Pai: Some Thoughts on (the Absence of) Road Safety

I put those words in parentheses not to trick you into thinking I would actually give you a useful piece of advice on how to drive safely or how to be a responsible passenger. This story of mine resembles the complete opposite of that and therefore does not intend to be a cautionary tale. It intends to be a compilation of some funny instances which I want to share with you. Definitely, it was a lovely place I went to, but I choose not to simply describe to you what can be easily googled.

In other words, you can google “Pai, Mae Hong Son”, but you can’t google something I am about to write.

Well, technically, you can, because it’s online now, but…let’s move on.

So I arrived to Pai with my friends Masayo and Emma and from the very beginning of our “weekend escape” in this nicely chill and bohemian place we were forced to intensely reflect on a very specific thing: how important road safety is for us. This constant reflecting was as much fun as it could be, and it only made sense we had such thoughts since we decided to rent a motorbike while in Pai. No typo here: a motorbike, a single vehicle for three of us. Or, one could also say, we rented a moving entertainment source for all the local people to smile at.

Straight after we rented that one motorbike it was time to pick our helmets. And maaaaan some of the people who have rented those before definitely got their money’s worth! Half of them were severely scratched, some even had small holes in their outer layer. “So this is what could potentially happen to someone’s head, hmmm…” was a thought that none of us could escape or – strangely – not to laugh at.

I looked around and tried to find a helmet that hadn’t been heavily damaged. Naturally, I was lightly mocked by my friends for originally having chosen a rather big (but supersafe-looking one!) helmet that, I do admit, made me look like a weird cartoon character. Or an incomplete transformer. I put that one down and grabbed a smaller one instead.

It was our first hour in Pai and I have already chosen looks over safety. Little did I know this situation was doomed to repeat itself many times in the future.

Like, for example, our second evening in Pai.

We were about to leave our kind couchsurfer’s place, had a little bit of the nicely sweet – and even more nicely cheap – Thai wine, another bottle in the basket in front of the motorbike, and, as we were walking through the door and were about to squeeze onto our single vehicle, I shyly asked a question that turned to be rhetorical:


And then we were faced with the most absurd dilemma. Yes, it was the battle between “hair getting slightly messed up” vs “potentially dying in a motorbike accident.”

So what we did was added another variable to our ridiculous motorbike rides: three people on a regular-size scooter, a wine bottle in front of us, no helmets. Yet, as you can imagine, lots of fun and something to blog about. Hmmm I guess I consider my blog entries something literally worth dying for!

A trip within a trip that Emma, Masayo, and I had was, to be honest, more fun than it was an actual “exploration” of…whatever. It was three of us on a motorbike, determined (or at least we then thought so) to see at least one of the two waterfalls relatively close to Pai. “We have a motorbike, why NOT to go, right?” we cheered. Well, let me through in a small spoiler in here: one could find some reasons for not going.

Like the fact that one can’t really reach that waterfall on a motorbike. Who told us that? Some people in a placed called “The Jungle Bar”, a nicely chill pub the location of which could be quite correctly explained by its name. When and where exactly did we find out about this? At the end of a shady road that apparently leads to nowhere – well, to that bar, I guess – and which we have reached after twenty minutes of my friend Masayo bravely taking me and Emma through a bumpy, slightly muddy, and somewhat steep and narrow road. I will give you two examples of some of the obstacles we met: a big puddle and a horse. And of course, due to cartoons or Youtube videos (two greatest sources of wisdom) we all know how bad it can get if a horse kicks someone, so I was pretty terrified when I walked by that horse trying to look extremely peaceful. And yet I survived.

As we reached the end of the road and asked that bar staff about the waterfall, the response we got made us collectively doubt our determination to see any waterfall on that day: “From here on you have to walk to the waterfall, it will take you around three ours one way.” I looked at my watch: 4pm it was, which meant only one thing – “naaah, we’re fine, we’ll just go back.” At that point I was very happy my friends were as lazy as me and thought our ride itself was adventurous enough. We happily turned around and even warned some other travellers on the way back that their motorbikes, alas, aren’t almighty here. I thought that by warning them about the abrupt end of a motorcycle-ready road I was doing them a favour; they must have thought simply “how lazy are those girls, really?”

Hey. It was our weekend escape. Of course we were lazy.

We were lazy and cheap. And the cheapness levels we have reached are worth describing, too.

An example as good as it was ridiculous took shape of another dilemma we had to overcome. Motorbike insurance, my friends, is the name of that dilemma. We were extremely happy with the price we had to pay for the bike rent itself, however, there was that extra insurance charge that – and I am not exaggerating here – took us around five minutes to decide on. “Should we…?” “Eh, how much will we be using the bike anyways?” “Though…it is good to have it…” We were throwing around both the most obvious and most irrational statements.

The time we took to finally make that decision (which shouldn’t be hard to make provided you’re not an idiot), you see, seems more absurd when you know the price of that insurance. So let me reveal the secret: it was 80 baht. Less than 3 dollars, divided by three people who were about to use that scooter.

Maybe now you get a better idea of how cheap we were. Though we did decide to purchase it in the end, which, I reckon, could only indicate that we hadn’t abandoned our rational thinking completely. For the second day, interestingly, we came back to the “naah, we’ll be fine” reasoning and didn’t buy it. And, even more interestingly, that night we almost lost our key from the same bike (well, we lost it and then found it awaiting us on one of the streets of Pai), which in five minutes made us go from “no way, no way, what will happen now with no insurance?” to “we found the key, so it’s a good thing we didn’t get it after all, we showed them!”  (I don’t know who “they” are). We joyfully drove to another bar, just to celebrate the fact we found the key.

A universal tip: by paying no money you can suddenly improve your evening by incorrectly thinking that the evening might be ruined and then realising that it won’t be.

Such wisdom can’t even be found in cartoons or on Youtube. You’re welcome.

Another tip: in order not to make your way to/from Pai a horror ride (for your stomach), have some magic pills with you. Oh, any medicine that works will seem like a magic pill having in mind otherwise you will be passing astonishing views with only one thought in your head: “Make it stop!” This sort of happened to me on the way back, which I bravely took as a lesson to be learnt and applied in the near future.

Bravery, eagerness to learn, and willingness to share my profound observations – these are the traits that I inevitably demonstrated in my trip, just like I am doing now in my blog. This is what I will leave you with. And a sentence to relieve my sister’s worries: I did wear that helmet during the majority of our rides. I don’t think I’ve seen enough of this world to completely disregard road safety. Being a little careless turned out alright for me this time, but perhaps one blog entry is enough about that.


2 responses to “Pai: Some Thoughts on (the Absence of) Road Safety”

  1. Wait, were you guys drinking while riding a motorbike? I’m not being judgmental; that would be awesomely badass. I guess the roads look pretty rural so it might not be that big of a deal. Earlier this summer I rode a bicycle around Block Island when I was sort of drunk. Actually, the five mile hilly route from the beach to the house seemed easier after I had been drinking than when I was sober. Maybe drinking before exercising could be a new trend.

  2. No, we were drinking BEFORE and AFTER :))
    Drinking, I have observed, sometimes produces a truly interesting effect: when you feel you have just teleported yourself home, forgetting how exactly you got there or how long it took. I doubt I’m the first one to notice it, but I thought I’d share it with you, as you yourself have felt such incredible – incredibly liberating?:) – effects of our friend Alcohol.
    Another point on road safety: yeaaaah, if someone had told me I’d take motorbike rides from one bar to another club in the city (not Pai, an actual city) from tipsy people I have just met, I wouldn’t have believed that. But hey, I guess our liberal arts education made me liberal indeed.

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