Updated September 20, 2020
If you’re visiting Chiang Mai on your Thailand trip, you can’t miss an excursion out to Pai as well. It’s an idyllic mountain town with a chilled, hippie vibe and if you find me someone who only went there for a few days and didn’t extend their stay or wish that they could, I’ll be surprised.
You could get a minibus from Chiang Mai to Pai, but 3 to 4 hours on a cramped bus rushing at speed around the 762 curves (yes, you read that right) is a bit too much for some people, especially those who suffer from motion sickness.
The alternative is to rent a motorbike or a scooter and drive there yourself, at your own speed. You can enjoy the wonderful views and a drink at one of the many little coffee shops along the way.
Having already experienced the stomach-churning minibus ride a couple of times before, I knew that Theo wouldn’t enjoy it as he gets motion sick at the best of times. So, once we heard about the option to travel there by scooter, we jumped at the chance!
Chiang Mai to Pai scooter rental
If you’re planning a set number of days in Pai before returning to Chiang Mai, you can rent a scooter from one of the many services in the city and return it when you get back. This does mean you’ll need to carry your bags with you and, as I said, you might end up wanting to stay in Pai a little longer than originally planned.
We used AYA Services, who offer something a bit different. They were recommended to us by someone we’d met in Cambodia, and they are different to the other companies because they have a second office in Pai. If you rent a scooter from them, they’ll take your luggage on their minivan and drop it there for you. Leaving you free to scoot at your leisure!
We also found that, once we’d arrived to collect our bags, they were very chilled about us keeping the scooter for our duration in Pai, and paying for the additional days upon the scooter’s return in Chiang Mai.
Note: you don’t have to return the scooter in Chiang Mai; you can leave it at the Pai office if you don’t want to do the return trip by scooter, or if you’re heading elsewhere after Pai.
AYA Services is located a little way out of Chiang Mai town, but we managed to get a Songthaew there without too much hassle. It’s important to call them first to make sure they have a scooter available for you; the first time we went there all their scooters were in Pai and we had to wait for one to be returned.
On the road
We arrived early in the morning to collect our bike and two helmets. We paid for 24 hours with the bike, as at that time we planned to leave it in Pai. There was also a small charge for insurance and a deposit to ensure we returned it.
After that we were free to go! It’s a simple journey and the first part is a bit dull as you head out of the city on the busy 107 road. But once you turn onto the famous 1095 highway you’re out of the traffic and into the country.
Now, be aware that this journey is literally through the mountains, and I wasn’t joking earlier about the 762 corners. Check the weather before you ride, and be prepared for sudden heavy falls of rain at any time of year.
We were lucky on our outward journey and had beautiful weather the whole way. On our way back, however, we experienced a lot of rain, and I can tell you first-hand how slippery the road gets when it’s wet. But on a fine day the views are spectacular!
Theo and I took it in turns to drive so that we could gaze out over the mountains while the other watched the road. Do make sure you watch out for other drivers; a lot of locals are quite happy to overtake slower drivers on corners, so you could end up face-to-face with someone if you don’t see each other coming.
If you’ve spent some time in Thailand, you’ll already know how reckless the drivers can be!
Take care and enjoy the roads
Full disclosure: Unfortunately, we did have a minor accident in the rain on one of the sharper corners on our return to Chiang Mai, so be careful! Luckily for us, we came off very well with just a couple of minor scrapes to knees, and the bike was absolutely fine, but it could have been a lot worse! My advice is just to take it slow and carefully in wet weather, and ride on fine days whenever possible.
Also, you may get a fine if you’re stopped by police and you don’t have an international driving licence. We had our UK licences checked by police in Pai and they let us go on our way without any bother, but when the same thing happened in Chiang Mai, we were fined 500 baht.
We took about 4 hours to complete the journey, and there are lots of beautiful places to stop along the way. Waterfalls, geysers and hot springs are everywhere along this road, and you’ll see the signs for each one leading off the main road, although a lot of them do have an entry fee.
There are also some delightful little coffee shops along the mountain road, so if you’re getting a little numb from the scooter seat or you need a pick-me-up, be sure to check them out!
Just before you enter Pai, you’ll cross the Memorial Bridge, dating from World War II, and soon after that you’ll see the signs for Pai Canyon on your left.
The Canyon is well worth a visit; some areas are a little tricky to climb but it is a stunning sunset spot.
Once you’ve passed the Canyon, you haven’t got long before you reach the town of Pai, and you ride a road surrounded by rice paddies and mountains: your experience of Pai has begun! Get ready to relax and enjoy the slow pace of this well-loved little town.
All that’s left to do is collect your bags from AYA in the main part of town and decide if you want to keep your scooter for the rest of your stay. Even if you don’t keep the same one, I do recommend having a scooter in Pai as a lot of the attractions are a short ride out of the town and it’s very useful to just be able to hop on and zoom off!
Final thoughts on the Chiang Mai to Pai road trip
Despite our little accident, I still highly recommend travelling from Chiang Mai to Pai by scooter or motorbike; it truly is a stunning way to see the incredible landscapes of rural northern Thailand. And it is so much more relaxing than being thrown around a minibus with a bunch of strangers!
As long as you have a free day to dedicate to the journey, you can take your time and make it an experience you will never forget.
The Pai area has so many gorgeous natural attractions and is still one of my absolute favourite places in Thailand. It’s the perfect place to unwind and escape the crowded chaos of the beach towns and islands in the south. And it’s pretty cheap, too. Win-win!
Have you ever ridden a scooter in Asia before? How would you prefer to travel? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
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