Many visitors to Chiang Mai, Thailand have problems with the city’s public transportation. There’s lots of it about but it seems difficult to use and hard to get around the city. Tuk-tuks, taxis, buses, songtaews, motorbikes – there’s tons of choices.
Public transportation in Chiang Mai is actually quite easy if you know what you’re doing. Read on for more information about each form of Chiang Mai public transportation, and the next time you visit Chiang Mai you’ll find it easy to use public transportation to get where you want to go.
Songtaews – Red open sided pick up trucks, songtaews drive all over Chiang Mai looking for passengers. All you have to do is wave one down and tell the driver where you’re going. If he’s going close to that destination he’ll tell you to hop in the back. If he’s not, he’ll say no. Just wait for the next one that comes along and wave that one down instead. Fares on a songtaew are between 15 and 20 baht depending on where you’re going and, once you get to your destination, just ring the buzzer and the driver will stop and let you off.
Tuk-Tuks – You can wave down a tuk-tuk (the little vehicles on three wheels made with a motorcycle engine) at any time. You’ll also find many tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside hotels for a fare. The tuk-tuks will take you anywhere you want to go but, be warned, they’re much more expensive than most other forms of public transportation in Chiang Mai with fares beginning at 50 baht, especially if you’re a Westerner. Tuk-tuks are always my last chosen form of transportation just because you get price gouged on them.
Taxis – There are a few taxis in Chiang Mai, but most run from the airport into town and back again. If you see one with a ‘for hire’ red light on the dashboard, wave it down but, again, the fare will be much more expensive than a songtaew, although much cheaper than in any Western country. By law in Thailand, taxi drivers have to put the meter on so, if the driver refuses, attempt to get out and the meter will quickly be switched on.
Motorbikes – You can rent motorbikes for the day from many shops throughout Chiang Mai. Just be sure you know how to operate one before you get one as several tourists are killed in the Chiang Mai area every year riding motorbikes they don’t know how to operate. Traffic in Chiang Mai is nowhere near as bad as in cities like Bangkok, but there are a lot of motorbikes so, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could quickly get yourself into trouble. Hiring a motorbike in Chiang Mai though is a fun way to get around and a pretty cheap form of public transportation if you plan on going quite a few miles.
Bicycles – You can also rent bicycles from many shops around Chiang Mai for a few hundred baht per day. Traveling around bicycle in Chiang Mai is great as you don’t have to worry about buying gas and you can go at your own pace. Just make sure you’re careful at traffic lights as, if you’re not quick starting up when the light changes, you could get mowed down by the many motorcycles behind you.
Buses – Chiang Mai has only had a local bus service for the last two years. Buses are only small 32 seater mini buses and come infrequently. They’re cheap (about 15 baht) but very confusing to use as it’s difficult to figure out where they’re actually going to. For a Chiang Mai resident, the bus system probably makes sense but, for a tourist, I would say avoid the buses and stick to the songtaew or tuk-tuks instead, unless you can find a local who can help you travel around the city by bus.