After riding the length of Vietnam on motorbikes they became our favourite method of transport around South East Asia and wherever possible we would jump at the chance to do another trip. After such a long a gruelling trip in Vietnam though we searched out day trips on bikes as well as shorter multi day bike trips on some incredible roads. The hippy backpacker town of Pai in the very north of Thailand was somewhere we’d had on our radar since we began planning our time in Thailand. But when we discovered that the winding mountain road that leads from Chiang Mai to Pai is one of the best in the country, with an amazing 762 twists and turns, breath taking scenery and another unforgettable experience… we knew we had to do the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter, a Thailand backpacker rite of passage and a perfect alternative to the vomit inducing Chiang Mai to Pai bus but you’ve also got to question “Is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai” before taking it on!
What is Pai and why is it worth the effort of making the trip up into the mountains?
Pai is the most incredible place, a hippy town in the mountains where nothing seems real and your time there will forever be looked back at as a bubble of surreal happiness!! This backpacker paradise is located in the beautiful Mae Hong Son Province close to the Myanmar border which is about 130 km north of Chiang Mai. Whether you ride or take the Chiang Mai to Pai bus the journey is well worth the effort.
The atmosphere here is totally unique and the surroundings and air of exploration combine to make it a place that you never want to leave… and when you do, you’ll surely return!! Some describe it as a Thai Island in the mountains, but it’s so much more than that! With quirky cafes, surreal roadside sculptures, amazing landscapes and all surrounded by like minded people searching for that same sense of complete freedom and peace Pai just seems to emanate, it really is a truly magical place.
One of the most wonderful things about Pai is that many people get here on a scooter or at least rent one when they get up here. It means that all the different things to do and see up here despite being slightly spread out are very accessible and really it is a must if you want to truly experience Pai and just adds to the sense of escapism and freedom that Pai is all about. However you do need to ask yourself if is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai if you’ve never been on a bike before as it’s a common place to have an accident!
Read all about our time in Pai here:
Taking the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip: An incredible experience on the winding 762 turn road!
By the time we took this Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip we had managed to build up quite a bit of experience on two wheels all around Asia and since then we’ve done even more trips in almost every country in South East Asia. So with this in mind we wondered how the road and this trip would stack up against some of our other unforgettable experiences exploring on a bike, our favourite method of transport in South East Asia! It’s also a perfect alternative to taking the Chiang Mai to Pai bus which is well known to be one of the most brutal in terms of inducing travel sickness!
Setting off on this trip with some experience riding scooters was one of the things that made this trip so enjoyable. We were confident riding and for us this was a comparatively short journey but one that was long enough to really engross us. It really meant that we could concentrate on enjoying the wind in our hair and the mountain atmosphere rather than not falling off our bike! If its your first time on a bike then you should consider if is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai for your experience level!
Leaving Chiang Mai is hectic, busy and probably the most stressful part of the journey, but soon after that you are straight into the mountains to tackle the famous 762 turns. The road itself is smooth and in great condition as it winds its way like a mystical serpent up towards Pai. For motorbike and scooter enthusiasts the road itself is incredible to ride but combine that with sweeping panoramas over this mountainous landscape and it becomes one of the best roads in the world. For us it was comparable to that of the Hai Van pass in Vietnam and the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania, two well know best driving and riding roads in the world!
Is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai and should I do the trip this way?
One of the biggest concerns about taking the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip is safety, not only on the road up here but also on the roads around the town too and in particular towards Lod Caves. Many people have accidents up here and clearly they should have considered whether it is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai if it’s your first time!
The roads here are winding, challenging and slick. It was a running joke in Pai just how many people we saw battered, bruised and covered in bandages, it was beginning to look like the set of “The Mummy!”. Joking aside however there have been many people injured riding up here and some of them seriously.
Riding a scooter is harder than it appears at first and unfortunately being automatic they come across as easy! We won’t lie, our second time on a bike was riding in the countryside around Phnom Penh in Cambodia and we ourselves had a minor accident! It happens and in a sense it’s all part of the backpacker experience, but up here the risks are higher and the environment much more challenging than just short trips around town!
Generally speaking the traffic on the road isn’t too bad, if you’ve ever experienced the roads in Vietnam as an example then this one seems like a dream!! However if you’re new to riding in Asia then it might be a little intimidating. The route isn’t too popular with heavy vehicles but you do get some buses, trucks and many cars. Some of these do often cross over onto the other side of the road when taking the corners but most are quite safe. A good tip is to stick to the far edge of the road rather than wandering towards the middle and let others pass if you’re asking yourself “is it safe to scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai”.
Should I do the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip?
Well it all comes down to you and your confidence levels. By all means take the journey, it’s absolutely amazing but here’s our honest advice.
Firstly, rent a bike beforehand somewhere less challenging, if you know you’re coming up here and you’re in Asia then rent a bike somewhere flat and quiet first and just get used to riding. Even if you’re already in Chiang Mai then take a bike out around town, ride up to Doi Suthep and the outskirts of the city just so this isn’t your first experience on a bike. You could also opt for renting once up there in Pai, the roads are still challenging as we said but you can also be more selective and also build up some confidence just around the village too.
Secondly. Be sure to use a reputable company and if you can avoid it be sure not to put down your passport against the scooter as well as taking photos of the condition beforehand. We’ve never had any problems at all, even when we did fall off and scrape the bike in Cambodia because honestly most of these bikes are pretty beat up to begin with. But if you can choose to put a cash bond against the bike then do that rather than your passport! Expect it to be around 1000 – 2000 baht. However the companies in Chiang Mai do also offer insurance at an additional cost per day.
Thirdly, make sure you have travel insurance just in case. Even the best riders make mistakes or as quite often is the case with bikes, other people make the mistake but the biker comes off worse! We recommend using World Nomads and being sure you are covered for riding a scooter.
Practical information on the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip.
What is the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter time and distance?
The route Chiang Mai to Pai scooter route is roughly 130 km and should take roughly 4 hrs. Be sure not to rush and instead take your time, have regular rest stops to take in the views or explore the villages along the way too. The thing to realise here is that the journey is very much the experience and not just the destination. Set off early and give yourself pretty much the whole day to get up there and be sure to be off the road before dark as it gets VERY dangerous. The road is officially Route 1095.
Can I do the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip one way?
Most of the rental companies in Chiang Mai expect it to be a two way trip and that you’ll return the bike back to them. However Aya do allow for one way trips, however one thing to consider is that from Pai there isn’t really anywhere else to go onwards on your trip. You will in all but a very uncommon route have to go back down to Chiang Mai to carry on your travels. However if you get up to Pai on the bus and want to ride back down then this is possible but will incur and extra charge and might be harder to arrange.
Two of the best companies to go with are Mr Mechanic and Aya, our hostel also had many other options too and we booked through them with the bikes being delivered to the hostel.
How much does the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip cost?
We paid for one bike (we wanted to share one to reduce the cost) for a week and paid extra for insurance each day. We were able to extend our rental period at anytime by contacting the company to extend. With insurance included for a 125cc scooter it will cost around 200-250 Baht (8-12 USD) a day. Depending on how long you want the bikes for you might be able to negotiate. It is also possible to rent larger bikes with gears for an extra cost.
What do I do with my bags?
The Aya rental service can include baggage transport so you are free to ride up without trying to carry large and heavy bags. This is useful especially if you’re on one bike!! However we did go with another company and instead we were able to store our large bags at the hostel and just took up our smaller bags. This was great on the one hand as it was less to worry about but on the other we would have liked to have had all our gear up there for extending our time or just incase we forgot anything!
Problems with the police!
One of the problems you might encounter is the police on the outskirts of Chiang Mai who have set up a scam targeting tourists on bikes. A photo drivers licence with English writing is legal in Thailand but if you get pulled over you will be asked for a Thai or international licence. If you have one they might even try to get you for having your pegs out!
Be sure to wear a helmet though as that is required by law. Be sure to ask about the locations of the police checkpoints before you set off, they are usually around the old fort as well as some of the main roads out of the city. This map here is also good resource. You shouldn’t be stopped by any other police and generally they pack up after 3pm either way.
Not keen on the motorbike trip: Information on taking the Chiang Mai to Pai bus instead
Don’t fancy tackling the road by yourself, well there is another way to get up there but it might not be all too fun!!
The bus from Chiang Mai to Pai is well known for being a rough ride for even those with a strong stomach. The famous turns on the road from Chiang Mai to Pai that make it a dream to ride also make it a nightmare on a cramped up mini bus! We saw plenty of evidence of this with many buses pulling over to let passengers off to be sick!
One of the reasons many people consider riding up despite how challenging the route is is to avoid travel sickness! But remember, being sick is better than crashing your bike!
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