Many travelers who visit Chiang Mai venture up to Pai soon after. For me Pai itself is a mixed bag, but the 3 hours ride up there is notoriously bad. Most travelers book a seat in a minivan and try to hold onto their lunch for the next few hours as the driver careens around the (762) curves to the fabled Pai Valley. If you are like me and are prone to getting car sick, lets just say it wont be the most pleasant part of your holiday. After traveling this route twice in 2 weeks I decided to take note of what helped me get to Pai without feeling sick. Here are a some tips for a puke free trip to Pai.*
- Don’t drink the night before. Your time in Thailand may be short, but having the bubble guts from a night out is not a great stage to set for this wild ride.
- Go early. The drivers are more alert for their first trip of the day. If you take a minivan later in the day they have already driven that route once that day and are more likely to be fatigued and even more likely to rush (aka drive like a madman) as they’d like their workday to send as soon as possible.
- Pick your own seat. Go to Arcade bus station and book your own seats with Avia. If you buy minivan tickets from your guesthouse, though they will pick you up directly from your guesthouse, you won’t be able to choose your seat. For me row 2 is the best, but seats 1A or 3A are also good. I arrive early and will book a later minivan if my prime seats are full. Waiting an extra hour is well worth it and it gives you time to eat.
- Eat breakfast. Eat breakfast about 1 hour before departing. This primes your stomach for the next step.
- Pop an anti-nausea pill. Take 1 tablet (50 mg Dimenhydrinate) 30 minutes before departure. If you ask at the pharmacy they will likely offer you Dramamine for about 30 baht/10 pack. Most pharmacies also sell a generic brand for 20 baht/10 pack, it has the same active ingredient.
- Use a nasal inhaler. The menthol/eucalyptus based inhalers, that are found at every 7/11, help calm the stomach and if you are sensitive to the smell of vomit the scent is strong enough to mask the smell if some unlucky soul gets sick.
- Put away your phone. Texting, looking at photos, reading a book, or playing games on your phone will increase the chances of you feeling carsick.
- Listen to music. As long as you don’t spend too much time messing with your playlist music music can help you relax. It also helps drown out the sounds around you which is especially important if the sound of others puking will trigger you to do the same.
- Wear comfy clothes. Avoid wearing tight pants that put pressure on your stomach as this can also increase nausea. We all know you just bought a pair of elephant pants at the night market and this is the time to wear them.
- Use the toilet. The minivan stops about half way through the trip at a rest stop/noodle shop. Even if you don’t reallllllly need to go, GO, having a completely empty bladder is always more comfortable.
- Bring water. If you start to get the mouth sweats, taking small sips of water can help them go away.
- Bring a plastic bag. Just in case (!) and make sure it is easily accessible. I stash one in the outside mesh pocket of my day pack.
Continuing on to Mae Hong Son?
If you are continuing on to Mae Hong Son I suggest taking a second anti-nausea tablet when you arrive in Pai and put off eating until you arrive in Mae Hong Son. If I do grab a snack in Pai or even at the first rest stop it will be pre-cut fruit like guava, pineapple, or watermelon.
Alternative modes of transport to Pai
If riding in minivan sounds like too much for you there are a few other ways to get to Pai. All the alternatives require some prior planning.
By plane: Friday-Sunday Kan Airlines has one flight (25 min) to and from Pai on a little prop plane.
By local bus: there is a local bus that departs at 7 am from Arcade. You are less likely to get sick because this bus is old and slow. It will take you longer to get to Pai, but it will be a fun cultural experience as you bump up the mountain dropping of mail and picking up passengers from the various hill tribe villages along the way. I suspect they will do away with this bus soon, so enjoy it while you can.
By motorbike: if you are an experienced motorbike driver the BEST way by far is to take a motorbike to Pai. Its a wild ride and you can continue on to Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son, and beyond to complete the Mae Hong Son Loop.
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, these are solely suggestions based on what works well for me. Please do your own research and consult a medical professional before taking any over the counter medications.