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The Long and Winding Road To Pai!

Making our way by scooter to Pai, Thailand

 

We started out later than we had planned, as is our usual custom, and had our bags packed, our scooter fueled and our kickstand lifted by 11:01am. We were going to make the long drive from Chiang Mai to Pai and conquer all 762 winding, hairpin, narrow turns through the mountains… on a 125cc scooter.

Now, if you haven’t yet read anything about the drive to Pai let us tell you that most of the stories we read had us second guessing our decision to drive there ourselves several times before we actually left. Most of what we read suggested taking a bus or minibus but warned that due to the winding nature of the road, motion sickness is common, and the drivers will not stop if you feel the need to vomit (Check out our Daily Digital of a sign we saw after a particularly curvy stretch of road).

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We read comments about doing the trek yourself via motorbike stating it was “dangerous but beautiful”, “littered with potholes”, “watch out for oil slicks left by the trucks”, amongst others. We also read that travelling via motorbike is possible, allows you to stop and enjoy the scenery at your own pace and while requiring some caution, a confident motorbike driver should be okay. These all had us debating for quite some time about how we wanted to approach our trip to Pai.

Before we left for Thailand, everyone we met who had been already told us that we absolutely had to see Pai. This small mountain town was apparently THE place to go. So we knew we had to get there somehow and we figured if we were going to make the harrowing journey through the mountains, we might as well do it on our own time and our own way. So, on a scooter we went.

We were fortunate to have made friends with the host at the Airbnb we stayed at in Chiang Mai and he told us he would store some of our stuff at his place so we wouldn’t have to carry all of our belongings with us on the drive. As it was, he was concerned about the weight we were carrying on the scooter.

We were able to make our way with just one of our 45L backpacks with our belongings and our small carry-on backpack with our computer and camera equipment. Loaded up, we set off to find highway 1095 and the route through the mountains to Pai with Macrae driving, the equipment at his feet, and Carolann behind with the backpack strapped to her back.

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Since we were coming from South of the city, we first had to make it through the traffic and construction bordering the Chiang Mai. It was a bit hectic and busy, but it wasn’t too bad and we kept moving at a pretty good pace. We were only driving for about 30-45 minutes before we decided to finally grab some breakfast and stopped at a rest stop just shy of the 1095.

Not far down the road we also gassed up in preparation for the drive and in anticipation of limited opportunities to do so along the way. We were excited but also a bit anxious to tackle this daunting route. Highway 1095 started off fairly easy. Long, smooth turns through small villages with little incline.

At some point we started to climb. Steeper now, the bends got sharper, the lanes more narrow and the potholes were more prevalent. We enjoyed the fresh air and being able to chat with each other when we weren’t both silently enjoying the scenery.

We made sure to take breaks every once in a while to drink some water and give our backsides a rest and usually found spots with a viewpoint where we could snap a few photos or just take in the view.

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Want A Full Guide To Pai And How To Get There?


 

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It was less than half way into the drive when the road began to really get tricky. The turns were 90 degree or more, often hairpin and usually on an incline, either up or down. The traffic around us also presented another obstacle. The road was basically one lane each way the entire way.

Obviously our 125cc scooter wasn’t going to compete with pretty much any of the other vehicles on the road and so we were constantly trying to give way to those faster moving buses, vans, cars and motorcycles. Then there was the oncoming traffic. We read that the minibuses were fast and erratic and this definitely wasn’t exaggerated.

What wasn’t mentioned was that they take the corners so fast, they often move into the other, oncoming traffic, lane. Not only were we watching for the traffic behind us and the road ahead of us, we also needed to be vigilant of the cars coming at us from around each bend.

Macrae made sure to take it slow and careful and it really only took a short time to get used to being mindful of it all.

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There’s always time for a coffee break

Besides winding roads, there is one other thing you’ll most certainly notice along this mountain road: Coffee shops. For some reason, they are quite prevalent throughout the mountain areas and we passed by quite a few before we finally reached the centre of Pai.

Deciding we needed a break, we stopped at one and took about a half an hour to rest. The road is quite bumpy and you can try to evade the potholes all you like but you’re bound to hit a few. Even on a smooth stretch of road, an hour and a half of driving and your butt is going to feel it, so add in quite a few bumps and potholes and you’ll be hurting in no time.

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We jumped back on, refreshed and ready to keep going. Since there aren’t any gas stations on the stretch of 1095 between Chiang Mai and Pai, we gassed up where we could in a small hillside stand with a makeshift gas pump set up by the locals.

We had passed a few stands before with bottles of gas and while we figured there’d be a few more along the way we didn’t want to take the chance since there are quite lengthy stretches of road between one village area and the next.

It’s difficult to judge your gas consumption by distance because of the terrain you have to drive. The other thing we were worried about was whether our gas meter was correct as this was a rental and we weren’t too familiar with how empty, empty is.

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A little detour – Pong Duad Geyser

Not too long after we fueled up we came across a sign for a geyser. It said it was only 6km off the road and we figured, why not? Taking the narrow dirt road we headed on our adventure not really knowing what we had got ourselves into.

When we say dirt road, we mean dirt road, and after driving down a few steep hills we got a little concerned about whether or not the bike would make it back up again. Avoiding more large potholes, ditches and rocks, we drove through the forest for what seemed like a very long time. 6km can be a long drive on a small scooter, taking some of the hills at 20km/hr.

When we finally made it to the next sign, it was a ticket booth for the Huay Nam Dang National Park in which we would find the geyser. At 200THB ($7 CDN) per person for a foreigner, we felt the admission was a little steep for Thailand, especially as the price for a Thai was only 50THB. We have come to expect paying a farang (foreigner) price versus the usually much cheaper local price, but it still bothers us every time.

After the drive all the way there, we really couldn’t turn back without actually seeing this geyser, so we paid and drove into the park.

The National Park was actually quite pretty. Nice scenic paths, hot springs, and of course, the geyser. Since it was getting later in the day and we wanted to make it to Pai before sunset, we decided to only worry about seeing what we had initially come to see.

After walking the almost 1km path through the forest, we were hot and bug bitten and unnaturally excited to see our first geyser. Pong Duad Geyser is only about 25 feet wide and 15 feet long. Smelling of sulfur while bubbling and steaming, it was actually a pretty cool thing to see.

While we didn’t get any time in the hot springs down the way, the geyser provided us with a nature-made sauna while we took photos.

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The last stretch of the drive to Pai

Since it was so hot and sticky, we didn’t stay too long and headed back to our bike to finish the drive. The rest of the way saw the same kind of winding, narrow roads as before. At one point in time we were climbing a rather steep hill when our scooter, full throttle, decided it could only handle about 15km/hr. There we were slowly chugging up hill as cars past us, wondering if the bike was going to make it or give out.

We stopped just to see if it needed a bit of a break from the heat and the strain of trying to get the two of us and our belongings up and around so many inclines. We both held our breath as we turned the key to try it again and fortunately it started up again and seemed to have the pep it was previously lacking. We laughed a little afterwards at what we must of looked like, eyes focused on the road ahead, two helmeted individuals bouncing on along the hill on this little scooter going absurdly slow.That had to be the most challenging part of our entire journey.

After that we had no difficulties with the bike. We did see one scooter wipe out about 20 minutes outside of Pai. We were driving up a rather steep curve when these two bikes came flying down. A few seconds later another two followed and the one in the front wiped out and hit the guardrail. We stopped to make sure he was okay and waited until the first two friends of his came back.

He was fine, scratched up and bruised, but it could have been worse. It was fortunate he went into the guardrail and not oncoming traffic (essentially us at that point) and that there was a guardrail to begin with as some parts are without which means a very long drop down the mountain. You could tell that the curve was an especially tricky one as the guardrail looked pretty mangled from past collisions.

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After that, we drove even more cautious but made our way smoothly back down to Pai. It wasn’t long after we saw the first sign welcoming us to Pai and the first of the rice paddy fields that it started to rain. We quickly donned our ponchos but shortly after that the torrential downpour began. We pulled over and sought some refuge from the rain in one of the coffee shops along the road and waited it out.

We had made the drive, conquered the 762 turns and now only had to wait out the rain before we could make our way safely into the center of town and enjoy all that Pai had to offer.

Read about our tips for getting from Chiang Mai to Pai, no matter your method of transportation as well as our suggestions on: Where to Eat, Where to Stay, and What to Do in Pai!

Have you ever conquered a difficult journey? Comment below and let us know all about it!

You can follow our journey by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and signing up for our mailing list!

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Daily Digital – Happy Halloween From Thailand!

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So, it’s not exactly a Halloween costume but we thought it is pretty fitting to be posting our first photo of our scuba outfit on Halloween and it’s also the closest thing we’ve got to a costume. That’s right. We’ve decided to get our open water scuba diving certification. As we mentioned in our anniversary post yesterday (see here), we chose to stay on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand for our anniversary for various reasons, one of which was how we chose to celebrate. That would be scuba diving!

We figured since we are travelling and trying to see as much of the world as possible, why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to get certified and see an entirely different part of the world.

Koh Tao not only has amazing sunsets and sunrises, it is also well known by tourists for scuba diving and many people come here specifically for that reason. It’s one of the top places to dive and get certified and it has some of the most amazing dive sites (or so we’ve been told!).

We’re just in the final stages of our certification. We’ve completed the practical component (just finished our written test so wish us luck!) and we’ve got two more dives left in the morning. Already, with only 3 dives, we’ve seen some amazing things underwater. Our course is through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and the Scuba Shack in Koh Tao, Thailand and we’ve been having one incredible experience with our dive team (shout out to our amazing instructor James and the rest of our diving team!)

We’ll be posting more on our scuba diving experience and what it was like for us as first time divers soon. We can’t wait to see what more the blue has to show us!

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Our Anniversary Destination Is…

Today we are foregoing our Daily Digital as we are taking the time to celebrate our anniversary – which leads us to revealing on which island we chose to celebrate our 2nd anniversary. The island is…

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Koh Tao!!

 

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Alright, you’re probably wondering why Koh Tao was chosen. We’ve already been talking about being on the island; we’ve actually been here for a few days. It wasn’t even on the top of the voter’s list for where everyone else thought we should go. So why did we stick around to be here on our anniversary? Well, there are several reasons why this island won out above the rest.

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For one, just looking at the pictures tells you a bit about how gorgeous this island is. We’ve seen amazing sunsets everyday and, when we had a chance, a great sunrise. It just doesn’t get any better than watching these over the water of a beautiful beach. The island itself is quite spectacular. The beach by our hotel (pictured above) makes for a great afternoon or evening stroll when the tide is low and the rest of the island has several beaches you can go to during the day that make you feel like you are in paradise, such as Sai Daeng Beach.

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Secondly, the life of the island is so laid back and relaxed we aren’t in any hurry to leave, but it also has a good mix of entertainment and nightlife . It may be the beginning of high season but it hasn’t felt too busy or crowded yet. We are in a great little area for food (but really, where in Thailand isn’t good for food?) and if we chose, we could easily find a bar on, or off, the beach in which to spend the night socializing.

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Third, we changed our travel plans for the remainder of Thailand (more to come) and so it suited us best to stay on this side of the South, reducing costs and travel time as opposed to going to the other side or up to Koh Chang area.

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While all of these contributed to us settling on Koh Tao, the main reason has to do with how we chose to celebrate our anniversary. We’ll be posting about our anniversary celebration tomorrow, and we don’t want to give it away, but we will say that it is related to our Halloween celebrations as well.

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We’re incredibly excited to celebrate our 2nd anniversary in such an amazing place with such stunning views and can’t wait to share more about our time on the island! Thanks to everyone who voted and helped us decide. We were leaning toward what the majority was going for but in the end it was Koh Tao that offered us the best options for our anniversary.

Stay tuned to hear about our anniversary celebration! If you’d like to follow our journey, don’t forget to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and join our mailing list!

 

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Daily Digital – Shark Island, Koh Tao

 

We decided that while we loved exploring the area of Koh Tao we were staying in, we wanted to be able to see more of it and find some other beaches. Renting a scooter once again, we hopped on and made the drive along the coast from where we were on Sairee Beach. We started seeing signs for Sai Daeng Beach and decided to check it out. Up some rather steep hills we wound our way off the main road and down even more hills. As we were going down one particularly steep incline we both looked up, at what seemed to be the same time, and saw a gorgeous view of the water and of a small rocky island in the distance. Stopping abruptly, we took a few photos before continuing to drive. We reached a “Park here. Do no drive down” sign before a ridiculously steep hill so we parked as we were told and walked, carefully, on foot for a couple minutes until we reached a fairly private, beautiful beach with a great view of that island.

The rocky island we were looking at was Shark Island. Fortunately, and despite what we initially thought, the island is not named after the sea creatures dwelling nearby. Also known as Red Rock, it is named Shark Island due to it’s shark fin shape. It is a popular location for divers, as many different fish can be found, and on days with good visibility, snorkelers.

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Daily Digital – Beautiful Sunrise On The Gulf of Thailand

 

After a few days in Bangkok, we decided it was about time we headed South to the islands. We reviewed a few of our options. We could either take a flight, a bus or a train to catch a ferry over to Koh Tao, an island off the East coast of Thailand. We settled on the night bus from Bangkok to Chumphon where we would catch the ferry. We figured that we’d lose less time by travelling overnight and it was a cheaper option than a flight. We also had a pretty decent overnight bus ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and were hopeful we’d have a similar experience. We didn’t.

The bus was narrower and taller so it swayed a lot; the air-conditioning was on full blast and dropped the bus to near freezing temperatures; the seats were leather so we slid with every bump; and there were plastic blocks protruding from either side of the headrests. Needless to say we didn’t get a lot of sleep and when the bus dropped us off for the ferry at 5am, 2 hours before it was set to leave, we realized sleep was going to be a long ways away.

The bus ride, the wait for the ferry, and the sleepless night, was all worth it when, shortly after 6am, we started to see the first hints of dawn breaking. Stepping out onto the small beach by the ferry pier we watched one of the most beautiful sunrises over the water. It was an amazing start to the day and our time in Southern Thailand. Most of all, it made us realize that some of the most amazing things can be found at the end of a rocky path.

 

What amazing thing have you found at the end of a rocky path? Comment below and let us know!

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Daily Digital – Elephants of Thailand

The treatment of the elephants of Thailand presents somewhat of a puzzle. Loved and revered in Buddhist teachings, these animals are still overworked and abused into submission in many parts of Northern Thailand. Used as workers, especially for logging, they are also an integral part of Thai culture and history, evident in the sculptures and statues in many temples, and contributed to the construction of Thailand itself.

Recently, their value has extended to tourism. Many of the elephant camps established to attract tourists use chains, bull hooks and saddles for riding and force them to work all day for little reward. Very few true sanctuaries exist, and even still, most of those that aim to let the elephants live free still rely on the tourist industry in order to survive. This means that even though they are technically free to roam and without the chains seen in other camps, these beautiful creatures must still obey their Mahouts (trainers) and pander to the whim of the tourists.

In contrast to the camps though, as we saw when we visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, they are fed well, taken care of and doted upon by the visitors each day. It does seem as though more and more tourists are conscious of the poor treatment of the elephant and are opting to go to places where they are treated better. Many still choose the trekking and elephant camps in order to have the experience of riding these beautiful creatures seemingly unaware, or unconcerned, about how they are treated. Many return saddened by what they see.

If you ever attend a camp or sanctuary, be sure to take a look into their expressive eyes – you’ll find all you need to know about how they are being treated.

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Daily Digital – Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Throughout our time in Beijing, we were continually amazed by the sheer size of everything. The expanse of Tiananmen square, the crowded busy maze of the Beijing night markets and the intensity of the city itself. We found so much history and culture from the Great Wall of China to the local neighbourhoods and streets. Our visit to the Temple of Heaven was no exception.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is actually a complex of several religious buildings, one of which is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This colourful circular building set on a marble base was where the Emperor would pray for good harvests. While it burned down in the late 1800s, it was rebuilt again and made entirely out of wood, without a single nail. Within the complex of walkways and beautiful gardens also stand the Imperial Vault of Heaven, The Circular Mound Altar and the Echo Wall. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the grounds and trying to see these buildings as they would have been when they were at their prime. It ended up being a rainy and overcast day when we visited and while it was still busy, we were able to have a little more space than usual to take photos and look at the various exhibits in the different buildings. A popular attraction for tourists, even on rainy days, The Temple of Heaven is a massive testament to the Chinese traditions of centuries past.

 

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Bangkok: A City Of Contrasts…And Tuk Tuks

 

We heard mixed reviews about Bangkok before getting here. Few said they loved it; many said to get out as soon as we could. Macrae, having already been to this city, hadn’t been left with any strong urges to go back. During our stay here, though short, we’ve grown a little fond of this massive city.

Perhaps it’s because we have only stayed such a short time or perhaps we’ve observed the city with an especially open mind after being in Beijing and getting a taste of what a “big, dirty city” can really be like.

Like Beijing, there are parts of Bangkok that are clean and upscale, and like Beijing, there are parts that are far from it. That’s probably what you’ll find in any large metropolis.

Here, there are a sea of cars with seemingly erratic drivers (we’re pretty sure we saw at least fifty near-misses on the road in a period of 60 seconds); Tuk Tuks (like a motorbike powered rickshaw) stopping to see if you need a ride almost constantly (“Tuk Tuk!?” “Tuk Tuk!?”); and puddles of unknown origin popping up along the sidewalks (even when it hasn’t rained).

But all these negatives about Bangkok: the traffic, the tourist scams, the crazy nightlife and wild stories, the unidentified liquids, are all tempered by Thai culture and Thai people.

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Even here in Bangkok, there is a genuine kindness and willingness to help. While there are still scams and tourist traps galore, we’ve found that a vast majority of people are quick to offer help, free of charge. Overall, the people are still friendly, like they were in the North, while perhaps a bit more jaded by the big city life.

We’ve found that the rule of thumb in Thailand still stands in Bangkok: smile at a Thai and they will smile back. The subway and sky-train system isn’t too difficult to navigate and provide a great alternative to taking a taxi or tuk tuk. There are amazing street food vendors, markets and small local restaurants and although you will pay slightly more than the North, you can find decently priced food that almost certainly tastes great.

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We’ve only spent a couple days in Bangkok so we’ve barely seen any of what the city has to offer and while a majority of people told us a couple days would be more than enough, we’ve got to say we’re sad to go.

Walking down the less touristy streets you’ll find this perfectly blended combination of ancient Wats, blackened and run-down buildings and new constructions. A mix between old, older and new beginnings. We’d love to explore more of the complexities of the city but perhaps we’ll get a chance another time.

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There’s more to Bangkok than the wild parties and scenes from “The Hangover 2”. We think if you look close and with an open mind you’ll find Bangkok is actually an amazing part of Thailand and you don’t need to be in a tourist hub to find that’s the case.

It may be through a visit to a temple, a stroll through a market or a cruise down the river. For us, it was simply walking along the streets, seeing the contrasts and the unexpected. We’ve had one of our best meals of all time here, been to one of the world’s largest markets, and even had a few less than stellar experiences. More of those contrasts.

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If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and are questioning whether Bangkok is worth the stop, our answer would be yes. It may not be our favourite place in Thailand but it is certainly worth the visit. So yes, we’re sad to leave but we’re happy to have come here and to mark it on our list of places to which we need to return.

 

Have you been to Bangkok? What was your first impression? Comment below and let us know!

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Daily Digital: Best Burgers In Bangkok

 

It had been almost two weeks since Carolann had mentioned she was craving a burger. We’d had an amazing burger in Pai, Thailand, at a restaurant called Burger Queen and that had tied us over for our cravings of “Western” food for a little while. So when we discovered BBB (BangkokBurgerBlog.com) Carolann was pretty hopeful we’d get a chance to have one in Bangkok. With our budget and a few unexpected expenses, we were facing our last night in the city without an all beef patty and had put it out of our minds.

Through a friend of the family, we learned of a young Canadian teaching in Bangkok and decided to contact him and see if he wanted to meet up and grab a bite to eat or a coffee and chat. We decided on dinner and he said he knew of a great little, reasonably-priced, Thai restaurant nearby. Almost as soon as we stepped out from the cover of the subway station, it started to pour. Mentioning a few alternative options, the words “great” and “burger” caught our attention. We quite suddenly changed our plans, hopped in a taxi and headed for Firehouse, a tourist-favourite for burgers.

Between the two of us we ordered the mushroom burger and the angus steak burger. Messy and delicious, they came with wedge fries and homemade pickles and definitely satisfied the weeks of cravings. If you’re in Bangkok and looking to satisfy a burger-craving or just find something reminiscent of home, Firehouse would be a great place to start.

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Daily Digital – The Ancient Ruins Off Highway 118

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Pretty much wherever you go in Thailand, you’re bound to stumble upon a Wat (or temple). It seems as though there’s one everywhere you look. This was no different on our drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Thailand. We had passed several signs for Wats up on hills, or in towns but it was this one that was located right off of Highway 118 that caught our eye and made us stop. Literally several metres off the highway, Wat Pong Nam Ron looks like deserted ruins. Upon closer investigation it seems as though this temple has been, and is undergoing, restoration. We tried hard to find any additional information on this temple but were unable to identify it’s history or significance. What we did discover is that just down the highway lies three natural hot springs which we had somehow missed completely. We did notice what looked, and smelled, to be geysers on the way back but it was nighttime, we were cold and we’d been driving for several hours and just wanted to get back to Chiang Mai and to our accommodations. Driving on our scooter we’ve been able to see so many fascinating things and relish in all the surprises Thailand has to offer.