Before we cover how to to get to Pai, let’s consider why Pai should make it onto your bucket list. It is simply a small town nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand that offers up a big personality full of charm, magic, and appeal!
It feels like you enter into your own world, your own civilisation when you enter into Pai – and the road there surely makes it feel like another planet!
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Pai, check out our Pai Travel Guide right here.
However, this post is to discuss the actual trip up to Pai. The famous and very curvy Route 1095. This route is famous for its whopping 762 turns! It is a very windy journey through the forest, up hills, and through farmlands.
BUT… It’s not for the faint-hearted.
How To Get To Pai
There are four ways you can navigate Route 1095.
❀ Travel by Van or Minibus – You can join some of the brave tourists who unknowingly decided to enter into the amusement park ride of their nightmares. Like us (more to come…)
❀ Travel by Motorbike – Rent a motorbike and make the journey up at your own pace while enjoying the wind blowing in your face and the feeling of freedom. (Like we’ll do next time…)
❀ Travel by Car – Hire a car from Chiang Mai and make the journey up, again at your own pace. (With your own music and some cool air conditioning too)
❀ Skip all the nonsense and Fly up! (Or maybe we’ll do this?)
Our Story & Honest Opinion
Chapter I – The Backstory
To start off our story let’s backtrack a few weeks. There sat little Byron and Tammy planning their trip to Pai over some well-deserved coffee.
They had heard a lot about this famous drive to Pai and were quite excited to experience it for themselves. Since Tammy’s mom was coming along on the adventure, they decided not to go up on motorbikes, but to go with a minivan that they booked on 12GoAsia (their trusted Southeast Asia transport provider).
A very smooth and painless process so far.
Little did they know that the minivan company they booked was out to kill their passengers. (No, not literally).
Therefore, this next chapter can be called The Scariest Drive of our Lives.
Chapter II – The Scariest Drive Of Our Lives
Again, this journey has 762 turns. It is bound to make even the strongest of people motion sick.
We all got into the minivan. A full van of fit, strong, young people including the sexiest of them all, my mom.
We began the drive and everything was fine, however, our driver did seem to be some sort of Lightning McQueen, but we didn’t think much of it at first.
Remember, you still have to make your way out of Chiang Mai first. So it’s just normal roads in the beginning.
As you begin the turns everything seems fun and adventurous, everyone is laughing and making comments but after a good 15 minutes, you start to think, “Oh crap! Please get me out of this van!”
Silence among all…
After half an hour or so we arrived at the halfway stop. Where we all got off and braced our wobbly selves for the next half an hour still to come.
Then it was time to get back in and begin again, at which point you are wondering if you will even make the next part of the journey. Let’s just mention that the vans do come with complimentary ‘vomit bags’ and they get used.
No exaggeration at all: we screeched around every corner. Watching a high-speed car race is much more fun than being forced into it, as a helpless passenger no less. No blind corner deters a wild overtake manoeuvre, no oncoming traffic is too intimidating to take on and no corner is too sharp to speed around.
By the time you get to Pai, you are either a walking zombie from being motion sick or you have already passed out.
Chapter III – The Problem
Yes, the 762 turns can prove to be a problem but the real issue was the driving! Mr. Lightning McQueen was taking every turn and corner at a ridiculous rate, we all thought we were going to go off of a cliff!
Sure, maybe he is used to the roads and knows how horrible the drive can be so he was trying to make the trip go faster. I’m not sure about all that, but by the time we arrived everyone was vowing not to leave Pai by the same mode of transport!
Let’s just get something straight: we arrived in just over an hour… It’s supposed to take three.
Chapter IV – The Journey Back
After debating about flying out of Pai, we concluded that it was too expensive and would be a waste of our already-purchased return tickets. Therefore we decided to suck it up!
We headed to the nearest 7/11 and stocked up on some Dimenhydrinate (motion sickness tablets). We popped our pills and waited to enter the van.
An hour or so passed and we were still not on the van. Something was wrong and the van was up on a jack. The wheels were being taken off and no one would tell us what was going on.
Byron did some investigation and found out that there was something wrong with the brakes. Scary, since we had previously just come up in this very same van two days ago!
It also made us wonder about our driver, was he really Lightning McQueen or were we already losing our brakes!
Chapter V – The Journey Back, Part 2
Eventually, after 2 hours of waiting with not much information, they organised for another van to come and take us all back to Chiang Mai.
The journey back was still a little unpleasant, but way better! Our new driver took his time around the corners and we felt a whole lot safer!
Chapter VI – The Conclusion
We recommend not going up with a minivan! We are prepared to take a motorbike as we have not tried that option yet, but if the motorbike thing doesn’t work out either, we will definitely fly into Pai.
Our only concern with the motorcycle is that we will be on the very same narrow roads as those speeding minivans. I’m not sure if I want to take them on.
I’m sure something will change or other options will arise soon, because Pai is too beautiful not to visit and travellers will always find a way.
Concerning our driver and the van, we have thought about the possibility that he was having a really terrible day. Maybe he was sick, received some heartbreaking news or SERIOUSLY needed the bathroom. It’s best not to judge in these situations and instead of harbouring anger or wreaking vengeance we decided that the best course of action was to write this post.
Hopefully it serves as a warning to future travellers, a positive outlet for our experience or an opportunity for someone to start a business (hint, hint).
Just a disclaimer: These are our own opinions – 12GoAsia is definitely not to blame for the Van Company’s ‘bad’ behaviour! In fact, they have made our travels in Thailand SO much easier.
After you book with them, they ask you to review the company, which we did and we gave our honest opinions.
So make sure you read peoples’ review before purchasing tickets too.
Advice For Tackling Route 1095
Please note that we are in no way discouraging you from visiting Pai, instead we are promoting it! So here are some tips to make your trip to Pai a little better.
The Road To Pai And How To Take It
The route to Pai is the route to Pai. It’s not worth trying to come from the other side or look for backroads or seek a railroad. Accept that it’s your path.
Sure you can fly (book online or buy tickets at the airport itself in Chiang Mai or Pai), but otherwise consider which you would be most comfortable with.
A motorcycle allows you freedom on the road, control over the speed and beautiful views. The drive will be very long (around four hours) and it will probably be very hot. You will also have to brave the minivans speeding past you and some other cars on the road. Another positive is that there are a few viewpoints and cafés to stop at along the road.
A car will cost around four times as much, you don’t experience as much freedom on the road, but the drive is a lot more comfortable. Aircon, radio, cushy seats… You get it. However, overtaking you takes up a lot more road and believe you me that’s not a reason to hold off until the road is clear.
The vans run every hour, every day. Thousands of tourists have safely made it up and down. Only half of our trip was truly terrifying (the drive down was okay) and these drivers do it a lot – so statistically you should be okay. If you do get any kind of car sick, strongly reconsider.
Golden Travelling Tips
- Take Dimenhydrinate. They’re very cheap and easily available in the area (I wonder why?)
- Leave Early. Don’t risk any sort of road rage or fatigue from any party.
- Take some water and headphones if you’re taking the van.
- An eye-mask could help you in the van too.
- Hoot around the corners if you’re driving yourself. A blind corner is not a reason to hold off from overtaking.
- Water and Sunscreen are vital if you’re taking your own bike.
Book Your Ticket To Pai
Like I said, throughout all of our Southeast Asia travels, we have heavily relied on 12Go Asia. They have always provided excellent and reliable service.
It’s also so nice to be able to have secured all of your transport before stepping out the door – it’s one less thing to worry about!
A Video Of What We Did In Pai
Our stay was jam-packed, albeit short. We had tonnes of fun and have vowed to visit again. In the mean time, check out some Pai inspiration below!
Have you conquered Route 1095? How did you navigate the road to Pai? Or are you still planning to go, which way are you leaning towards? Share with us below!
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