Okay, a motorbike trip to Pai, sure to be a highlight of the trip. One obstacle: I have never driven a motorbike.
Pai is a darling little town in the highlands, approximately 130 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. The journey begins with 30km on a Thai expressway and the 98km after the exit is characterized by 794 curves and a steep ascent through the mountains. The trip can be done in 3-5 hours from Chiang Mai.
One night in a pub, Greg heard that many make the trip to Pai by motorbike and he was instantly sold on the idea. Okay, a motorbike trip to Pai, sure to be a highlight of the trip. One obstacle: I have never driven a motorbike. But I can learn right?
Let me take a moment to digress. Greg and I have very different learning styles. While on Ko Tao, Greg had been griping about the amount of scuba diving theory and lecture we had to do before getting into the ocean. With Jason and I as his audience, he was met with silence. Nope, We’ll take the formal learning bit first thanks, convinced we would give ourselves the bends. For Greg it wall all a bit painfully elementary, having already ‘dove’ the Great Barrier Reef.
We’ve established that I am the type to accept formal instruction before trying things. So I had to learn how to ride a motorbike. We went to the bike shop, intent on hiring an automatic bike for me. Road block 1: the shop will only let you take a manual to Pai. Cue anxiety. I’m balking. I don’t want to go. It’s 130km and I’ve only ever ridden shot gun and now I have to learn on a manual. I’ll take the bus, meet you there. I killed the trip and stormed back to the hostel. No way, I will die. I imagined being smashed by a mini van, I reflected on Carol’s mangled leg. I told Greg to forget it and that I didn’t want to hear any more sales pitches. Sales pitches ensued. I could do this. I am living in a place of fear and it’s irrational. ‘I thought I said I didn’t want to hear it!?’
So the next day I conceded and we would go get a bike. Returning to the bike shop we were proverbially shut down by the shop employee. Road Block 2: She wouldn’t let me a bike because I didn’t have a motorbike license. But I JUST decided I would wo-man up and do this! And as if any other tourist in Thailand operating a motorbike has a license. So we went one shop over and rented an automatic bike. I managed to circle Chiang Mai’s old city a couple times and then did some serious skill testing up Doi Suthep (a nearby mountain). The thing about Thai traffic is you just have to move like water, a mantra I had to repeated to myself as I drove. Other mantras included: ‘This is supposed to be fun’ and ‘Don’t get too cocky.’ That evening we traded in my automatic for a manual and all irrational fear of manual transmissions dissipated. Okay I concede, I acted a little sensationally and anyway, didn’t I always want to ride a motorbike?
We left the next day to ominous looking skies. We ripped down the expressway, very much learning as I went. The ride to Pai was stunning, when it wasn’t p!$$!ng down rain. In all fairness it only monsoon rained for 20% of the trip, with the worst bit occurring at the top of the mountain. Of course that was the portion with the most potholes and steepest ascent. I audibly screamed in frustration when rain was blinding my vision, however absolute redemption came when the clouds parted, drenching us in sunlight as we descended into Pai. We made it safely! On a small street in town a dog ran into the street in front of Greg, causing his bike to slip from out beneath him as he tried to dodge it. Luckily this would be the only incident related to bike safety on the entire trip which compromised about 300km or so all together. No damage done to the bike, which more than often is the primary concern of a person who has just suffered an accident. “IS THE BIKE OKAY?!”
We spent the next two days exploring Pai and the surrounding area. We spent a great deal of our second day trying to locate a piranha farm. Along the way we found ourselves in a remote village where the woman gestured toward their mouths. ‘Sorry we don’t have any cigarettes.’ Actually, they were trying to sell us opium. Oh. The town itself had an attitude that reminded me a lot of Tofino. Granted Tofino isn’t in the highlands, landlocked or Thai. We had ‘splurged’ on our guesthouse (an extra $3.33/night above our average rate) and wouldn’t you know, the first cockroaches we’d encounter. Actually they were in our bathroom which someone intelligently decided not to put a roof on. Greg was so kind as to murder-it-by-sandal for me (contemporary chivalry). When I went into the bathroom the next morning there were two roach corpses. Indeed, he had killed two but I was only on a need-to-know basis re: giant bugs in the house.
Our ride back to Chiang Mai was significantly shorter, less rainy and more thrilling. Greg had a suicidal dog charge him, we encountered a small herd of buffalo walking along the road and a crab crossed the jungle road. By the time we had passed through the mountains and exited onto the highway I was beginning to feel zen with my bike. Before I had realized it, I was passing cars and Thais on motorbikes, weaving through traffic, passing Greg, hitting 80-100km/hour, and doing other maneuvers that would make my mother’s ticker race. It is sufficient to say that I was able to ‘give my proverbial balls a tug’ and operate the bike, and at the end of the day the trip to Pai was a total highlight.