Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Around Chiang Mai

There are several different options for transportation around Chiang Mai. Which one you choose will depend on several factors: your budget, how fast you want to get where you’re going, and how brave you’re feeling.


Definitely the cheapest option, and also the most dangerous. Renting a motorbike will allow you the freedom to go wherever, whenever, without shelling out extra cash each time you want to move.
It’s also a great way to explore a new city. You might get lost, which would mean taking longer to get to your destination, but getting lost is also the best way to get to know a place. A motorbike is also the way to go for aimless exploring without a particular destination in mind – just hit the open road and see what you find (but make sure you’ve got enough petrol).
If you have enough guts choose this method of getting around, drive carefully and please, for the love of intact skulls, wear a helmet. You'll see many locals without helmets - heck, you'll even see families of 5 packed onto one motorbike (including an infant in the mother's arms), all without a helmet. As tempted as you may be to chance it, your hair will always look better on a head that's in one piece. Also, road rash can really ruin a vacation. Be safe.

You can expect to pay about 150 baht/day (not including petrol), and you can negotiate discounts for a full week or month.



Also known as 'red trucks,' these are basically modified pickup trucks that operate as on-demand public buses. The truck bed is covered with a roof and there is a long bench down each side for passengers to sit on. When you flag down a songthaew, there may be other passengers inside. The driver will take you where you want to go, but they might pick up/drop off other passengers along the way. This is the best option for large groups, because you can pretty much pack yourselves in as tightly as you want, and a couple of brave souls can even hold onto the handrail and ride on the bumper (look a little closer at the picture!).

Fares are paid per person - typically you'll pay 20 baht each, but for farther destinations or if your route gets caught up in the one-ways of the city walls, the driver may ask for more. One last thing: Especially when sharing with other passengers, the driver may not stop at your exact destination. Pay attention and ring the buzzer on the ceiling to alert him to stop.


These motorbike/wheeled passenger cart combos are a little pricier than a songthaew, but behave more like a proper cab - splitting the fare means you can get a better deal when you’re with friends. Unlike a songthaew, your tuk-tuk won’t stop for other passengers – you’ll have it all to yourselves - so you’ll probably get there faster. And you'll definitely get there faster when you convince two tuk-tuk drivers, each transporting half of your group, to drag race through the streets and promise a big tip to the winner. Actually, I don't recommend doing that... if I could do it again, I wouldn't. It was scary.

With good negotiating skills, a ride in Chiang Mai will cost you between 60-150 baht, depending on where and how far you’re going. As always, agree on a price first, and pay when you get there.

Actual taxis aren’t very common in Chiang Mai. You’ll rarely, if ever, be able to flag one down on the street, but with songthaews and tuk-tuks aplenty, you won’t really need to unless you’re going to/from the airport at odd hours. We learned the hard way that there are no songthaews or tuk-tuks around early in the morning. Walking to the airport at 5:00am is not fun – so call and arrange a taxi the day before if you have an early morning flight. From the airport, there are a couple of taxi counters with preset prices for what area of the city you’re going to. They’ll write you a slip with the fare and the cab number and send you outside to the curb to be picked up.
Final Tips:
1. Always agree on a price before getting in any taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk, and only pay when you’ve reached your destination.
2. The old city walls in Chiang Mai are beautiful and historic, but they do cause a mess of one-ways and roundabout routes if you’re trying to go from outside to inside or vice-versa. Keep this in mind when determining ETA’s and negotiating fares.

3. It’s a good idea to have a map with you for communicating. If the driver doesn’t know the exact place you want to go, just point and he can probably get you close enough.
4. If you decide to hoof it, be careful crossing the street. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Chiang Mai. It's pretty difficult to cross the street on foot without feeling like you're about to die. You basically have to wait for a small gap, step into traffic, and hope for the best. Drivers may or may not stop, but they will swerve around you until the last possible moment. There aren't many proper crosswalks (and even then, its a crapshoot), but there are overhead pedestrian bridges on some of the major roads outside the walls, so make sure to use them when available.

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