Scooter Ride around Pai, Thailand

This is a quick post about a scooter ride around Pai that includes photos, maps and facts. This is a self-guided cultural experience on a shoestring.

Pai the Scooter-Friendly Town

This is an Easy ActivityWhen you travel for months in the same part of the world, it happens that you keep on meeting the same people over and over again. I think we reached our personal record with the Swedish girl Eva, that we met first in Cambodia and later in Northern Laos (in between we had crossed Vietnam). So when I bumped into her once again in sunny and hot Chiang Mai (Thailand), we spontaneously start talking like old friends. Livio had just left for a week of dirt bike riding around northern Thailand and I was planning on moving to the quiet mountain town of Pai. Naturally Eva was heading to Pai also, so we decided to do something together once there.

Pai Ride

In mid March, days are already very hot in Northern Thailand. The countryside is dry and fires pop up everywhere. The ground is covered in leaves and the sky is yellowish.

To enjoy some cool weather, we decided to set off for our adventure early in the morning. At 7 o’clock I was at Eva’s bungalow and together set out to rent wheels. We quickly discovered that the rental shops do not open before 8am, so opted to fill the time with a breakfast stop. We are both “lots-of-coffee-and-big-breakfast” kind of people, so it was not a real problem. The delay gave us the excuse to stop at a fancy place by the river and have a large slow breakfast while the sun rose beyond the hills and lines of backpackers, fully loaded, crossed the bamboo bridge towards town and the bus station.

With a good cup of coffee in hand we resolved that it was time for us to start riding scooters. To my credit I had a half hour of practice, in a supermarket parking lot, when Livio literally forced me to ride around while he disappeared inside the Tesco in search of his Pepsi fix. Eva instead had briefly tried the day before on the scooter of a friend. Another encouraging element was the high number of beginners that we had observed on Pai’s streets. You see them practicing in front of every rental shop while the smiling Thais give them basic instructions.

By 8,30am we had chosen our scooters and our helmets. A 24 hour rental costs 100 Bath (around 2 Euros) to which we decided to add 40 Bath insurance to cover possible damages to the bike. We then stopped at the gas station and filled the tanks with 40 Bath of petrol each.

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See bottom of post for maps & facts

Link to Motorbike Ride from Chang Mai to Myanmar Post

Link to Scooter Ride around Chang Mai post

Link to Cycling in Bangkok post

Link to Fun & Sun on Koh Tao post

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Following the advice of “The Paioneer,” a small guidebook about Pai and surroundings, we decided to go south along route 1095 (that leads towards Chiang Mai). We stopped after about 10 km at the Pai Canyon. We left the scooters under the surveillance of a friendly local vendor who taught us how to lock the helmets to the seat and then we walked up the steep hill to the spot where the canyon starts. I actually didn’t expect such a bizarre place. The canyon is like a narrow winding path that goes up and down along a steep crest and reminded me of a roller coaster. The sides are sheer and drop far away on both sides, so that we didn’t feel like walking too long.

Back at our scooters we continued south towards an old wood bridge built by the Japanese during the Second World War. The bridge was part of a broader project that the Japanese had to connect Bangkok to Burma. The same project became famous in the film called, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and the exploitation of Thai workers by the Japanese Army.

The old rickety bridge now runs beside a newer concrete one that we preferred to cross. A few hundred meters beyond the bridge, we abandoned route 1095 to turn left, we then followed the concrete road to another split where we turned right towards the Tapai Hot Springs. Big signs with western writings mark all these splits, so it is almost impossible to get lost.

The little road to the springs leads to a ticket boot and to the parking lot. The hot springs are open between 7.00am and 6.00pm and entrance fee has recently been reduced to 100 Bath (200 before). From the parking lot a path leads uphill along a warm clear stream that gradually becomes bigger and hotter until reaching a spot where signs inform you that the water temperature reaches 80° degrees C. Despite the strong rotten egg-smell (sulfur), another sign warns you to avoid boiling eggs in the water.

Downstream, the riverbed creates multiple pools and you can decide to swim wherever the temperature suits you. Eva and I stopped at a high temperature pool first then walked downstream in search of cooler spots.

The place is clean and well kept and has good facilities like toilets and showers. It is a good chill out spot to spend a few hours while visiting Pai.

After spending some time at the natural spa, we decided it was time to look for food. We got dressed and jumped on the scooters. Once back on the concrete road, we turned right towards the village of Mae Hee. The little road follows the River Pai Valley upstream and cuts through lovely countryside. We stopped a few times to take pictures of the elephants at several camps along the way. We were busy enough riding our scooters, so we declined the invitations to ride the big animals. The area is good for independent elephant riding and eliminates the need (and high cost) of booking a package tour at one of Pai’s agencies.

It was already early afternoon and very hot when we stopped at a local restaurant and ordered some rice noodles with chicken and cold drinks.

You can find lots of bars and restaurants along the road. The fancier ones have a hippy style with nice verandas, lots of cushions and pleasant music. There are also bungalows and little guesthouses with nice courtyards and generally a fireplace for the night.

After lunch we drove up the steep hill leading to the pretty Wat Mae Hee, a Buddhist temple that overlooks the valley. We parked our scooter right in front of the temple entrance rather than climbing the 365 steps stair leading to the temple. At that time of the day, under a cooking sun, climbing stairs wasn’t very appealing. The hazy air didn’t allow us to enjoy much of the view, but still it was a nice spot to visit.

We then drove back towards Pai, passing several resorts and bars in Mae Yen village. Back at Pai, we decided to continue north in order to explore the Ancient Town. On the way we stopped at a bar where a bunch of happy Thais, in dread locks, were drinking beer. We laid down on a platform in a green pond and got our deserved doses of caffeine.

Thai people are crazy about their pets, especially dogs. You see dogs traveling on motorbikes like little kids, in front of their owner; dogs with hairstyles, dressed up dogs, overweight dogs and so on. At this bar we had two funny dogs that liked to dive in the green pond and then jump up on our platform so that we had to regularly scream to get the owner attention.

Later, we just took a few more pictures in the reddish light of the late afternoon and enjoyed glimpses of genuine country life while riding back to town. We returned our scooters by 6pm. We were happy with the sightseeing, the company, the chatting, and proud of having become scooter riders.

Maps & Facts

Accommodation (lots of alternatives):

Pai is a very nice little town full of GH ranging from cheap to expensive. Many of the bungalows are located on the opposite side of the river from the main town (cross one of the bamboo foot bridges), but they are pretty much made of bamboo and rickety.

We stayed at the Palms House (across from the very good Mama Falafel restaurant). The bungalows are made of concrete blocks, secure, and cool even on the hottest days. Paid 200 Bat for a double with bath.

The real problem with Pai is the quality of service at the restaurants and bars. It basically sucks or really sucks, with very few exceptions. Like the Florida Keys, in the USA, the tourists keep coming, even if the help are rude. So smile a lot and wear a thick layer of skin.

An exception (kind of) is the Good Life Wellness Studio, restaurant, bookshop, and wheat grass garden (across from the Baan Pai Village Resort). The owner, an x-Ukrainian owner is a fanatic about tea and books, so drop in and enjoys a long conversation, become educated about wheat grass, and browses some books. (mailgoodlife@yahoo.com or www.projectgoodlife.com)

Pai Ride Map

Link to Motorbike Ride from Chang Mai to Myanmar Post

Link to Scooter Ride around Chang Mai post

Link to Cycling in Bangkok post

Link to Fun & Sun on Koh Tao post

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