762 mountain turns through hills, forest and farmland await you.
Beautiful countryside with roaming cows, sunset cocktails, and a walking street night market that are guaranteed to delight your taste buds for just a few bucks a meal.
So what’s the best way travel Chiang Mai to Pai?
Driving a car will take you about 3 hours without stopping BUT it’s going to be more expensive, and truthfully, it’s less exhilarating than going by motorcycle or scooter. Furthermore, the town of Pai is quite small, and once you get there, you will want to cruise through the quaint town by foot. Because I’ve found a way to escort your luggage to Pai for you… you’re going to absolutely love this option!
Ditch your backpack (or large suitcase, as was my case):
For a very small fee (100 THB / US$ 3.10 you can drop off your luggage with Aya Service, in Chiang Mai and they will shuttle your bags the 3-4 hours to their Pai office which allows you to hop on a scooter (or motorcycle) to embark on a truly exhilarating ride free of your baggage! (Literally and pun intended).
Aya will also take your luggage back down the mountain so when the time comes to leave, you can wind your way back to Chiang Mai to take in the gorgeous scenery one more time. Alternatively, you can also choose to take one of their shuttle vans to Chiang Mai if you don’t mind being in a speeding van taking 762 turns with 15 other people packed in. Also, you run the risk of someone puking on you (Yep, it happened to my friend! EWWWW!). Apparently, she did know to buy my suggested natural motion sickness pills. You’ve been warned!
Motorcycle or scooter?
I would have preferred to rent a motorcycle rather than a scooter, so I could have really hugged the sharp mountainous turns, but at 5’ 2” I couldn’t find a motorcycle that I could adequately touch the ground with both feet firmly on the ground, so a Scoopy scooter was my only option. I know I’m a petite little thang!
Aya Service, although the worst customer service really saved the day. The fresh cold mountain air stinging your cheeks and invigorating your soul as I winded my way up the mountain was truly exhilarating. A welcome change to the blistering heat of Chiang Mai.
Your chilly bones will quickly thaw as temperatures rise from 55 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the mid-day sun.
Scooter / Motorcycle rentals:
I’d avoid renting a bike from AYA Service, the bikes were in horrible condition and their customer service pretty appalling. I test drove three mopeds, and they were all trashed, and in my opinion, not in any state for a long road trip. Find another local shop in Chiang Mai. I ordered mine through Haus Hostel, in Chiang Mai. Expect to pay the standard rate of 250 THB US$ 8.00/day, or I negotiated 100 THB / US$ 3.19 a day for a monthly rental. Prices will also depend on if you have a newer or older bike, so keep that in mind. If riding isn’t your thing, you can take Aya Service’s van ride service, but like I said having my friend puked on from head to toe, I prefer to ride myself.
A full tank at the gas station cost me only 100 THB / $US 3.19 for my Scoopy moped. There are limited places along the way to get gas, and no gas stations are around once you hit the mountain; however, you will see some locals selling old whiskey bottles of gas on the sides of the roads. Two bottles are 80 THB / US $2.52 which filled my tank.
Inspect your Scooter:
I’ll never forget how shocked I was when I really inspected my moped tires after my road trip and had no choice but to replace BOTH tires as soon as I got into town, but it made for a problematic three-hour ride up the mountain because I felt my bike handling poorly each turn I made.
How to deal with a moped repair?
I phoned the bike rental place and had the mechanic send pictures of my bald tires and got their pre-approval to do the work. Sure, the rental company covered the cost and paid me back, but it was foolish of me not to notice this BEFORE my trip. Not to mention, I had to wait two hours for the repairs to be completed. But HEY, that’s why I blog. To help you do things even better and wiser than I did them and be all the wiser.
Pai Canyon edge (not recommended if you’re afraid of heights)
Go with the Flow and drive slow:
Speed really isn’t your friend so chill and admire the greenery. Some of the turns have incredibly sharp corners, so be cautious since flying off the cliff could put a damper on your vacation. Road conditions were typically good, but occasionally a pothole does spring up unexpectedly.
Wear a Helmet:
Yep, It’s the law, so regardless of seeing hundreds of people not wearing a helmet, don’t risk it. Cops generally target people who aren’t wearing helmets, so play it safe and protect your noggin. You came to earth for a reason…so let’s make sure you fulfill your destiny. Helmets save lives. On that note, many rental places have really inadequate helmets. We actually bought better quality helmets for under US $20. Stray dogs and potholes are some of the most common reasons for accidents, so keep your guard up, and I repeat, “ride slowly and go with the flow!” Just yesterday I met a couple that crashed after a dog unexpectedly jumped out into the road. They had no time to stop, crashed, and were really banged up. Their helmets saved their lives! Another occasion I met a guy who incurred severe brain damage when he flew off his bike on his head just going 5 mph. I like you a lot, so please wear a helmet.
Boy was I grateful for my favorite North Face faux down jacket. Be sure to wear gloves, glasses and have layers of many clothes so you can add and strip away along the way. In the mountain shade, the air is dramatically different from the heat of Chiang Mai. Elevation also increases by about 647 feet. From about sunset to sunrise expect the weather to be cold and downright frigid.
Warning – Cops:
I was pulled over by a police barricade on my drive to Pai. Although I had my drivers license and international driving permit on me, I learned that unless you have an “M Class” on your driver’s license AND a motorcycle status on your International driving permit you are not legally able to drive a moped. Hence, unless you have time to get an M class before you leave your country, be prepared that IF you get pulled over your gonna have to pay! If time permits and you are in your home country, you can get an international driver’s license online. I used AAA. No matter what you do, Get travel insurance. For a month in Thailand, it was only $205 bucks for the most expensive adventure plan.
Be respectful and see if the cop is willing to settle things on the spot. Going rate is about 500 THB / US $15.96. Don’t be argumentative and don’t let it rattle you if you get pulled over. It’s just the way things seem to be here. Cops seem to be more in Chiang Mai, and not so much in Pai.
On a positive note: At least it doesn’t go on your record, you don’t have to go to court, traffic school, or deal with it again. You’ll get this funky piece of paper that is supposed to allow you to be cool to drive for 3 days. Just accept the receipt and keep on keep’n on….adventure awaits you!
Do you have travel insurance? Girl, you got to! I have seen several accidents over the last couple of years. My usual mode of transportation has been a scooter. I’ve fortunately never had anything major happen to me, but had way too many close calls and seen countless people who weren’t so lucky. Let’s face it, life’s unpredictable and you just never can be too sure…
I’ve created a page on my website to help you get a travel/health quote in seconds. Click HERE to get the insurance I trust. As a former lawyer, I really did my research and analyzed to find the best company. I feel confident these guys are the most reputable and nomad friendly and do not discriminate because of age. I like the “adventure plan” because it’s just slightly higher and it includes 150+ activities. So I can live life a little more daring and knowing I’m covered!
My travel insurance has saved me multiple times on some pretty crazy occasions from being pick-pocketed in Barcelona to a volcano blowing in Bali. My travel insurance is all online so even with my iPhone, I was able to complete my claims. Also, it really gives me peace of mind to lessen my anxiety while I travel.
TRAVEL TIP: Get an “M-Class” on your driver’s license and International Driving Permit (IDP) to ensure you are covered by your travel insurance company.
Best time to go to Pai:
The burning season is typically in February to March. Air quality can be significantly impaired. So to be safe, I’d avoid these months. I found that by late February the condition was so bad that I experienced constant headaches and sinus problems. The best part of Pai for me is getting out in nature, and I was really disappointed and saddened by how bad it got. I was told that the burning is supposed to stop by the end of March, but even if so, it may take time to clear up those beautiful skies again.
Check the AIR QUALITY INDEX (AQI) to see how the are quality is on any given day.
I have been to Pai twice now, and each time I stayed for a month+. Last year while I was here around mid-January to mid-February the burning wasn’t so bad, but the cold temperatures were surprisingly VERY cold in the earlier mornings and nights.
This year we visited Pai February 1st to March 1st, and the cold lessened as the weeks progressed, but the pollution also got REALLY bad. So much so that I will be sure to not come back in February or March, but I will be back! I noticed I was not inclined to hike or go for that classic sunset cocktail because the visibility progressively worse you could hardly make out the mountain ridge.
All in all, Pai is a very special place that shouldn’t be missed.
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Calf in Pai’s countryside
Suggestions & Resources:
Natural motion sickness supplement: a MUST if you decide to take the 3 1/2-4 hour van ride up 762 mountain turns to Pai, and also super helpful.
Compact lightweight cruelty-free down jacket. Love this compact jacket by North Face for my travels.
AAA – Whether you are already traveling or planning for an upcoming trip you can mail in your application for an International Driver’s Permit
A helpful article, entitled, Burning season has started in Chain Mai, by JohnnyFD.com
Check real-time Air Quality Control Index (AQC) and consider not traveling to parts of Thailand that are most affected by the “burning season.”
Aya Service – Shuttle service from Chiang Mai to Pai and luggage transport option so you can scooter up the mountain and enjoy the views.
Aya will take your luggage up for you so you can rent a moped and enjoy the 3 1/2 hour moped ride or you can take one of their vans for 200 THB. Anticipate a 3.5 – 4-hour drive and buy my favorite non-drowsy homeopathic motion sickness pills here.
Kamthiang Plaza 60-60/1 Srimonkol Rd.,
Patan Muang Chiangmai 50300
Tel. +6653-231815, +6653-231816, +6653-231833
Mobile: +668-64317416, +668-82584496, +669-31788558.
22/1 Moo 3, Chaisongkram rd., Pai, Maehongsorn
Tel. +66 5369 9888, +66 5369 8299
Looking for a hostel in Pai? Check out a few of my favorites!