SEVEN hundred and sixty two stomach-churning bends later and I was in Pai, a hippy town three hours north of Chiang Mai.
I'd had my fill of sitting, scrunched up and sweating, at the back of a poorly-ventilated mini-van with a driver who, if I didn't know better, had been hired from Ecuador, where they all drive like they are late for dinner.
Pai is set amidst trees and sloping green, lush hills. From the balcony of my hotel room, I could see the beautiful landscape and hear the river flowing. This getaway was my birthday gift from Jamie and the kids - yes, time off. The children cried when I gathered my bags and dropped them off at the bus station. But Jamie had felt bad that almost every year my birthday passes as a non-event, so she wanted to do something special.
I'd considered visiting one of the southern islands instead, but didn't fancy jumping on a jet again so soon after our recent escapade to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and, briefly, Bangkok.
Full-time parenting is intense and so, too, is regular airline travel. I wanted/needed some reprieve. Pai hit the spot. It's laidback, has plenty to do (hiking, rafting, yoga, swimming, sightseeing etc), there are dozens of vegetarian/organic restaurants to lounge around in, massages to be had, a nice public pool (60baht/£1.10 entrance) and many nearby attractions.
At night there are street vendors selling tasty food and their handcrafted goods. It feels a little commercial, though in a far less intrusive way than other tourist towns I have visited.
Prices are more than reasonable, especially as I was visiting during the off-season when it's not swarming with visitors. I'd certainly consider coming again to Pai, but with the car sick-prone family (if I can get them here without them suffering on the journey) for a longer stay. The cost of renting is far less than in Chiang Mai.
The place reminds me of a cross between Vilcabamba, where we stayed in southern Ecuador, and Capilla Del Monte, the town outside of Cordoba, Argentina where we'd spent Christmas in 2010.
I didn't have enough time in three days to explore all this place has to offer (which is why I would like to return). The options are seemingly endless - adventure rafting, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, zip line adventure, piranha fishing, elephant trekking, hot springs, waterfalls, Pai canyon, temples, cooking courses, markets, Muay Thai boxing, kung fu, tai chi, permaculture courses etc.
I was here to chill out, recharge my batteries and get a feel for the place or else I would have indulged more. I rented a bike (only 70b/£1.20) and cycled six undulating kilometres out of town to the hot springs for a nice soak, taking in some nice views and dodging elephant dung as I went.
After three days away, Chiang Mai was my next destination. This time I decided to take the local bus (cheaper but slower and longer). There is only one a day - leaving at noon. I got to the bus station early - and waited...and waited.
So I was back to square one, the mini-van. I got on the next one, grabbing the last available seat, probably the worst spot possible - right beside the driver. My long legs were squeezed into a tight space, shins pressed against the dashboard and my rucksack on my lap. I couldn't move my aching legs as I'd interefere with the driver changing gear. I held this position for the best part of three hours, desperate to get to Chiang Mai, counting down the kilometres as we travelled.
Oh how relieved I was to see the bus terminal in Chiang Mai and Jamie and the kids parked up, waiting. But like most rough journeys home, you feel like you need another break.