Thrill of the ride, Chiang Mai to Pai by motorcycle

Sometimes you need (just a little more) speed on a motorbike in the hills of Thailand

A blue 135cc motorcycle side stand on the side of downhill road.
  • Larissa Dubecki
  • May 2018

Reduced to cold, hard mathematics the distance wasn’t so great. Just a little over 130km – something an Australian highway would dispatch neatly in less than 90 minutes. But the journey from the northern city of Chiang Mai to the hill town of Pai, near the Myanmar border, takes double that and a bit more, along a steep, winding and treacherously narrow highway populated by kamikaze bus drivers, the odd four-legged ruminant and numerous potholes.

A friend newly returned from Thailand had rhapsodised about taking this road by motorbike. Actually, no one truly listens to their friends’ travel tales, so what we heard were “Chiang Mai”, “Pai” and “motorbike”. What she really said was something like “Pai” and “motorbike” and “nice flat easy roads if you confine yourself to the safety of the township”. A small but notable difference.

To add to the gathering clouds of doom, we made the decision to hire a single motorbike. Perhaps I was swayed by romantic visions of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. Perhaps “motorbike” is too strong a word for a 125cc scooter. But we found ourselves trying to ascend 200 metres up Route 1095 sharing the motorised equivalent of an anaemic flea.

There were 762 hairpin bends in total (I found that out later). Each one challenged that tiny motor to a fight to the death. It wheezed like an emphysemic octogenarian on a treadmill. It shuddered bodily. A few times it gave up completely, the engine cutting out as we urged it on like the little engine that could. Or in this case, couldn’t.

Busloads of backpackers passed, giving us the thumbs up. A comfort? Quite the opposite. You know you’re doing something really stupid when backpackers are impressed.

There was an insurrection somewhere around hour six, when subject B refused to get back on the bloody bike and subject A threatened to ride off leaving subject B to her fate. There were tears. A tantrum. We finally made it – of course we did, or subject B wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now – but relations were decidedly frosty for some time.

For the return journey we were mentally prepared for the trial ahead. Ha! Are you kidding me? I caught the bus. He zoomed those 130km back down that mountain, enjoying the benefits of gravity and the lack of a complaining Audrey Hepburn clinging in terror on the back. Later on, when we were talking again, we agreed it was time apart well spent.