Driving a motorbike in a foreign country is as crazy as you would imagine. The rules of the road differ, and many times people make up the rules as they go. But if you can keep an open mind and be aware of your surroundings, it can be a rather fun experience. Motorbikes run rampant in most Southeastern Asian countries as the primary means of transportation for most locals, yet the majority of vehicle drivers are actually more conscious of motorbikes than in Western countries, so there’s a peaceful chaos that accompanies the experience.
As I was living in the north of Thailand, I embarked on a long bike ride from the busy streets of Chiang Mai to the town of Pai. The road from Chiang Mai, a northern city of Thailand, to the mountain town close to the Laos border, Pai, is full of twists and turns. 762 to be exact, but with breathtaking mountainous views and drastic temperature drops as you begin to escalate up the mountain through wooded regions of the road. The views are worth the possible risks and added adventure of taking a motorbike compared to a bus to arrive to Thailand’s hidden, hippyish mountain town.
Bikes filled up with gas, a few adventurous friends for the ride, and jackets stowed for when the cold hits in winter months are all essentials. The map says 135 km, approximately a 3-hour drive, but dependent on traffic conditions, weather, construction, and how safely you want to tackle the adventure, 4-5 hours is a safer bet. Motion sickness is another issue for some, with so many turns in the road, and it’s easy to begin to feel queasy on the drive, so breaks and Dramamine are understandable before getting back on the road. Making sure your bike has enough power and working brakes for the journey are also important, as there could be frequent traffic stops along the way.
Despite all the possible elements that could put a damper on your trip, this is still one of my favorite bike rides of all time, even if the ride extends longer than expected. As a person that appreciates mountain terrain and the freedom of the open road, I couldn’t have asked for a better route. You will pass quaint coffee shops and restaurants on your way up, so don’t refrain from stopping in and exploring.
Once you reach Pai, the infamous hippy town nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand, you will be pleasantly surprised. Big signs will direct your way in. Contrary to most of Thai culture, the mountain town has vegan and organic options and is known for its art and music culture and ability to attract European and Australian tourists. Artists hit the streets at the night market, exhibiting their handmade jewelry, paintings, and various knick-knacks.
Rafting and camping opportunities along the river, as well as hiking options, are plentiful as the town is filled with outdoor activities for the avid explorer. But remember to avoid the bus options if you trust yourself enough to take the drive by motorbike – I promise it’s worth the adventure.