I had heard the road from Chiang Mai to Pai was beautiful, and that the best way to capture that beauty was by bike.I had also fully come to terms with my inability and lack of confidence to ride a push bike let alone a scooter. I accepted that I would bus it, probably get travel sickness, a scolding from the driver and eventually I would arrive in Pai feeling sorry for myself.
It was the day the UK voted to leave the EU, I was upset and didn’t want to be on my own. So I reluctantly asked to jump a ride up with some friends; and before I knew it I had packed the essentials into my day bag, secured my fringe down in a way that wouldn’t embarrass me (too much) after the blustery drive, and clambered onto the back of a scooter.
The scenery and landscape was as accurately reported, absolutely breath taking. We drove through small villages, around waterfalls and through the National Parks. It was a wonderful distraction to the hairpin bends and the contemplation of my impending death at each turn.
Bringing up the rear in a three bike convoy, we where suddenly getting mega beeped by an irate Thai guy. Assuming he was about to inform us of some traffic infringement we were unaware of, we pulled over. He kindly told us we had a flat tyre and could not continue on our journey, not one more kilometre, no further at all. I don’t know how he spotted a flatty from metres away, but anyway as impressed as we were with his eyesight, a situation we were in.
The safety conscious stranger offered to pop the bike on the back and take us to Chiang Mai with him. This would have been great, but we’d just come from there and were bound for Pai.
We remained stuck there waving as our ride took off. Smoking a cigarette we contemplated our options which it would seem were zero. Stranded up a mountain, no idea exactly where we were, no way to contact anyone or any language ability (except for thank you, obvs) to communicate our situation.
Fortunately we didn’t have to do much. Almost every car that drove by in the next 20 minutes stopped to help us. Looking like a couple of sorry souls in a sitch does have its advantages. Before we knew it we ended up with two 4×4’s, a motorbike and a truck. A proverbial Thai army of helpers.
A family cleared out their entire pick up, attached the bike carefully. The motorcyclist assisted and the other car drove down to inform a mechanic 5k away that two westerners (I imagine not the first) where on their way down for a pit stop.
One new tyre later at a modest 150 baht, we were back on the road after another stop for gas, more cigarettes and a coca-cola.
Our poor convoy assuming we had died where 25k ahead and doubling back post-haste. We were eventually reunited at a small service station somewhere in the middle to great relief.
Now almost four hours into our pilgrimage it started getting dark. Scary but manageable. Then it started to rain, chilly but manageable, then a storm came rolling in, and life was utterly shit. Freezing cold, starving, pitch black, cows on the road, Thai checkpoints, soaking wet, thunder, lightening, a very sore bum, and fearing for my life with an entirely renewed commitment.
After three more hours of I HATE EVERYTHING! We sat eating burgers and drinking beer in Pai. Eventually we found somewhere to stay and got incredibly drunk… to celebrate having successfully more than doubled the approximate journey time.
Five nights later I bussed it back solo. And although I did feel calmer (and drugged up from travel sickness pills). The scenery although the very same, not nearly so impressive when you’re shoved into the back of a cramped minivan.