the way. It’s not a huge waterfall, but it has 3 levels with pools to swim in between each level. On the 2nd level kids were using the rocks as a waterslide. It looked like fun. I took some pictures and a quick swim and then got on the scooter to ride to the other side of town.



I got on the scooter and rode back to town. After having a nice lunch of fried pork in thai herbs on rice at a place that was recommended in my guide book, I rode south out of town. My destination was Pai Canyon. While it is not as grand as the Grand Canyon, it was a pretty cool sight. It’s not really a canyon, more a ridge of rock that seems to go on forever. I took a hike a couple miles along the ridge with some climbing along the way.




It was starting to get dark by the time I rode back into town. I parked at the place I was staying and went out for a walk through town. Town may be quiet during the day, but it really comes to life at night. Street vendors line the streets after dark, which is really one of the better options to eat in Pai. They do have plenty of quality restaurants, but many of them seem to specialize in western food. That is great for breakfast since the Thai have no idea how to do breakfast, but Thai food is just so good any other time of the day. You can eat pretty well for $1-$2 per meal.

The next morning I returned my scooter and had a nice american style breakfast with eggs and bacon. I then made arrangements for transportation to my next destination. This time I took the public bus.





I am traveling the world focusing on adventure and photography.


  • Cara

    Wow! What a wild ride! So much fun Brooks! We’re loving every bit of your posts!

    November 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm
  • timothy aikman

    so all this worry about the autobahn and radical Islam and we really should have been considering supplying you with some slow transportation. hey, that’s not a bad thought, what would a motorcycle cost you, $20? I’m a little shocked that western culture is following you all the way out there. I’m trying figure out where you are going next, but waiting for your posts is so much fun I think i’ll give up. so are you using some kind of filter or is the sky that spectacular everywhere but nepa?

    November 16, 2015 at 1:11 pm
    • Brooks

      Haha, a photographer never shares his secrets.

      I actually was just thinking I should try to find a motorcycle. So I might just look into buying one. A dual sport would be perfect here since there are so many dirt roads and trails.

      November 16, 2015 at 1:21 pm
  • Lara Hanlon

    Crazy! What a trip! Thank goodness you’re ok! I’m with your dad. Riding your own motorcycle sounds like a much better idea! This is such an awesome adventure. I’m loving your posts!

    November 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm
  • Peg

    OMG Brooks, this is sensational! Kaely and I thought we had a pretty incredible ride on a Can-Am today but nothing in comparison to your adventure!!! Love what you’re doing and the way you’re sharing it. Pix are truly beautiful. Look forward to the next update.
    Ante Peg

    November 17, 2015 at 7:06 am
  • Kaely

    The van ride sounds very similar to an experience I recall having in a white 2007 Jetta riding through Yosemite national park with one younger brother of mine……

    Haha, loving the posts and pics even as I sit in New Zealand gazing out at my own paradise.

    November 17, 2015 at 7:12 am
    • Brooks

      The only difference was that I was completely in control.

      Speaking of NZ when are you going to guest post?

      November 18, 2015 at 3:12 pm

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