If not now, then when? – Author Unknown
Originally wanting to do the adventurous 135km (85 miles) motorbike ride from Chiang Mai to the northern town of Pai (ปาย) in the Mae Hong Son Province, I spoke with several people regarding their experience and was told that if the weather is accommodating this is one of their favorite memories, however I was also told that if it has recently rained the ride can become a bit treacherous and if you are unfortunate enough to have it raining during the ride it can be down right miserable and borderline dangerous. Thinking this over, the past few days for the festival were great with the absence of rain, but over the last few days we’ve experienced rain both during the day and at night. Since Asia and I were in discussion about renting the motorbike, neither of us felt comfortable since I am used to riding bikes, but having a passenger that can easily freak out on you can become the difference of staying upright or being one of the visible statistics of Thai accidents covered in bandages with a nasty case of road rash. The decision to take the shuttle was finally made and has brought me to the topic of skills that are valuable, if not essential for backpacking and travel in Southeast Asia.
- READING A MAP: Peering down at your Google maps on your smartphone is not knowing the difference between distance, direction, or even showing where you are located. Pull out a paper map, this may be difficult for you since it require no charger or outlet, and see how well your navigations skills are, then think how much more difficult it would be reading a map with no words in English.
- THE ABILITY TO SWIM: Yes, I am still shocked that people will climb aboard boats, walk chin deep in the ocean, or enter another body of water without knowing how to swim. Learn it. You will use it!
- RIDING A BICYCLE: Get a pair of training wheels. Get your balance. And then message me and thank me, because this is something everyone should really know how to do.
- OPERATING A SCOOTER OR MOTORBIKE: Less essential than riding a bicycle, but still if you are traveling Southeast Asia motorbikes can be rented for dirt cheap and if you have no idea what you are doing, I’m sorry friend, but the odds are not in your favor. Traffic laws are relatively nonexistent and most people have taken a bad spill going to quickly around bends sliding out on gravel, I’ve also seen a local guy on a motorbike get hit by a pick up truck and was thrown off (thankfully he was fine), and even a single rider fall over on his bike barely moving. Road rash, exhaust burns, etc are never fun regardless of how long you may be traveling.
- DRIVING A MANUAL CAR: This is a skill that is becoming less knowledgeable in the States with the ease of automatics, yet everywhere else in the world this seems to be a difficulty to find. Knowing how to drive a car, yes, important and can help you out enormously. The difference of also knowing how to use a clutch and shift, this can become a useful skill that can be used to help gain you a volunteer or even paid job friend.
Departing from Chiang Mai just before 12:30pm, I find myself climbing in the back of a standard red taxi truck where a group of four younger Chinese tourists have already selected their seats on the two benches that face one another. Knowing that we will be transferring to a shuttle bus for what I am told is a 4-hour drive to Pai with exactly 762 windy turns in the road, I don’t get too comfortable quite yet. When we arrive at Aya, the shuttle company, I am pleasantly excited to learn that we will not have a packed vehicle, and so I occupy the entire back seat by myself–probably a bad decision. Several minutes later, in an attempt to get comfortable and stretch out, the five of us that are passengers are continually whipped back and forth through the first set of windy roads. Thankfully after two-hours we stop at the midway point, which seems to be common in all of the traveling I’ve done when a onboard toilet is not available, where there is a small roadside restaurant and a chance to stretch our legs.