Transportation in Chiang Mai is mainly organized by private companies or persons. There are no public buses, trams or anything like it. You may order a taxi – you will have to have the mobile number of the driver hoping he speaks sufficient English- jump on a song thew – hoping it goes the way you need to go – or stop a TukTuk if one passes by and pay their high fares.
Anyhow, each and every time you will have to negotiate the fares and your trip might even be rejected because you are not willing to pay the fare requested or your destination is in such a remote area that the driver has no intention of going there at all.
Some years ago there have been hardly any taxis in Chiang Mai, its getting more these days and hopefully at one point it will be organized and they will start using the meter. Right now the only place where you can get a taxi is at the airport. You will have to pay a fixed fare of ฿150 / €3.95 regardless of your destination within Chiang Mai Center. Taximeters are not being used at all. Make sure you can help the driver to find your destination as they do not use navigation devices and most of them are not local. Some of them wouldn’t even find Tapae Gate which is the equivalent of not finding the Eiffel tower. I found out that giving them a mobile phone number of a local Thai who could guide them is the most helpful. Business cards in English or Thai language are not.
You might know the cute three wheeler speeding around in Bangkok until late. Whenever you exit a shopping mall you will hear a “Tuk Tuk? Where you go?” There are some of those in Chiang Mai but not so many. If it happens to you that you see them first and you need one just raise your hand and they will stop (they might however spot you first, no worries). From here it can go three ways: You will be rejected because the deal is not lucrative enough or it’s eating time, you agree a fare and you are in or the driver has no idea where you would like to go and takes off without you.
Never get into a TukTuk if you doubt the driver understands your destination or having agreed to a fare.
The picture above shows a typical song thew which translates to “two rows”. Those cars are modified Pick Up cars with two seating rows on the back. Depending on their operational routes there are colored in red, white, yellow or blue.
You might only make use of the red ones within the city center of Chiang Mai.Those song thews’ are circling around and around the city, with or without passengers.You will have to stop one, asked if he is heading your direction and if yes, jump into it. The fare is usually Baht 10 or 20, depending on the destination.
Foreigners – which are commonly named farang in Thailand ( this originates from the word Francaise) usually pay more than locals, so make sure your Thai travel companion pays the fare – if you have one.
After dark the song thews will disappear from the streets and at night there are not available at all.
Now you might think all above is not really inviting but for those who are not afraid to participate in the crazy Thai traffic there is a solution for it: renting a motorbike, bicycle or a car.
I am extremely lazy and have been renting motorbikes for many years now. You may get one for a day. week.month or even longer. I recommend to go shopping and at least speak to 4 or 5 shop owners before you decide because pricing can be very different for the same motorbike type.Usually they offer 110 or 125 cc’s. Even bigger if you like but for those two the rental fee is comparable in most shops.I started renting per month for ฿2000 and changed renting for a six month period at ฿9000.
Without any doubt, a motorbike gives you all the freedom you need, it takes you through town, up the hills or to neighboring villages.
Please note the following – and I speak out of many years of experience: First, insurance always and only covers the cost of the repair(s) of the other involved damaged vehicle(s) and injured passenger(s) to a certain extend. There is no such thing as all risk insurance. You will always have to pay for the costs of the repair of your own vehicle plus the costs for own medical treatment. You might claim the costs for hospital and medicine to your home health insurance afterwards but in the Thai hospital you will have to pay cash first). Second, if a foreigner is involved in an accident, regardless of being guilty or not, it is very likely that he/she will be held responsible. Thais are not doing anything wrong. This is part of Thai culture. Only a lawyer can help you from here.
Anyhow as I mention earlier I have been renting those scooters for many years and never ever came even close to a dangerous situation, let alone an actual accident.
Here is what I think can help you to drive save: Try to adapt to the Thai driving style. Don’t force yours on them. Try to predict their next step. You will see it’s very easy because Thais are behaving very predictable. Never ever try to force them to any action whatsoever, it will go wrong. Give way. Drive slowly and develop a 360 degree view as danger can come from all sides, even from behind. A green traffic light does not mean you can go, a red traffic light on the other hand does not mean they will stop. Never drive drunk or drugged. Regardless what happens you are the guilty one. Weekends are crazy nights on the road, be extra careful. In Thailand you can literally purchase a driving license with all its consequences, be aware of it!
Wear a helmet and have your driving license with you at all times.