Mood: “Am learning to ride a motorbike in Pai” (Thailand)
This has been my Skype status, since November 2009, and it occurred to me why I haven’t bothered updating it. My first attempt to master “traveling alone in a developing country”, was my greatest achievement in the past year; and of my many travel highlights on this journey, learning to ride a motorbike was one of them!
A Cyclist’s Lesson in Humility
In Chiang Mai, scooters and motorbikes are the popular form of transportation. Every tourist, teen and Granny hot-rods it on a mechanized two-wheeler. Let me preface by saying, I’m bicycle-trained and a wobbly rider at that; in fact, a more fitting term for me is bicycle rider (than cyclist). Bicycle wheels creaking and a (probable) hazard to drivers on the road, I was choking on scooter exhaust, but diligently peddling. Why? My scooter rental request got rejected, because I told the awful truth: I had never ridden a scooter before. Sometimes, honesty doesn’t pay...
Waiting at traffic signals, is when the stone-aged cyclist (uh, bicycle rider) can feel especially… lame. Surrounded in a sea of motorbikes, when that traffic light changes, you get to watch as the swarm zips past you! In one situation, I had an old granny on my left, a midget person on my right and some a 3 person family packing a toddler, behind me. Let me tell you– a moment like that humbles you and it got me thinking, maybe I wasn’t truly such a remarkable person afterall.
I had two days left in Chiang Mai before the expiration of my scooter dreams. Fortunately, Buddha willed three acts of kindness in my favor, in the same way life serendipitously work its quirky magic for solo travelers! A spontaneous decision led me to Pai, rather than re-routing my travels to Laos to join some Irish girls I’d met on a trek. While I enjoy the company of other travelers, my traveler’s intuition longed for a spiritual retreat into the mountains.
Three hours north of Chiang Mai, Pai is a small backpacker haven with bungalow resorts, a night walking street, a countryside of rice fields and a chill hippie-artist vibe. I knew little about the place, other than its name had a nice ring and it was close to Mae Ha Song.
•Buddha #1- Making friends.
On the bus ride up a steep and windy road of 362 curves (Pai is very proud of this claim), I met Graham, an amicable 40-something U.K. expat, who was on a weekend visit. Having visited Pai several times, he was my Insider guidebook to this sleepy town. Regaling the resort he and his Thai girlfriend were staying at, he recommended that it be my stay as well… the Beung Pai Fish Farm.
Buddha #2- Getting Lost and the genuine warmth of Thai people.
The bus dropped us at the town center. Rather than rent a bike early off, from the many nearby rental stand, I hoped to check out the town on foot. According to Graham, the resort was a 10 minute walk from the town. Graham was wrong. The resort farm was much further, nestled in a large field off the main drag. I was LOST.
If it weren’t for the kindness of Tip, a tour operator (Tip Off-Road Adventures) with an interesting life of giving off-road dirt biking tours, it would’ve taken me an hour to find the resort! Walking through the neighborhood, I’d stumbled across his garage where he was working on bikes. He knew where I was headed and gladly packed me on the back of his dirt bike (I had never ridden on the back of a dirt bike before! Yay!) and we sped off through the fields to my future stay. He was such a cool guy and his adventures of giving tours through Pai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, sounded so fun, that I promised myself, if I was ever daring and skilled enough, I’d take one of his tours!
Ask for Tip Off-Road Adventures for a wonderful dirt bike experience around Thailand.
• Buddha #3- Gentle and Nurturing Thai Hospitality
When I arrived atBeung Pai Fish Farm, there was a bungalow available and for 500B.
Oh my Buddha!… The resort was like stepping into an idyllic dream! It was a catch & release gaming fish farm, owned by a gentle and beautiful young Thai couple leading a vegetarian lifestyle!
I told them my story of Graham (who booked in the bungalow next door to me), Tip and getting lost on foot. The couple firmly agreed that a scooter was the only way to see the town and its countryside. Run, the male owner of the resort (that’s his name), would take me into town to rent a bike. But first, I needed to learn how to drive one!
Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Thailand
In the resort parking lot Run patiently taught me, using his motorbike. A motorbike is like a hybrid of motorcycle-scooter; a bit intimidating at first, but better to practice with an ox and downgrade to a lamb. Run gave me a quick run-through of operating the engine- turn the key and apply gas or breaks to the handle. Seemed easy enough. Then he set me off to practice circle 8′s in the driveway. This is where the real workout began. Mastering a turn took a bit of time for me to get the hang of– 50 minutes to be exact. The tricky part is to take wide turns, but not overshoot.
Finally, Run took me to town to pick out my first scooter! Graduation was here and my certificate was in the form of baht I was now paying at the rental desk. I couldn’t be happier! I was off to explore the countryside and incidentally, searching for streets, which didn’t have any turns.
How to Get to Pai:
From Chiang Mai, you can have your guesthouse call the day before to book a reservation on the bus to Pai. The bus company will send a truck over to your hostel to pick you up and take you to the main bus shuttle area (all included in its rate). Pai is a small town so the main bus station is in the center of the town. Scooter and bike rentals across the street.
Beung Pai Fish Farm (website)
Bungalows. Fishing rod rentals, restaurant with homemade yogurt and granola, as well as vegetarian options. Under $20/night.
Tip off Road Dirt Bike Adventure Tours (website)