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, breathtaking scenery and another unforgettable experience… we knew we had to do the Chiang Mai to Pai scooter trip, 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?! Here’s our ultimate guide on how to get to Pai and considerations for the Chiang Mai to Pai motorbike trip!
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!
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 Southeast 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 it’s 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 about getting from Chiang Mai to Pai on a bike –
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 (still quite challenging but not as far) 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 if you go far enough out as we said but you can also be more selective and also build up some confidence just around the village and some closer attractions.
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 but it can be more if you take a bigger bike out. A reputable company will let you do this!
However most companies in Chiang Mai do also offer insurance at an additional cost per day which isn’t too common with Thailand scooter rental around the country.
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 which might also mean having a license for a bike in your own country too. Just be aware of the risks in getting from Chiang Mai to Pai on a bike before you go and what you are covered for.
Advice and Tips:
Practical Information On The Chiang Mai to Pai Scooter Trip.
What Is The Chiang Mai To Pai Scooter Time And Distance?
The Chiang Mai to Pai scooter route should take roughly 4 hrs but give yourself longer to enjoy it more and the distance from Chiang Mai to Pai is roughly 130 km.
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 from Chiang Mai to Pai is officially Route 1095 once you turn off the highway.
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 for an extra 300 Baht surcharge.
However one thing to consider is that from Pai the only place onwards from here is really Mae Hong Son which is another great bike trip and can be done as an epic Chiang Mai motorbike loop.
However if you get up to Pai on the bus and want to ride back down then this is possible but will incur an extra charge and might be harder to arrange but it could be a good way to build confidence riding before heading back down from Pai from Chiang Mai.
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, a 125cc scooter (we wanted to share one to reduce the cost) for a week and paid extra for insurance each day on our first trip. On our second trip we hired two 150cc manual bikes with added insurance. We were able to put down a cash deposit rather than using our passports which is always much more idea.
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 (£5- 6.50 / $6.50-8) a day. Other bikes such as smaller manuals like that we had will be around 400-500 Baht (£10- 13 / $13- 14.50) a day, large manuals around 700 Baht (£18 / $22)
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. We also spoke to Mango, our rental company, and they did say we could have also left our bags there too.
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 in case we forgot anything!
Who Are The Best Motorbike Rental Chiang Mai:
There are a few options in the city but for us the one that comes out top is Mango Bikes. We’ve used them twice whilst in Chiang Mai and each time we’ve been totally impressed by their service. The Irish owned company takes low deposits instead of passports, services all their bikes and has a wide range on offer from small scooters to bigger engined bikes and manuals. They were also able to do us a small deal on two bikes for the week.
Two others worth mentioning are Mr Mechanic and Aya service Chiang Mai/ Aya Service Pai and are some of the best Thailand motorcycle rental companies.
Scooter rental Chiang Mai is very common but there are also some pretty dodgy companies out there with unsafe bikes and scammer tactics. It really does pay to research Chiang Mai scooter rental companies instead of just going with who your hostel is affiliated with!
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 checkpoint targeting tourists on bikes.
On my initial post I described this as a “scam” but on reflection I’ve come to realise that actually most people are in fact riding illegally in Thailand and being pulled over, fined a small amount and allowed to drive on it actually not a bad compromise! If you want to rent a bike in Thailand you have to come to terms with that!
Most people will be fined because of a lack of international drivers licence with bike endorsement. Make sure you wear a helmet at all times to avoid further fines and of course, for your safety too.
Be sure to ask about the locations of the police checkpoints before you set off from the rental company and at your hostel, 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. We’ve also heard rumours that the police pack up here later in the day and at weekends but I can’t say for sure.
On our second trip it seemed that the situation in Chiang Mai had developed somewhat. This time there were more checkpoints and more police “trouble”, however there also seems to be a more standardised response to foreigners on bikes that is an inconvenience but not a disaster!
The checkpoints do move and the city walls and main road out towards Pai are places where the police will definately be. However when you are riding to Pai you only really have the main highway to worry about whereas riding around the city, for example, towards Doi Suthep, there are more checkpoints and they move more often.
The checkpoint out on the highway to Pai will almost definitely pull you over if you’re not a local. They will pretty much 100% fine you unless you have an international licence with bike endorsement… something most travellers don’t have. However, the fine is now a standard 500 Baht ( £13/ $16), this will basically give you a “pass” to ride for 3 days which you could show to other police officers if you did get pulled over and they won’t fine you again. Make sure you get some paperwork off them but try to be courteous, once you’re pulled over the fine is inevitable and the days of bartering or talking your way out and over! Just be polite, pay up and be on your way!!
However most people only get stopped on the way out of Chiang Mai and the police don’t usually set up on the other side of the road back into the city, you will also have no problems with the police after this point or in Pai.
It’s annoying on the surface because it does add a significant amount on top of your trip especially given how cheap Thailand is, but on reflection paying £13 for essentially illegally riding a bike and being allowed to just carry on is a bargain compared to what would happen if you did the same thing in most western countries.
Can You Avoid The Fines?
There are still ways to avoid the fine and actually we didn’t pay any fines whilst riding around Chiang Mai or Pai and that was because we took longer ways around to places, winding around the back streets instead of going onto the main roads. We joined the highway after the checkpoint but it was a convoluted process where we had to keep checking maps and it took longer than just getting stopped!
Where To Stay In Pai:
Best Budget Backpacker: Chilling Hill Guesthouse
At around £5 a night for a private room here the Chilling Hill Guesthouse offers great accommodation on a backpacker budget. Set in gardens each room is in a modern Thai style cottage with its own balcony. Including a free basic breakfast and only being a 15 min walk from town it’s an incredible place for the price! if you’re a backpacker wondering where to stay in Pai then this place is a great option.
Best Mid Range Option: The Countryside Pai
The The Countryside Pai is a collection of purpose built rustic Thai cottages surrounded by rice fields and mountains, exactly what Pai is supposed to be about! Here for a small price you can indulge in the true Pai experience with a pool, roof terrace on each cottage and on on sight restaurant also.
Best Reasonably Priced Treat Option: Pai Village Boutique Resort
Situated in an ideal location along the river but within walking distance to the town centre of Pai this tropical paradise is the idea place to base yourself after the trek up here. The traditional Thai style cottages with modern facilities provide the ultimate place to relax. The resort also includes a pool, wellness centre, Restaurant, gardens and a bar.
Search For More Options For Where To Stay In Pai Here:
How To Get From Chiang Mai to Pai: Other Methods Of Transport
Information On Taking The Chiang Mai To Pai Bus Instead
How to get from Chiang Mai to Pai without a bike? The most popular was is the minibus/ minivan/ bus to Pai option. Be warned though, the Pai bus isn’t 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! But the bus to Pai from Chiang Mai does serve its purpose!
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 and as we all know, transport in Southeast Asia is all part of the challenge of visiting the area. So if you’re unsure then pop some anti-sickness pills and get on the Pai bus instead!
Pai Bus Online Booking Here:
Pai bus booking online:
Take A Private Car With A Driver
An alternative to taking the Pai bus without getting a bike would be to get a driver, this isn’t the cheapest option but you can make sure your driver takes it easy and stops for a break whenever you like. The great benefit to hiring a Chiang Mai driver is their local knowledge of the area, great places to stop along the way and convenience.
It’s an ideal way to travel from Chiang Mai to Pai for families or also if you have a lot of luggage!
Can You Take A Chiang Mai To Pai Flight?
Believe it or not there is actually a Chiang Mai to Pai flight but it’s a rare thing and I don’t know anyone who has actually taken it. The flights from Chiang Mai to Pai use a small propeller plane and the views are supposed to be quite spectacular on a clear day.
I’m not too sure I’d feel safer on a tiny plane than a bike or any less sick on the Pai to Chiang Mai bus!
At the current moment I can’t see online any options to book a Chiang Mai-Pai flight, I’m not sure if that is because of Covid-19 or if it is just because this services availability does tend to fluctuation. I have heard prices of around 1700 Baht per person one way being quoted, that’s £45 / $55 for a 25 minute flight!! Let us know if you do get on a Pai to Chiang Mai flight, we’d love to know your experience!
Can You Take A Day Trip To Pai!?
Rent A Car Instead of A Bike
Coming From Elsewhere?
Bangkok to Pai
Pai to Chiang Rai/ Chiang Rai to Pai
There isn’t a direct route from Pai to Chiang Rai and vice versa that doesn’t involve going through Chiang Mai. Unfortunately without a Chiang Rai to Pai bus this means taking a bus and a minivan in once day making it a long journey through the mountainous region of Northern Thailand.
Unless you are an experienced rider and very organised we don’t believe you would have time to take the bus between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and then get a bike rented out and ride up here in a safe time and manner. Either way, we recommend spending at least a day in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple.
Your first port of call would be the cheap and frequent green bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. These leave throughout the day but it would be best to book ahead as they do sell out and also to get on an early bus if you intend on making it the whole way in a single day. This journey takes around 3.5 hrs and gets a little winding towards the later half.
How Would You Take The Road From Chiang Mai To Pai And Have You Yourself Taken The Chiang Mai To Pai Scooter Road Trip?
Book Your Bus, Train, Plane Or Ferry Across The Whole Of Asia Here:
Book Your Accommodation Here
Hey, You’ve Got Your Travel Insurance Sorted Haven’t You?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
See more from our Backpacking Asien and beyond adventures:
Pin for later:
This post contains affiliate links, these don’t cost you anything but help us keep travelling