For the second time on our 'Great Adventure', Amelia and I geared ourselves up for a motorbike trip to Pai. This time it was going to be a little different though... this time we had ourselves a convoy! Ron being the keen biker he is, was thrilled to embark on the route which includes 762 mountainous turns. Jo also expressed enthusiasm for our motorbike adventure, but I got the feeling she was wondering how she might cope on the back of a motorbike for hours on end!
Tony's Big Bikes forewarned us that road 1095 to Pai was being resurfaced so the conditions weren't exactly ideal. But with our minds set, deposit settled and accommodation arranged, we decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it.
Geared up and with our lids on and panniers packed, we set off early to make sure we had plenty of time to manage the roads and factor in frequent stops. To haul along Jo's countless pairs of footwear and a bottle of rum (for our obligatory sundowners), Ron opted for the 650cc Kawasaki Versys. Whereas I chose the slightly less powerful but 'bulletproof' Honda CB500X, which to Amelia's delight had a much comfier seat than the previous motorbike we used back in May.
Chiang Mai was much busier than our previous visit in May and the traffic was chocker! But even with our panniers on we were mostly able to 'scrape' through the rows of cars, songthaews and tuk tuks to get on our way. Once we got out of the city the traffic eased and it wasn't long before we made our turn onto the 1095 that leads to Pai.
With Ron's intercom installed onto Jo and Amelia's helmets, they were able to natter away to each other, whilst Ron and I could enjoy the first section of the 1095. As well as being able to have some unconventional 'mother and daughter time', Jo used it for calling 'timeout' (needing a break to stretch legs) and Amelia would on occasion relay direction changes to Ron.
The first stop was at 'Orange Box Cafe' for a coffee and snack in the form of gingerbread men (a treat Jo had bought from home). The place had a lovely setting, but we didn't spend a lot of time there before hopping back on the bikes. Well I can't say the term 'hopping' applied to Jo, as she had only managed to get a foothold on Ron's bike before we were all ready and raring to hit the road. It was quite comical seeing Ron brace himself and the bike each and every time Jo limbered up and clambered onto her seat. Obviously we offered support and did our best to help Jo.. by filming it all on camera!
It wasn't long before we took another break, but this time for a look at 'Mork Fa' - an impressive waterfall even during the dry season. The last time the four of us took a trek through a wooded area of Thailand, Jo pretty much came face to face with a king cobra! Unfortunately we had no such luck during this occasion, so decided to hit the road once again.
Despite being told about the road conditions, I hoped against all odds for it to be better than we'd been told. Sadly my optimism wilted away when I saw the state of the roads after Mork Fa. In preparation for the new tarmac, most of the old surface had been excavated to expose a dusty potholed mess! Even the cars were struggling on the surface, so with two less points of contact we had to be ultra careful to avoid getting any unwanted 'road-rash'! The conditions varied throughout much of the journey - from a loose gravelly surface to fresh greasy asphalt. Ron and I agreed that both surfaces were treacherous, but at least the new surface gave my lungs a respite from the harsh dust trails left by the lorries. I was the only one without a visor on my helmet, which wasn't ideal, but without the dust it would've been fine.
We sought refuge from the awful roads at a tucked away roadside eatery. They cooked us up some delicious 'pad kra pow' (stir fried minced meat with chilli and holy basil) for lunch, along with a few refreshing drinks to wet our whistles. It was definitely a welcomed break.
Thereafter we got our heads down, so to speak, and didn't stop for another break in over an hour and a half! By which time we were well over half way. Luckily it was all literally down hill from our last but brief stop, and to our relief they hadn't been tampered with yet. As a result the surface was much more predictable so riding was far more enjoyable.
There was a mix of elation and relief as we arrived down into Pai with the 762 turns behind us. Ron's wrists in particular were feeling the pressure after a long downhill stint, but navigator Amelia knew we were pretty much there. So we carried on and got to our hotel in good time (around six hours for total journey)! Considering all the pee breaks, leg stretching stops and site seeing we did along the way, it was very good going.
Our hotel 'Kung Kang de Pai' left us a little stunned as we rolled through the gravelly entrance, with its 'candy' themed styling it felt the set of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' or 'Alice in Wonderland'! It was very unusual and a little on the tired side, but the main thing was the rooms were nice, clean and comfortable.
Although the hotel had a pool, Jo and Amelia were reluctant to take a dip as it was a tad chilly! I on the other hand dived straight in and felt like a new man after our long dusty bike trip.
That evening, after a few well deserved sundowners, we caught the hotel's free, but unreliable, shuttle to town for dinner at 'Tik's Kitchen'. It was definitely a case of 'don't judge a book by its cover' for Jo and Ron. Who we noticed not looking too impressed as we entered the locally run Thai eatery! However, as Amelia and I had visited the place during our first trip we could vouch for the quality, but it wasn't until Jo had her first mouthful did she accept our recommendation!
Our long day on the road was starting to take its toll, so after a brief look through the night market we made arrangements to eventually be picked up but hotel's shuttle bus.
After a rude awakening from Chinese tourists posing for pictures on Jo and Ron's porch, the day at Kung Kang de Pai did not start well! To add to the early wake up call, the breakfast was a disaster.. Amelia's watermelon was inedible (who knew watermelon could taste like vinegar) and the cooked breakfast items were literally stone cold! Loud Chinese tourists and inedible food aside, what really ticked Jo and Ron off was the lack of milk for a cuppa tea - true Brits! Without hesitation we fired up the bikes and decided to take Ron and Jo somewhere we knew they'd appreciate.
With its gorgeous views, great coffee and gratifying cheesecake 'Coffee in Love' hit the spot. The refreshing brisk air and a sugar and caffeine hit was what we needed to kick start our day.
Having been to the small town of Pai before, Amelia and I wanted show Ron and Jo around some of our highlights which included 'Pai Canyon' and the 'WWII Memorial Bridge'.
Ron was also interested in checking out the nearby elephant camps, so we took him to one of the most reputable ones in Pai, called 'Thom's Elephant Camp'. Ron immediately had a good feel for the place, so decided to book an experience that would start early that afternoon.
Just down the road from the elephant camp is a resort called 'Pai Tree House'. It's situated next to a river, so we decided it was a good lunch spot seeing as it was exactly where Ron's elephant experience was going to end up. Once we'd finished our lunch at the Tree House, Ron, Jo and I got back on the bikes and returned to Thom's camp, whilst Amelia found a good spot to wait.
The mahout Ron was assigned to happened to have the biggest elephant in camp! Ron's climb up onto the back of the 25 year old elephant wasn't dissimilar to Jo's clamber on to the motorbike! But once on, Ron, the mahout and 'Ta Dao' set off on at a leisurely pace towards Pai Tree House. Which left me in charge of taking Jo on the back of the Honda - so we could see Ron arrive at the river.
Managing to keep the bike upright whilst Jo climbed onto the Honda, we set off and slowly cruised past Ron and his elephant - Ta Dao, to return to Amelia with plenty of time to spare! With a strawberry smoothie for Jo and iced coffees for Amelia and I, we all sat on a pontoon in the middle of the river (connected to a bridge). It was a picturesque setting and very peaceful, until the elephants arrived that is!
Restricted on space in the panniers, Ron didn't have enough clothing to be able to join the elephants for bath time. Which, after learning about elephant behaviours at the Elephant Conservation in Laos, was probably for the best anyway. Nevertheless he enjoyed the experience and it was nice to see the elephants having a good drink and bath in the river.
Later, after appreciating some sundowners and playing card games, the four of us strolled to a nearby restaurant called 'Silhouette'. In terms of both setting and cuisine it was chalk and cheese compared with the previous night, but as much as we all love Thai food, it's nice to have a change once in a while. Plus Amelia knows her mum and Ron like to indulge in a bit of 'luxury' every now and then. Despite the restaurant being 'sold out' of the majority of their menu, we savoured the delicious food they did have. And it went down extremely well with a great bottle of red wine too (something Amelia and I frequently crave)!
Feeling well and truly pooped, we took the restaurant's complimentary taxi back to our hotel and hit the hay.
Breakfast at the hotel wasn't worth our time, so Amelia (with the aid of trusty TripAdvisor) sussed out where to go whilst Ron and I fired up the bikes. The place Amelia found was called 'Big's Little Cafe' and it transpired that 'Big' (a Thai man) had trained as a chef in London! The 'cafe' looked more like an outdoor cocktail bar, but he had a mouthwatering menu so we took a bar stool and placed our order.
Ron, Jo and Amelia went for a decent portion of eggs, bacon, tomato and mushrooms on toast. Feeling greedy I went for the full works - eggs, bacon, sausages and hashbrowns - hand made by Big himself, baked beans (unfortunately not Heinz), mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and toast. It was great, but I have to admit I couldn't finish it in one hit, so with the leftovers I assembled myself a small bacon sarnie for later!
One of the best views around Pai is found up past a small Chinatown in a Yunnan Village. The Chinatown is mostly inhabited by Yunnanese whose grandparents crossed the border to escape the communist party of China. Since then the area has slowly been changed into a tourist attraction, which in my opinion feels unauthentic, but we stopped by to let Jo and Ron have their own opinions. From Chinatown, the viewpoint is a short ride on and off road up a steep hill. Apart from an incorrect gear selection by Ron we all made it up in one piece.
There is a small fee to reach the peak of the hill as its on someone's property, but for a negligible fee the friendly owners do provide a nicely brewed green tea - which Amelia and I appreciated on our previous visit during a chilly sunrise. Since it was far from chilly, in fact it was approaching the hottest part of the day, we headed towards one of Pai's many waterfalls called 'Pam Bok'.
On the way there, we stopped by the 'Land Split', which is another highlight from our previous time in Pai. It's a natural phenomenon worth seeing, but my favourite part is sampling the land owner's various fresh produce - tamarind, potatoes, papaya, banana crisps, rosella juice and even his rosella wine!
As we continued along on our bikes, I looked forward to having a nice refreshing dip! We could only go so far before we had to park up and dismount.
Our short sweaty walk to the waterfall was sadly not rewarded. With the locals piping away what little water the dry season brings, we could barely see so much as a trickle to wash our hands and face in, let alone have a 'refreshing dip'!
For Jo, Amelia and I the remainder of our afternoon was spent at the pool having that refreshing dip. The heat of the day even got Jo and Amelia into the chilly water! Whilst the three of us enjoyed a cool in the pool, Ron collected his binoculars and camera and took a walk into the countryside for a chance to see some local wildlife. During our time in the pool, Amelia and I befriended a young half American half Thai boy who wanted to play 'monkey in the middle' (piggy in the middle to you and I). He was a confident young kid who was full of energy, but being the competitive person she is there's only so much pretending to lose Amelia can take!
After a fruitless stroll for Ron he returned to join us for 'beer-o'clock' at the poolside.
For our last evening in Pai we decided to give the hotel's shuttle bus another go and head into town for dinner. Dinner was a similar affair to the first night - a simple restaurant with minimal hygiene standards but stunning freshly cooked Thai food.
The night market on walking street sells all sorts, from pancakes to clothing. It's fair to say Ron hates shopping, but for the first time since I've known him he was eager to shop around. He had a particular item in mind.. a t-shirt professing his completion of the 762 turns. Although we'd seen plenty of choice over the last couple of days, we had a hard time finding a suitable design. Some had bicycles and bizarrely others had Morris Minors featuring in the design, finding one stating the turns and a motorbike on was futile. In my opinion they should've produced a limited edition for completing the journey in its current state, but in the end Ron decided on a simple design declaring the number of corners to get to Pai from Chiang Mai.
Panniers packed and rooms checked out of, we started our journey back to Chiang Mai. But not before stopping by a deli and bakery for the most important meal of the day! Nothing in Pai is done in a rush, and as they'd literally just opened we had a painfully long wait before our breakfast was served.
Fortunately, the roads were much clearer on the way back, which meant my newly purchased dust mask from 'Seven Eleven' was barely needed. It was an enjoyable ride and almost uneventful until we reached one of the freshly surfaced roads.. I noticed a young Thai couple on a scooter coming from the other direction and travelling at a considerable speed! It wasn't until I approached one of the many slippery bends that I saw his scooter slide from underneath them! They went tumbling across the road and a minibus driving on our side narrowly avoided running them over! I came to a controlled emergency stop behind the minibus and put on our hazard warning lights, with Ron following slightly behind. Without hesitation I hopped off my bike and helped recover the scooter and checked to see if they were okay. Apart from being very shaken up the couple seemed to be ok, which is more than I can say for their bashed up scooter. As the minibus driver and its Thai occupants seemed to be conversing and helping the couple, we decided there was nothing more we could do to help so got back on the bikes to carry on our journey.
We weren't exactly riding fast before the accident, but it's fair to say seeing the scooter slide so easily from underneath them was enough to subdue the pace for a while.
But even with a slightly reduced rate of knots we managed to get back to Chiang Mai in four hours.
Having failed to find a lunch spot on the way back, we were famished by the time we hit the chaotic traffic around the moat of the old city. Amelia somehow managed to navigate past a lot of it and led Ron, Jo and I through some back roads and narrow alleyways to reach a fancy restaurant called 'Ginger & Kafe'.
During the afternoon, Ron and I went to return the motorbikes whilst Jo and Amelia went for a bit of retail therapy and a massage - Ron and I definitely got the rough end of that deal in my opinion! It was a unanimous decision to return to Ginger & Kafe for dinner. The Kao Soi we had for lunch was excellent, but the 'western' choices looked very tempting. Without our motorbikes for transport, we hailed down a faithful tuk tuk.. a middle aged husband and wife in their 'disco tuk tuk' picked us up and carried on blaring their tunes as we sped down the road. It was all 'fun and games' until the husband's new iPhone 6 fell out of the hi-fi system and tumbled down the road! Fortunately for the duo the iPhone barely had a scratch on it, so they popped it back in its cradle and continued the disco until we arrived at the fancy restaurant with all eyes on us! 'Spag bol' was my western dish of choice at Ginger & Kafe. Amelia had one of her favourite dishes - rack of lamb served with cous cous and ratatouille, Jo struggled with her order of ribs cooked in tamarind - which were so big we all wondered what animal they were once attached to! And Ron appreciated the pan fried sea bass.
Both Amelia and I spotted a seasonal treat in the back of the menu.. Baileys! Having missed out on the last two years, we just 'had to' order a couple! It would've been a travesty to leave that evening without ordering a glass on ice and I must say we savoured every single sip!
Our time in the North of Thailand had come to a fulfilling end, the next day we boarded a Thai Lion Air flight to take us south, for what Jo classed as the start of her holiday...