FAQ – Driving in Northern Thailand

It’s funny, I travel a lot, but I’ve never really been to the popular places in Europe (and I’ve only been to California in the States)… I guess for me, it’s not so much about hitting as many countries as possible, but more about exploring places in depth, uncovering the locals’ secrets, basically just throwing myself into a different environment and admiring the differences in the human race. Perhaps that explains why I keep going back to the few countries I love – Thailand, Taiwan, Laos, Indonesia… (and yes, I aim to return to India & Sri Lanka soon.)

That’s why I am back in Chiang Mai again for the long holidays! Initially, we were just gonna take the bus around as a default option. However, while we were researching for the trip, we realised that bus is a terrible option – almost guaranteed bus-sickness, and bad timings! Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of road trip these few years, and we researched on it and realised to our surprise, hey! A lot of people are actually doing it!

Ok, I know you’re probably raising your eyebrow so I’ve prepared a list of FAQ for you..

20150103_143649
The famous Mae Hong Son Loop on Highway 1285

1. Is it safe?
Certainly! We were pleasantly surprised by the road conditions. They were excellent, no potholes and were well lit. Even the ones that were winding about in the mountains were proper tarred road, so you don’t have to worry about driving off-road. As my friend put it, the roads are better than Malaysia! 

They were not joking when they said there are 1,864 curves!
They were not joking when they said there are 1,864 curves!
Definitely NOT for the faint-hearted!
Definitely NOT for the faint-hearted!

2. No traffic jam?
There was traffic jam during peak hours in the city, as expected. Other than that, the traffic has been smooth. On the mountains, it can be a bit slow because of the curves, and you do need some skills and experience if you intend to overtake on those curvy roads. 

3. What’s the condition of the car?
We had wanted to rent from the big rental companies (Hertz, Avis, Budget etc) but they were all booked out! So we went to a local company, Mr Mechanic. They are more famous for bike rentals, but the car we were given (Honda City) was spanking new, and at very good rates too! The car was good and the shop was easily contactable if you need any assistance. Look for Benz, he’s a great help! 

Driving in Northern Thailand
My new ride in Thailand! Woot woot!

4. How did you navigate?
I think many people would freak out at the thought of not having a GPS. Well, basically we downloaded the map onto our mobile phone and used the GPS tracking system to locate where we are and planned our route ourselves. Going on the highways were pretty straightforward, and the roads were well-marked. Even the attractions were well posted, if not, then ask the locals. Or, check out my blog entries to see the specific landmarks to lookout for. 

Driving allowed us to access many places that would be otherwise impossible to get to! Like this Yunan village in the outskirts of Pai...
Driving allowed us to access many places that would be otherwise impossible to get to! Like this random Yunan village in the outskirts of Pai…
And this strange geographical phenomenon of a Land Split..
And this strange geographical phenomenon of a Land Split..

5. Parking?
We didn’t have any problems finding parking space. There were ample at the attraction sights, if not, there’s always a parking attendant to wave you a make-shift slot. Driving also meant we could stay in places further out and they usually have free parking to cater to the large number of road-trippers in the region. 

6. Are you sure this is better than the public transport?
No, I’m not sure because we didn’t take the public transport so I can’t really make a fair comparison. That said, I don’t think I want to even try taking the bus up the slopes. I’ve seen how the passengers stepped off green from carsickness… and I’ve also seen how slow the bus were chugging up the slopes! I think we made a good decision to drive. Not only is it faster and more comfortable, we also had the freedom to make spontaneous stops and to venture further than we planned. 

And one of the best things about driving - you can stop whenever and wherever! That means, plenty of awesome photo opportunities!
And one of the best things about driving – you can stop whenever and wherever! That means, plenty of awesome photo opportunities!
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