View over the shoulder, scooter to Pai

Chiang Mai to Pai on the World’s Slowest Scooter

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“It seems a bit underpowered”, I said.

“No no, it will be ok sir.” came the reply.

“Are you sure? I’m going to Pai, remember.”

“It will be ok. Good bike.”

Good bike my ass.

I would have been better off on roller skates.

I’d already swapped bikes once due to dodgy brakes and was keen to finally hit the road, so with one last dubious look at the guy from the rental shop I drove slowly away. Drove slowly away. Take note of that word. You’ll be hearing it a lot.

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai in the mountains of northern Thailand is famous for two things: scenery and vomit. The 140km length apparently contains 762 bends, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard at least as many motion-sickness stories from shaken backpackers who thought the cheap minibus option sounded like a great idea.

Three hours in a motorised barf bag didn’t sound like my idea of a good time, so it was time for option B. The mighty Honda Click. I believe the “Click” refers to the noise it makes when you twist the throttle round as far as it goes. An extremely regular occurrence. Not that it makes much difference to your speed, mind you.

A short trip through Chiang Mai’s old town and we were heading north along the traffic-choked highway toward Mae Rim. Lauren, my partner in crime / masochism on this ride, pointed out I seemed a little less confident throwing this bike around compared to our previous excursion up to Doi Suthep. No surprise really, given the damn thing took about a month to reach cruising speed.

Sharp curve

Sucking down exhaust fumes while weaving between buses and pickup trucks for 40km was about as much fun as it sounds, so it was a blessed relief to turn onto route 1095. The traffic disappeared in a heartbeat and suddenly we were back to the unbridled joy of two wheels, wide-open spaces and the gorgeous scenery of this part of the world.

And then we hit the hills.

The comfortable 50-60km/h pace we’d been maintaining started to wane. No problem, I thought. Slower is always safer in this part of the world after all — the multitude of backpackers around town with road rash serves as a sobering daily reminder.

Down to 40km/h we dropped. And then 30. Hmmm. The bike’s transmission, which hadn’t exactly been quiet to start with, really started to complain. That was slightly concerning, but hey, it hadn’t blown up yet, the views were still spectacular, and the slower we went the more we got to enjoy them … right?

This was about the point we saw the ‘steep incline’ signs.



So everything up until then had been a gentle slope, then?

Below 20km/h we went. 15km/h was a perfectly acceptable speed apparently. It certainly gave us plenty of time to chat about the weather… our travels… perhaps read War and Peace. Twice. Backwards. While waving at the little old ladies on crutches overtaking us.

Eventually (and I do mean eventually) the road flattened out and we got back to a more acceptable pace. Just in time to hit a few small potholes. Nothing major at all for any normal bike… but this was no normal bike.

So just to keep things interesting, the front of the scooter fell off.

Front of scooter

With a sudden clatter, an entire plastic section went skittering off down the road behind us. Now I’m no expert, but I didn’t think that was an expected feature of most motorbike rides. We wheeled round to pick it up, to the bemused chuckle of an elderly woman who had come out to see what all the noise was about. At least we could keep people entertained.

There was no way that thing was going to stay attached any longer, so Lauren got to add to the camera, biscuits, water bottle and god knows what else she was already balancing between us on the bike. With the amount of crap we were carrying, I reckon we were about ready to be mistaken for locals. All we needed was a couple of car tires, three kids and a goat on the front and we were set.

Thankfully the last hour of the ride was less dramatic, at least in terms of destroying the bike. The view, however, just got better and better. After splashing another litre of gas in the tank via a roadside stall and a soft drink bottle, we coasted down the final mountain and into Pai, tired, hungry and buzzing with adrenaline. It had been an amazing day, and we were both grinning from ear to ear.

There is simply no better way to get from Chiang Mai to Pai than on a motorbike. Period.

Just try to get one that can accelerate.

And not fall to pieces.

A few tips for making the most of your ride from Chiang Mai to Pai

  • Make sure the bike is up to the task, and don’t be afraid to change it if you’re not sure. Mine was, but only just – it would have been an even more enjoyable ride with more power and less bits falling off. Manual is better than automatic.
  • Despite what some people will tell you, the ride is perfectly safe if you have some experience riding scooters. Take it slow (I didn’t have a choice), give yourself plenty of time and take several breaks. Don’t leave Chiang Mai any later than 11am, and earlier if you’re planning on visiting the towns and waterfalls along the way.
  • The road is generally in good condition and far from treacherous when dry. Having said that, there are plenty of small potholes in sections, so make sure you’re going slow enough (especially downhill) to see and avoid them if you’d prefer to survive the journey intact.
  • Keep as far left as you can. The side of the road is your only escape route from other traffic.
  • Don’t ride at night, because that’s just insane.
  • Make sure you’ve got travel insurance in the event of an accident.
  • Have your camera to hand. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • Keep an eye on your fuel gauge as you may not make it on one tank, and the last official petrol station is well before the half way mark when coming from Chiang Mai.
  • Relax and enjoy the ride. With a few basic precautions it will be one of the most fun motorbike trips you ever have.

Where We Stayed

In Pai we stayed atย Pai Chan, which was a delightful little place with several bungalows in the rice fields just outside town.

Read more about it (and Pai in general) here.

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  1. I hired a similar 125cc honda buzzing around chiang rai province. i mean, the from mae salong, to mae sai, and the golden triangle, traversing along mekong river and what not… 1 week trip! nothing fell off ๐Ÿ˜€

    it was an OK place, and yes hafta get to gear 1 on steep inclines. but hell yeah, its a very robust thingy

    – did some hilltribe visits on it
    – went offroad on it
    – passed through a small stream on it

    came back to chiang rai with the rental owner gawking with my stories. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Sounds like an amazing trip! I was just saying to someone yesterday that I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in that part of Thailand for a longer trip sometime soon … there’s so much more to see past Pai!

      1. I followed travelfish recommendation…. “doing the chiang rai loop on a bike”

        It was surely awesome. I had my ups and downs of riding, and blazing through visibility of only 10m, windy and cold mountain rain was crazy enough. Even the locals called me crazy for doing something like it LOL.

    1. Some friends that came up a couple of days later managed to blow a belt on their bike on the way up, so it seems to be a requirement for the trip to Pai ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Ride 50 miles on a 1980’s suzuki fa50. 49cc’s and top speed of 28 (when it was new) took quite a while with the hills in my area. didn’t mean it wasnt fun though. was probably a worn or glazed clutch. If its a CVT motor, not hard to do and easy to fix if you have the know-how.

  3. Dave,
    Hysterical story and I love how you wrote it up. I only wish I could have been walking beside you and filmed the entire experience. I am sure it could have made for great video.

    We are considering heading to Pi next week and were just talking today about whether to take a scooter. Your post convinced us and we’ll be renting one with plenty of power and will ensure the plastic appears ready to stay intact for a few more days.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. You could probably have been crawling beside us and still filmed the entire experience to be honest… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Def. take a scooter there – it’s so much more fun than the minibus, – that’s what the jealous (and slightly green) faces staring out the van windows at us were suggesting, at least!

  4. Sounds like quite an adventure! We took buses or car transportation everywhere in Chaing Mai and its surrounds, however renting the Honda adds quite a bit to the journey!

  5. I wish I’d heard the stories about the minibuses before we got on one. Our trip up to Pai was not nearly as pleasant as yours. (So bad, we actually considered flying back to Chiang Mai.)
    Our traveling party was responsible for all the barf in our motorised barf bag. But what really annoyed me was the windows were so small and low (with curtains) that you couldn’t see anything at all. The whole way up the only view we got to enjoy was the vomit bags tied to the handle of the seat in front of us.

  6. Pingback: Why Pai doesn't suck | Too Many Adapters
  7. thanks for the advice. We are heading from Pai to Chiang Mai on two mopeds with our two little boys cruising on the back:) searching around the internet to make sure we weren’t too crazy. I guess we will find out tomorrow!

  8. Even with the rough bits you still make touring around on two wheels look really fun. So I’m guessing you did a multi day rental in Chiang Mai for the scooter? What are the options for rentals, the bike I have in the states is a 150cc manual and it’s been good for me so far, anything like that there?

    1. Yup, I rented that bike for 4 days or so, I think. I ended up renting one by the month after that, as I was in Chiang Mai for quite a while. There are plenty of 110cc and 125cc options, both automatic and manual, available to hire for as long as you like. Expect to pay around $5 a day or so depending on the bike, less if you rent for longer periods.

      While I saw a few 150cc scooter options in Vietnam, I don’t really remember seeing any in Thailand. They may well still exist, of course, but I don’t remember them if so.

  9. Alright there matey! I’m planning to do just what you did on the bike ride from Chiang Mai to Pai on a motorbike/scooter.. I’m going to start getting some practice in as have never ridden one before. I’m from the UK but currently living and working in South Korea, on Jeju Island. Amazing place if you ever get to visit Asia this way.
    Anyway, do you reckon it’s the best way to see a bit of the north as opposed to taking a domestic flight? I’m only there for a week so wanted to get in as much as possible. Also, did you have to do the same journey back to return the bike? How long did it take it total? I should probably just read your other comments.
    Take it easy and hope things have sped up since then ha haaa

    1. Well, the ride from Chiang Mai to Pai is only around 4 hours or so (depending on how slow your scooter is, of course!). I rode back to Chiang Mai a few days later – I was living there at the time, so it wasn’t a hardship. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. We’ve planned to make this trip over and over again, but always been put off by people warning us against it.. So reading that you did it on a crappy Honda Click is great – our bike is only a 125cc, but I reckon it might just be up to the challenge.

    1. You should be totally fine on a 125cc. I should have been fine on that 110cc Click … except I think it last saw a mechanic in the Clinton era. ๐Ÿ˜›

  11. Very nice story. Since I am living in Bangkok since many years I did more than 70,000 km on motorbike / scooter in Thailand. Would strongly recommend NOT to use 125cc scooter for 2 passengers for touring. One passenger per bike & luggage ist fine. I did it already with my Yamaha Mio 125. No problems at all. But currently my main bike for touring is Honda Forza 300. We all ride alone on one bike WITHOUT 2nd passenger. Just my 2 cent.

    1. Of course, for proper (long distance/multi week) touring, you want a bigger bike, and/or separate bikes. For smaller trips in SE Asia, though, a 125cc scooter is fine if you travel light and don’t try to do 300+ km in a day. I’ve done a couple of 8-10 day trips, with passenger, in Thailand and Vietnam on scooters of 125cc or less, and although it’s not necessarily the most comfortable (especially for the passenger), it’s perfectly do-able if you keep the daily distances down.