I wouldn't normally praise pharmaceutical companies for any reason, but I owe a serious thanks to Bayer for creating Dramamine. It's the sole reason I'm in one solid piece after the endless steep hills and sharp corners I just endured in a rickety, open air tin can that somehow manages to still be called a bus in this century.
With the gut wrenching pain I'm sure to have encountered without a double dose of said pills, I might not have appreciated the magnificent panoramic views of the valley below the mountaintops. Also, I would have been the one sitting in the folding chair near the open doorway, leaning over my arms, head tucked, hoping to puke on the roadway below. Luckily for me, that seat was occupied by a poor teenage boy, and behind him sat the presumed opium-induced man yelling slurred Thai in random intervals between wake and sleep.
I had been fairly warned before purchasing my 72 Baht ticket on the "big" government bus, which was actually the smallest bus I've seen in six months of traveling here, aside from the minivans. For 150 Baht, one can take the V.I.P. trip in an air conditioned van, but I know from experience that no amount of pills can prevent my sickness if I'm stuck in the back seat of a packed and enclosed "first class" ride where the air conditioner doesn't reach.
Not far out of Chiang Mai, we stopped for gas. The attendant climbed on, walked to the seat behind me and asked the two young girls to stand. He proceeded to lift their seat, exposing the gas tank, and used the nozzle through the open window to give us enough fuel to make the four-hour journey through the mountains.
At times the hills were so steep I thought we were moving backwards. Our driver whistled away, downshifting as we chugged up the mountainside, and tugging the wheel that was installed without power steering. We would finally reach one peak only to encounter another.
Finally, I saw a sign boasting 60 kilometers to Pai. Only 30 minutes, I thought happily, but somehow two hours passed before we pulled into the village. The bus station is a parking lot crammed between a tour agency and a restaurant, barely big enough for our short bus to turn a full circle.
The VIP minivan arrived an hour earlier than we did, according to the two South Koreans I met when they accidentally (and to their horror) boarded my bus instead of theirs. Pai is small, so I ran into them on the main road later that same night.
All in all, nobody on my bus had to taste his or her lunch twice, and we arrived only an hour behind schedule (which is right on time in Thailand). I'd say the journey was well worth it, and who can complain for a $4 ride?
How to go: From Chiang Mai, get to the Arcade Bus Station and ask to be pointed in the direction of the Pai ticket booth. They will give you an option between buses. It's up to you whether you want the full experience or the so-called VIP. I'd make my same decision again.