Living the Life of Pai

My longest planned journey by bike yet, I woke up Saturday morning and left my big backpack with the guest house I was staying at. Loaded up on supplies and drove off.

In the wrong direction! This is me, of course, I kind of did a semi-circle around from North to East, driving for an hour before I decided that the road signs I was seeing weren’t right. I stopped at a coffee shop with wifi and located myself – abused myself mentally and then double backed, back towards Chiang Mai.

It did give me a chance to stop at a viewing point and have a Korean guy take my photo.

Me sitting on a barrier at one of the viewpoints overlooking Chiang Mai

Me sitting on a barrier at one of the viewpoints overlooking Chiang Mai

The two outer roads in Chiang Mai are one way, with few U-Turn possibilities. I ended up on the right road thanks to a friendly American who spotted me with a map, and I was off! Because of the wrong way fiasco I had to refuel. It’s just two roads to Pai, one is a motorway heading North out of Chiang Mai, then a left turn onto the road of death (RoD), the 1095 from Chiang Mai to Pai! Before the RoD I refuelled to the top, not knowing if I’d get another chance along the way.

The turn off to the 1095 road towards Pai

The turn off to the 1095 road towards Pai

The first stretch of the road is easy going, you can get up to 80 for prolonged periods of time. It’s scattered with small towns and villages either side, and the usual beautiful Thailand scenery. There comes a point however when the roads start getting a bit narrower, and then the curves, bends and twists hit.. Literally every 100 metres, give or take, you will see a warning sign to slow down, that there’s an incline or a decline (is that what the opposite is?) a sharp left, sharp right, hairpin, sharp left then right, or sharp right then left, slow down to 30, etc..

The first stretch of the 1095 road from Chiang Mai to Pai

The first stretch of the 1095 road from Chiang Mai to Pai

This goes on for approximately 70km. I was told it was a two and a half hour ride total, it took me 5 – yeah okay I was being the overly conscious driver that I am, wasn’t doing the 50km/h that I’d heard was possible, even 40 at some of the less tight corners and I was veering into the opposite lane. What beautiful scenery though, wow! The main reason it took me so long was that I was stopping so frequently to photograph the amazing views.

The video above doesn’t really show the curves until around 1 minute in.

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

Beautiful scenery on the road to Pai

At one point a convoy of porsches drove past, around 30 – 40 of them, “Drive of the Year 2013” must be some kind of tour/paid event.

The Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading to Pai

The Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading to Pai

Then when I stopped for a coffee at a really beautifully designed coffee shop an almighty roar of bike engines went past, slowed, turned around and came to the coffee shop, around 20 bikers on racing bikes pulled up so I got the chance to photograph them too.

The beautiful coffee shop on the 1095 road to Pai

The beautiful coffee shop on the 1095 road to Pai

Just some of the sports bikers who stopped at the cafe on the road to Pai

Just some of the sports bikers who stopped at the cafe on the road to Pai

It does get very cold in places though, something I’d yet to experience in the oven-hot temperatures elsewhere in the country.. My hands were numb, I only had (I thought) a jumper with me to go over my measly thin shirt, and my bottoms which are also thin.. So I was stopping and pausing in the few brief glints of sunlight through the mountains just to get my hands back to normal temperature. At most it must have been about 10 degrees, but when you couple in the wind factor from driving, it may have been around 5 in all.

Luckily it was one road though so I didn’t have to pay attention to a lot of signs, except the warning ones. Around 4pm the road got extremely dodgy, hairpin bends downhill one after another. I nearly wiped out on one of them by undercutting the road and ending up on the verge. The verge itself was a couple of inches of tarmac and then a dip, so, very luckily, I was able to right myself and get back onto the road – I stopped and gasped for a second.. got my head right and carried on. Maybe 15 – 20 hairpins later the road evened out, the weather got warmer and I was able to increase my speed.

Even more beautiful scenery came into view, terraced farming communities to the left, not far after hitting the ‘welcome to Pai’ sign, 33km to go. The petrol gauge that was worrying me throughout – as it seemed to go from full to empty super fast, and there’s no stations on the road – seemed to have stuck at half full for about 40km, so I wasn’t panicking so much. The road got even straighter and I was back to doing 80 again for a short while.

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

Terraced farming just outside Pai

The memorial bridge was signposted as being 8km away, and I knew that to be close to the centre of Pai. I stopped there as the sun was dropping and saw people washing themselves in the river and catching fish.

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Man fishing and bathing in the river below the memorial bridge in Pai

Then, before I knew it I was in Pai! What a stunning little place this is.. I felt my blood pressure drop hard as I took in the clean air and golden sunlight vistas. I had to find a place with wifi so I could locate my guest house, and once again it turned out I was very close. I drank my coffee and headed there. Just over a small bridge and a lefft turn I arrived at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows – this place is so perfect, all wood and hammocks, cushioned living, easy going. I was greeted by Sophie the owner’s niece who asked me by my name which was a nice touch. I checked in and was shown around, I was upstairs in the main bungalow in a 4-bed dorm, but as I went up the steps, the balcony overlooking Pai blew me away.

Darling Viewpoint Bungalow upper deck

Darling Viewpoint Bungalow upper deck

Beautiful lights over the pool at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

Beautiful lights over the pool at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

I showered and sat on the balcony camera in hand waiting for the sun to go down over the distant mountains.

Sunset view from the Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

Sunset view from the Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

It was getting dark so I quickly headed into town for supplies and came back to meet the other guests. A huge campfire was lit, and we went and sat on the benches surrounding it, beers in hand, and talked long into the night. It was around 3am before I dragged myself to bed, knowing I’d had to do the long journey back the next day, I was told though that there are 2 waterfalls in the vicinity that are free to go and see, which would also take some time – I’d have to leave for Chiang Mai no later than 12:00 otherwise it would get too cold and potentially dark on the way back.

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

The campfire at Darling Viewpoint Bungalows

I woke up around 8, feeling a bit worse for wear, so had a stodgy breakfast and coffee, and then sat gathering my thoughts. Chatted to the guesthouse owner, Darling, and Peter the husband and Sophie his niece, before checking out, thanking them for the experience and heading to the Mor Paeng waterfall. These were the worst roads I’ve come across yet, potholes the size of two pillows stacked on top of each other, and camoflaged in the shadow of trees, so it was slow going. Passed by one lady who made a ‘cigarette to mouth’ gesture. I was smoking so I presumed she wanted one, I asked and she said “no, ganja?”.. Uhm, no thanks, and on my way.. Another lady up the road gestured the same but I declined, and then before long the waterfall was close.

I arrived to the parking area and a guy, Italian, or French maybe took a dirt track to the left.. Thinking this was the way to the waterfall I went up there, steep as hell, rocky, came close to the guy and asked where the waterfall is, he told me it was back the way I came so I tried to turn the bike around.. what a disaster, the bike toppled left, so I only had control of the accelerator handle, revving the enging all to hell gashing my leg on the way down and worst of all scratching the front fender and left wing mirror slightly (there goes the deposit, or some of it). Cursing myself and in sight of the guy, feeling foolish, leg bleeding and hurting, I picked up the bike and dusted myself off before getting to the parking area.

From the parking area it was a short, but slippery walk to the waterfall, there was a family there and I wasn’t so impressed by the fall itself, but I sat there quietly contemplating life and listening to the water flowing and taking pictures. One of the family’s children was naked so I couldn’t shoot the whole scene, luckily they weren’t in key positions to ruin the photos I took.

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Mor Paeng Waterfall in Pai

It was around 12, so I scrambled back up to the bike, and rode back slowly over the treacherous roads to Pai. I drove around Pai trying to work out which direction Chiang Mai was, eventually found a signpost and followed it, stopping to fully refuel along the way.

HDR

One of the things I really wanted to do whilst in Thailand was experiment with my photography, I’ve done HDR before but I gave up for a long while, with such beautiful scenery around, and having shot most of it on the way up here, I thought on the way back I’d shoot some HDR photos. Cautious that I’d set off for Chiang Mai later than the previous day setting off for Pai, I knew I’d have to hurry up and stop less. Stupidly I’d found the last night that I’d actually packed an extra shirt and pair of trousers, and knowing what it was like on the way up, I wore everything I had for the way back down.

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the view from Darling Viewpoint Bungalows in Pai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

HDR shot of the scenery en route from Pai to Chiang Mai

I also saw the porsches on the return leg of their journey!

One of the Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading back to Chiang Mai

One of the Drive of the Year 2013 Porsches heading back to Chiang Mai

I had another near death experience, some idiot was overtaking on a hairpin, despite the no overtaking signs, I had undercut the curve on the opposite side and couldn’t see what was coming, luckily though I evened out and missed the minivan, both of us going around 30, by a few inches. That was it, no more cutting on to the wrong side to save some time.

My route, wrong at first, from Chiang Mai to Pai and back

My route, wrong at first, from Chiang Mai to Pai and back

Slightly warmer than the last time, though I’m not sure if it was because it was a different level of sunlight at a different time of day, I made it back to Chiang Mai in less than it took me to get to Pai, around 4 and a half hours total.. I went to grab my backpack which luckily still had my laptop and everything in, moved onto my next place, the Mojito Gardens 2, checked in, showered, and relaxed..

How To Lose 500 Baht In A Bangkok Hotel

Here I was, cursing the drunken Welsh tourists yesterday and I have to eat my own hat today..

Last night I was jet-lagged, body-tired, but also excited about being in Thailand. I’d had a few beers – nothing to make me drunk, not by a long shot – couple that with the above and taking some sleeping tablets to knock me out and I was set for a great nights sleep.

Woke up at 5:45 am, the air con was making noise like a windy Lincolnshire night and blissfully cold, but something wasn’t quite right.. I turned over and saw something out of the corner of my eye, felt for it and felt wet – God I hadn’t wet the bed had I?!?! Gingerly sniffed my hand and found it to be beer (phew..) I’d done the old ‘falling asleep with a bottle of half-full (always the optimist) beer in my hand’ trick and paid the price.

White linen, when confronted with Chang beer, goes dark grey!! I was slightly freaking out that it had stained the mattress, so I stripped the bed and sighed at least some relief when I found it hadn’t. I put all the linen on the floor with the towels so it looked like I was being helpful, rather than hiding the evidence.

My sheets at the hotel, after being washed in beer

The linen had to go!

That’s not the worst of it.. Overnight it seems the weight of my laptop on the rather fragile bedside glass-topped table was too much, the 500 degrees heat it puts out the fan probably didn’t help either, it had cracked in two pieces..

Shit!

I tried everything, putting the two pieces together so that you could only notice it side-on, cunningly placing the bedside lamp over it and running the power cable right over the crack. I resigned that I’d probably have to tell someone, but that it didn’t need to be right then, at 6 am..

It was like that when I found it, honest guv

Look, you can’t see it at all!

This also came after a night where I asked for the usual 2-for-1 Chang beers, put one behind the bar, and came back 2 hours later to an innocent look from the person who I thought had served me, calling me out for being a liar! I know I have a bad memory, but these were beers 3 and 4, way before forgetting time.. She gave me the freebie, but when I went back later to get beers 5 and 6, she – via a handy local translator – thought I was asking for 2 free beers, I said that I was prepared to pay for both, of course, but this re-ignited the earlier conversation and I was left with bowing out and saying I’d only have the one, for the 2-for-1 price.. sigh..

I intentionally came on this trip to be respectful.. and In the first two days I’ve vandalised my room and nigh on insulted the staff!

Oh but still, lesson learned and check out the pool, nice!

View from my room to the pool, it's just the right temperature after a hot day out.

View from my room to the pool, it’s just the right temperature after a hot day out.

After watching Nacho Libre badly dubbed in Thai, I went down for breakfast because I couldn’t sleep after all the stress, and – if anything – the air-con was too cold! Breakfast looked decidedly dodgy, all fried egg and salad and some weird meats with noodles.. croissant it was! Did something quite stupid and had the juice and a coffee – not sure if juice is okay to drink if you don’t know the source, so I won’t be doing that again.. 120 Baht (£2.40) for two mini croissants, some juice and a coffee – not that cheap, won’t be doing that again either..

Showered after breakfast and wandered out, the road looked way too suicidally busy to risk crossing

If you're contemplating suicide, try Bangkok's road crossings

If you’re contemplating suicide, try Bangkok’s road crossings

I went further down the road to find a crossing and came across a 7-11, they’re all over the place in Bangkok and I know where I’ll get my shopping from in future.. 8 Baht (16p) for water and 10 Baht (20p) for a bottle of juice (of unknown flavour, it was orange coloured) didn’t check the beer prices but I imagine they’re a lot cheaper than 100 Baht.

Sadly on the way back I witnessed one of Thailand’s big problems, stray dogs.. they’re everywhere, seriously, they don’t seem to bother anyone and no-one seems to bother with them, each one that goes unspayed/neutered though, leads to an exponential increase year after year.

Stray dogs are a huge problem in Bangkok

Just one of many, many stray dogs on the streets of Bangkok

Dogs aren’t the only ones either, stray cats everywhere, though I’ve seen more dogs.

Stray cats are also a big problem in Bangkok

Kitty taking respite from the beating sun

I loaded up the day’s trappings, camera, meds, cash monies etc.. and because of the Skytrain’s 30 second walk from the hotel I thought I’d take a random trip into the centre.. 40 Baht (80p) for a 9 stop ticket, not too bad, not amazingly cheap though either – clocked the Tesco Lotus nearby, will check that out later, looks massive – hopefully I can get some flip-flops there, cause I sure in hell can’t find any anywhere in central Bangkok..

Got on the air-conned Skytrain and found it to be as rammed as the tube, but at least it was cool and I guess rush hour at 8:30 am, then took the 9 stops to Siam. Siam is pretty touristy, you can tell where the tourists go because it’s slightly cleaner and you see more English language everywhere, I’d always thought Siam to be a magical sounding place (turns out Thailand was called Siam before ’39 and after ’45 to ’49.. learn your history Matt!)

Street art in Bangkok

Street art exists in SE Asia too

Street art in Bangkok

More street art in Siam

Seeing only modern looking, English speaking outlets dismayed me a little, but when in Rome – I had a coffee at a rather plush looking coffee shop with free wifi and noticed the cup summed up my journey.

My inspiring coffee cup with an awesome quote

“Welcome to your place, escape from all your worries, sit, relax, sip and surf”

It put me in high spirits to see this obvious portent, I checked the map and planned a route due West towards the river, this was the route I actually took:

My route map in Bangkok, Thailand for the 2nd day

Route that I took, a bit haphazard I’ll grant you

The route I took, kind of on purpose, led me down the real Bangkok streets – you can tell because there’s no English language on anything.. As cities go, it’s not at all like London, it’s dirty, it’s not clean lines and straight angles, there’s loads of vendors on the streets – mostly selling food – and there’s extremely few chains of shops. The power lines are overhead, not underground too:

Overground power lines in Bangkok

Wouldn’t like to accidentally dry my clothes on one of these lines

And there’s an insane amount of shops that put a smile on my face every time:

Goldsmiths are famous worldwide

Halfway round the world, I’m famous!

All-in-all, apart from the odd looks at this ‘farang‘ in their midst, the people were pretty nice – I got stopped a few times by people not trying to sell me anything, just for a chat. This is exactly what I wanted to see, not the polished temple floors, the sanitised hotels or the McDonald’s’s – I wanted to see gritty urban life.

Then you look at the type of shops there, after wandering a while you see so many moped/scooter repairs, parts and sales shops, hundreds of furniture outlets, countless manufacturing places that you get a sense of how they’ve built their economy.

Bangkok petrol prices are cheap

UK drivers beware, the 29.79 baht (60p) per litre is under half what you’re paying in the UK, jealous much?

It’s hectic, it’s noisy, the smells range from tantalisingly tasty, to obnoxious chemical/petrol/industrial smells – there’s something so enthralling about it all. It leaves you wondering just how it all works there. After doubling back on myself, having insane crotch rub from the badly chosen jeans for the day and 4 hours walking in the 33 degrees, I had to go back to the hotel. The closer I got, the more worried I was about the broken glass table..

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Back at the Hotel Imm Fusion Sukhumvit

Made it back to the hotel, past reception without an “Excuse me” straight up to my room and noticed the cleaners were on the same floor as my room.. went in and the bed had been made but the table was moved! Resigned myself to going down after a shower to explain. Didn’t even get in the shower before I got a call from reception saying the cleaners had busted me, so I said I’d go down after the shower, cash in hand to say sorry and pay for the damage.

So there you go, that’s how you lose 500 Baht in a Bangkok hotel – just leave your laptop on and fall asleep.

It’s around 5:30 pm here (10:30 am UK time) and I doubt I’ll be heading out again today, I really need to get my act in gear and work out whether I’m staying in Bangkok another day (at a cheaper hotel/hostel/guest house) or heading down to the islands, maybe I’ll eat out later, check back in a couple days for the next instalment if my laptop doesn’t melt.