Getting Around Chiang Mai
- There are currently 3 main forms of public transportation in Chiang Mai:
- สองแถว -song taew (red trucks)
- ตุ๊กตุ๊ก – tuk-tuks (motorized 3 wheeled-monsters)
- Uber – you may have heard of it
There are 2 other forms that deserve an honorable mention:
- metered taxis – motto: “We no use meter!” They will never turn on the meter. You can find them at the airport, and parked outside some of the malls and supermarkets. They will always give you an inflated set rate. A song taew is always a better option.
- motorbike taxis – only found in/around Arcade bus station.
Riding in a song taew can be rather intimidating when you first get to Chiang Mai. Especially if you don’t speak any Thai. The way they operate here is also quite different from other provinces in Thailand. In the province of Chiang Mai, there are actually a few different color-coded song taews. Each color serves to bring people to/from another part of the province. This article focuses on the red song taews which tend to operate within the city limits, but they are also for hire to take you just about anywhere.
The first thing to be aware of is that many song taew drivers will overcharge you if they can. The key to avoiding this is to know how much it’s supposed to cost. The current fare is 20 baht. In town, there are sometimes set routes that operate for a set price, but the routes change all the time so if you do find yourself going to a major destination on a regular basis (CMU, for example), it may be worth asking around to find out if there is a better option for you.
Song taews aren’t usually as aggressive as tuk-tuk drivers in terms of yelling “taxi” at you although they may honk at you and will likely stop if you are standing on the side of the road looking lost or are with a big group of people who appear out of place.
- Rule #1 – If it isn’t far away, don’t ask the driver “how much?” Asking means you don’t know that the price is 20 baht.
*Exceptions: Airport, bus station, train station or anywhere across the super highway.
The fact that the transportation hubs are not very far away doesn’t do anything to help us as a passenger here. The more visible power they have over a particular situation, the more they are going to be able to charge you. If it’s raining and/or you are carrying loads of luggage, you are more likely to get gouged. From anywhere in/around the moat, you should be able to get to the airport for 50-100 baht.
- Rule #2 – Learn some Thai!
It’s worth it to learn the numbers and a few phrases even if you are going to be here for just a short time. It makes getting around and things like shopping a lot easier, and a lot more fun.
The 3 newest shopping malls are all along the super highway which has long been an invisible forcefield that song taew drivers are generally unwilling to cross without serious incentive. Getting out to those places will always be more expensive, and getting back will be worse. Any time you find yourself in a place with a queue of song taews in front of a mall or big store, you are probably going to have pay a bit to get out of there.
- Rule #3 – Expect to get ripped off now and then.
It’s going to happen. Don’t let it stress you out too much. Try to learn from it and figure out what you could do better next time.
Useful Thai for Getting Around :
- สองแถว– two lines /rows
*It’s referring to the 2 benches in the back of the truck
*This name is a bit more old school, but you still hear it now and then.
Stuff to watch out for:
ไปกี่คน – how many people are going?
*This always means you are about to get ripped off.
Drivers who have their wives sitting next to them.