We were going to call this “The road to Pai ” but in reality Chiang Mai to Pai is just too far to do comfortably on a small motorbike. We reckon it’s easier, more practical and above all safer to just take the bus up to the Mae Hong Son township, hire a bike there then head out on the much more do-able and picturesque Mae Hong Son to Pai road.
Now, plenty of tourists do mount their trusty Honda Dreams and cruise round the Chiang Mai superhighway until they see a Pai/Mae Hong Son sign, and 135 kilometres on the map sounds like a nice easy jaunt. However, do bear in mind that the first half is a very busy six-lane, dead straight highway, where you’ll be buffeted by speeding trucks as you tootle past decidedly un-picturesque gas stations, while the second part, once you’ve turned onto route 1095 at Mae Malai, is non-stop hills, ups and downs and hairpin bends. Even the buses can still take up to five hours so on a Honda Dream …
For inexperienced riders, this can be a very testing route, especially if you’re two to a bike. Our recommendation would be to avoid the cramped minibuses — they’re always cramped since they generally don’t leave until they’re full –and skip the very slow local fan buses, which stop everywhere. Instead, take the comfortable little air-con bus from Arcade bus station, read your book during the first stretch, stop reading and enjoy the scenery on the second part and then stop at Aya Service by Pai bus station to pick up a rental bike for the following morning.
If you’re hiring say a Honda Dream at Aya expect to pay around 100-120 baht per day, but make sure also that you pay for insurance and leave a deposit for a helmet that actually fits you. Doesn’t matter how cool you think you may look with your locks flowing freely in the breeze you will not look at all cool with your brains scattered all over highway 1095. Do not forget to check brakes, tyres, horn, lights, oil and anything else you can feasibly check without dismantling the bike, and if you’re a novice at riding such things take a push-bike instead — this is not the place to learn.
The road from Pai to the even smaller town of Soppong (aka Pang Mapha) is a truly spectacular road with non-stop awesome views and one of the best rides you can do anywhere in Thailand, but again — not to be taken lightly. It’s only some 50 kilometres between the two towns but that’s once again all steep climbs and descents and switchbacks as seen in the above photo.
Allow a couple of hours’ riding time not counting breaks to check out the views. Leaving Pai, the road climbs to a high watershed with views across the mountains as far as the Burmese border. There’s also a few Lisu handicraft stalls and a good coffee shop so it’s a fine spot for a break.
Incidentally we also spotted this huge atlas moth, above, at rest by the coffee shop — well in keeping with the standard of the scenery.
From the mountaintop viewpoint it’s all hairpin bends and switchbacks until you reach the valley approaching Soppong. Soppong’s a fine town to linger so time permitting we’d strongly recommend at least a night or two here before carrying on to Mae Hong Son itself. (See our Soppong guide here.) Next up, Soppong to Mae Hong Son.
By Mark Ord.
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