Images shot with the vintage F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8
In a previous blog post, I stated that the next time I go from Chiang Mai to Pai, I wouldn’t be taking the hellish three hour minivan journey there and back.
I vowed to do it on a scooter.
Now, look at that picture up there and try to guess whether I fulfilled that wish or not. Also, hands up if you’ve never read or seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Or just mumble ‘I haven’t’. If you have though… The Great Red Shark. What a car. And what a concept.
I’m not sure what you got out of the book but it made me really want to go on a road trip with a vehicle I could give a name to.
My On the Road
More recently than Fear and Loathing, I read On the Road.
I must say I was a little disappointed with it overall. I found it hard to picture the scenes, to relate to the feeling of what was really going on, although once it was over it kind of all made sense.
It was never a page turner, but completing it was satisfying, and I think I appreciate what he achieved in writing it.
I want to drive across the States (and who doesn’t). I want to document it with my manual focus lenses. In black and white. But the text in On the Road isn’t a massive inspiration.
The title and concept are, and the accomplishment, but not so much the prose.
Fear and Loathing speaks to me more. I like the surrealism. I like the abstract, the mix of reality and weirdness, and the spirit of what was achieved.
Although On the Road isn’t written exactly as things happened, with numerous trips condensed into the ones depicted in the book, I think I prefer the freedom in the way Thompson crafted his offering; the gonzo style.
Producing my own road trip/travel/photo book, getting a bit weird, telling a story that might not have been all there from the perspective of someone who may not have been either sounds like a dream assignment to give myself.
I’ll self-publish. I’ll sell no copies. And I’ll be happy.
Enough of this though, for now. I have achieved something.
I wanted to ride a scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai, and I wanted to take a road trip where I could, with good reason, name the vehicle.
I did both. I give you, the Wasp.
Right, I know that a Yamaha Mio 125 GT isn’t a Chevrolet Impala, but it was the best I could do.
I’m actually doing it a disservice there because the Wasp was bloody brilliant.
I remember the first time I went to Pai, in 2010. Three hours and seven hundred and however many bends in the road.
The idea of doing it myself on two wheels was incomprehensible. This time, the idea of the minivan was the same.
Riding from Chiang Mai to Pai on a scooter is one of Thailand’s great experiences, and a classic backpacker’s road trip.
Inclines and declines, sweeping and tight bends, stunning views, and long stretches of little to no traffic. The worst part is when nine or ten minivans come past you in convoy, but even that takes nothing away from the journey.
It was also something I’d wanted to get ticked off for a while.
Finally getting it done was awesome, in both the sense of achievement and of feeling inspired to see what’s next on the list.
Photographing Chiang Mai to Pai
All of these pictures were taken with the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8 on my mirrorless Sony camera.
They’re the ideal partner for vintage lenses, with their small size making them wonderful travel cameras too. Check out the range on Amazon to see for yourself.
The focal length of the 38mm F.Zuiko means no sweeping landscape shots, but I was going for something else.
A few of these are actually the result of stopping and carefully positioning the Wasp. It looks like a bit of a photo shoot for my trusty steed, but that’s no bad thing.
Renting a scooter in Chiang Mai
Renting a scooter in Chiang Mai isn’t hard.
There’s even a place where you can rent one and drop it off in Pai, or vice versa, and they’ll take your luggage on one of their minivans carrying other tourists.
It sounds great. Problem is, their customer reviews leave a lot to be desired.
I’ve never used them and I doubt I ever will. For regular scooter rentals, where you want to ride it back to Chiang Mai again, there are better options.
I went to Mango Bikes and was glad I did. Wouldn’t have ended up with the Wasp otherwise, would I?
The whole ride, with its 768 or so turns, took about four hours, and even longer on the way back to Chiang Mai a few days later due to regular stops to avoid the brief torrential rainstorms.
There’s a lot of talk in various places online about whether it’s a safe trip to make.
I don’t have vast experience on motorcycles, having only ever ridden automatic scooters, and only ever in Thailand. I still made the trip with no worries though, and actually felt a lot safer than I did doing it in the minivan.
My advice; if you don’t have the confidence or desire to take a scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai, then don’t feel like you should.
If you’re kind of 50-50 though, confident in your own ability but unsure about the roads, then I’d recommend you give it a go.
The roads themselves are fine, and the biggest danger really is from the aforementioned minivans coming around blind corners at you.
There’s a risk / reward balance to consider in everything we do, and I consider the rewards of doing this trip on a scooter or motorbike far outweigh the risks.
If you take it slow and careful and you should be fine. You’ll also have all the time in the world to stop and look at the scenery along the way.
For now, I’ll end by saying this: the Wasp was amazing, as was the ride through the stunning Northern Thailand scenery, and I’m happy with both the images and the experience I got from the trip.
Have a look at the photographs. Be inspired by the Wasp as I was by the Great Red Shark. Whatever name you want to give it, rent yours.
Then come back and tell us all about it.
I’m inspired again just writing this. Doing the trip by scooter was something I had wanted to do for a while, and was the first time in a long time I had done something that had been on the list.
Ticking it off felt great. Question is – what’s next?