The Bus From Chiang Mai to Pai: Crazy Thoughts Along The Way!

View across the valley near Pai, Mae Hong Son

It’s no secret that the three-four hour drive from Chiang Mai to Pai, Thailand is a daunting one.

It’s a steep and winding road that will make you feel every single one of its 762 turns for three, sometimes four hours straight. Whether you drive your own motorbike or hop in a van, it’s going to be a tough journey along Route 1095. At least, it was for me…

The Bus From Chiang Mai to Pai: First, the Facts:

The cost of the minibus is 150 THB and leaves from Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai every hour starting at 6:30 am, finishing at 5:30 pm. If you prefer the peace of mind that comes with booking in advance, you can buy the ticket online for a slightly higher price.

An Internal Dialogue on the Bus to Pai…

I had about an hour to spare after booking my ticket with the minibus service, Prempracha. I was tired and groggy from the night before so I walked over to a local restaurant to grab some fried rice and use the wifi. I had heard horror stories about the ride to Pai, but I’m not really one to get car sick so I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was just going to be another menacing and time-wasting bus ride in Southeast Asia.

After I finished my meal, I walked over to the van and watched the driver fling my backpack on the roof.

“Oh great,” I thought. “There goes my stuff.”

I squeezed into the window seat, second row from the back.

“It’s nice and cosy in here.”

Luckily, I had my friend sitting next to me. I thought we could watch some Netflix in order to make the time pass quicker, so we began watching Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father.

“I don’t know what everyone is talking about. This ride really isn’t that bad,” I said to my friend.

We were only 10 minutes into it.

Then the van began its climb up the mountain, and I felt everyone in the car brace themselves.

The first jerk around the mountain was kind of fun. The van took a sharp turn and it almost seemed like we were going to roll off the side of the cliff.

“This is like a roller coaster!”

I like roller coasters. But then it kept going. And I felt my sanity slowly slip away.

A blurry photo taken on Route 1095 on the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai
With all those curves, it’s hard to keep your hand steady to take a photo that’s not blurred!

“OMG, another turn.”

I looked at my watch. Exactly three hours and 45 minutes to go.


“Is the driver drunk? Why is he driving so damn fast??”

“I guess he could be drunk and we would never know. There’re so many turns it just seems like everyone is drunk driving.”

“Thank God for this handle in front of me.”

“I’m gonna have a bump on my head from knocking it against this window.”

“Is the dude in front of me seriously sleeping? What did he take and can I have some?”

“Wow, my grip hurts from holding onto this handle so hard. At least I’m getting an arm workout.”

“OMG yes, a break!”

I jumped out of the van with a crazed look in my eye.

“There’s no way I’m getting back in there. I’ll walk for all I care. How much longer? Two hours drive? Ugh.”

I took a bathroom break, stretched my legs and drank some water. I had to hype myself up to get back into the minibus.

“You can do this, Marina. Maybe it will let up a bit.”

Yeah, right.

“I’m gonna be sick.”

“Who is the mastermind that built this God awful road? I’d like to give him a piece of my mind.”

“I wonder why they didn’t just build one long road on top of the mountains. Is that even possible? Am I going crazy?”

“Jeez, I’m dizzy.”

“No really, I’m gonna be sick.”

“This doesn’t feel like a roller coaster anymore, more like The Scrambler at the Iowa State Fair.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten before this.”

“I also shouldn’t have gone out until 3 am last night.”

“Was that seriously a sign for a vomit stop?? Maybe we should stop…”

“I literally can’t think of anything else besides this ride.”

“I feel like there’s probably only 30 minutes left.”*

*checks watch.

“Okay, an hour and a half. Kill me.”

“If I see one more road sign with a squiggly arrow, I will cry.”

*cue the tears.

“I think I’m just getting used to it now. Maybe this is how I’m supposed to feel all the time.”

The view across green countryside near Pai, Northern Thailand
The journey is worth it! The lush green countryside of Pai is simply gorgeous.

762 Curves, Well Worth It!

And then the van slowed down and I felt the blood rush back into my face. That had to be the worst bus ride I’ve ever experienced in Southeast Asia.

If you’re heading to Pai (or driving back to Chiang Mai from Pai), don’t underestimate the journey. It’s going to be physically and mentally tough, but hey, who doesn’t like a challenge? (Editor’s note: There’s no shame in taking a travel sickness pill, available at all good Thai pharmacies…)

As much as I agonized over the trip in my head, it turned out to be a great conversation starter when meeting other backpackers in the beautiful hippie town of Pai.

Reward yourself with a Chang after the journey (or maybe just some ginger ale) and go enjoy everything that the town has to offer!

A backpacker in Pai at a Buddha Statue
The author finds peace with Buddha safe in Pai.

About the writer: This article was written by Marina Nazario, an American journalist and blogger with a one-way ticket around the world. She began her journey in Southeast Asia (which gave her an infinite number of adventures) and currently resides in Australia. You can follow her travels on Twitter (@marina_jane) and her blog

1 thought on “The Bus From Chiang Mai to Pai: Crazy Thoughts Along The Way!”

  1. cedric mcfuddle

    hi – you keep referring to ‘bus’ but it sounds like you took the minivan…there is in fact a public bus that runs from chiang mai to pai and costs abt thb90. the seats are bigger and it runs slower, so is not quite so emetic…maybe try that next time?

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