We’re back in Pai now, having sold our guide book for petrol money and dumping our big backpacks in Chiang Mai. The first time we came here was last week with two friends, on the first leg of the Mae Hong Son loop, a 600km tour around northwestern Thailand very popular with bikers. From the 3-4 hour drive up to Pai it was easy to see why; it was a challenge keeping an eye on the road when surrounded on all sides by stunning mountain views.
Pai divides people because of its modest size and slow pace of life, but we loved it immediately. The night market has the best food we’ve come across and is the only place you can get a post-drink spinach mini lasagne at 1.30am, in my experience. That paired with the quirky hippy types you meet sitting round a campfire provided enough reasons for us to decide to come back again as soon as we could.
Our friends went back to Chiang Mai whilst we continued the loop on our little Yamaha scooters over the next four days. The towns after Pai are a lot more off the beaten track (meaning we could get a room for £2-3 a night, essential since Matt’s placed me on a strict budget after my Christmas spending), but it was really more about the journey than the destination. It feels great to swerve round the winding mountain roads in the sunshine; also to be able to stop and start whenever you want is liberating, for once not at the mercy of bus timetables, with just a small bag of clothes to keep you going. We stopped in the tourist office in Mae Hong Son to get a certificate congratulating us on successfully navigating the 1000-and-something curves on the loop.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. A couple of times we only realised we were low on fuel too late and had to coast along at a snail’s pace until we reached a petrol place. Matt got a weird rash on his hands and legs which a nurse told us looks like being allergic to the pollen or dust in the wind, not ideal halfway through trailblazing the mountains. After reaching Khun Yaum at 4.30pm we decided to carry on for a couple of hours to Mae Sarieng, but we missed the turning for the town, followed a local’s (mis)information and carried along the highway in the wrong direction for 20 minutes before realising something was wrong and turning back. By this point it was very cold, very dark, and we were very much in need of a drink. By the end of the trip my bum hurt from sitting on the stupid bike all day, my eyes hurt from the stupid wind, and I longed to have clean clothes again.
The final day made it worth it though. Pushing our bikes to the very limit we snaked our way up Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain and feasted our eyes on a spectacular view from the temples perched at the top. Once back in Chiang Mai having my backpack and clean clothes seemed like a luxury, something I never thought would happen!
I’d recommend the loop to anyone looking for a bit of adventure, but would suggest doing it clockwise- that way you end up in Pai, my favourite place, and the views from the drive would become more and more impressive as you reach the mountainous North.
Next up for us is a Thai massage course in rural Chiang Mai, which we’ve lovingly dubbed ‘Fat Camp 2013’-12 days with no alcohol and a rice-based vegetarian diet, bound to be torture but hopefully will offset all the beer we’ve been drinking…