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A red songthaew in Chiang Mai
A red songthaew in Chiang Mai


Chiang Mai the second largest city of Thailand and has no subway or sky train like you are used to from Bangkok. In the old center of Chiang Mai (Old City) everything is within walking distance and the area within the old city walls is about one and a half square kilometers. If you want to travel outside the city walls, you often have to use another means of transportation than your legs, bike or scooter. The distances in combination with the Thai heat are often too great to keep it fun. Fortunately in Chiang Mai there are more than enough other alternatives to get you from A to B.

A tuk tuk in Chiang Mai

Public transport options in Chiang Mai

The Songthaew

The Songthaew is a widely seen and used means of transport in Chiang Mai, Songthaew in Thai means two banks. This is a nice and simple description of the Songthaew: The Songthaew is a van with two benches in the back where you sit opposite each other. The sides are often largely open and you can get in through the back. Depending on the size and benevolence of the passengers, 10 to 12 people fit in a Songthaew at the same time.

The Songthaew is usually red, but there are also other variations such as yellow, blue, green and white. The color corresponds to a certain route:

Color of the Songthaews with corresponding routes around and in Chiang Mai.

YELLOW = to and from Mae Rim
BLUE = to and from Sarapee & Lamphun
GREEN = to and from Mae Joe
WHITE = to and from San Kampaeng
RED = several routes where no fixed route has been determined

The back of a red songthaew in Chiang Mai

How to use a Songthaew

Using a red Songthaew is not difficult, just try it! You walk to the side of the road and wait for a Songthaew to arrive, it never takes long! It’s handy if you know which way to go for your destination so you can be on the right side of the road. Raise your hand when you see a Songthaew and tell the driver what your destination is. If the Songthaew still has room and is heading in the same direction, you can ride with it and agree on a price in advance. 

If you stay inside the city walls of Chiang Mai, you can assume that the ride will take about 20 baht. As an indication, to the mountain Doi Suthep (Wat Phrathat) outside Chiang Mai Old City you will have to pay around 60 to 80 baht per person for a one way trip, depending on your negotiating skills. Usually the drivers speak moderate English, but professionally they understand many destinations such as temples, restaurants and markets. 

In the Songthaew is a bell that you press when you are near your destination. The Songthaew will usually drop you off on the main road near your destination. It can happen that you have to walk a bit more. After your ride you always pay afterwards at the driver’s window.

A yellow songthaew in Chiang Mai

The Tuk Tuk, also in Chiang Mai

Also in Chiang Mai, the Tuk Tuk is a well-known means of transport. It is often not the cheapest means of transport and you will have to negotiate for a good price. Sometimes Tuk Tuk’s can also be faster than a taxi because they try to maneuver around everything and they succeed regularly. Tuk Tuk’s are often along famous tourist attractions but also drive around the city. The Thai people generally don’t like walking in the heat. They often use the Tuk Tuk for short distances. For more information and indispensable negotiation tips read the article Tuk Tuk’s in Bangkok.

A parked tuk tuk in Chiang Mai

Taxi in Chiang Mai

A taxi in Chiang Mai are mostly gray/white or yellow/blue colored. Of which especially the larger taxis are gray/white colored. Always ask the driver if he wants to turn on the meter. If the taxi driver doesn’t want to do this, take the next taxi that does.  

More information about using the taxi in Thailand can be found here in the article about the taxi in Bangkok.

Scooter met drie mensen erop en een taxi in de achtergrond in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Grab also in Chiang Mai

Grab (Uber’s Asian brother) is also represented in Chiang Mai. The costs are relatively low and the service is often good. Grab is also active when the other means of transport in Chiang Mai are (almost) no longer driving at night. To be able to use Grab you need the (free) app.

Rent a car in Chiang Mai

At Chiang Mai airport you can rent a car from various companies such as Avis, Sixt and Hertz. We assume for a moment that you know that they drive on the left in Thailand, if you didn’t already know this… at this one. Renting a car costs between 1.000 and 5.000 baht depending on the size and options. Just like with scooters you have to read the contract carefully with the big well known car rental companies and especially with the unknown car rental companies. In addition, it is wise to capture the dents and scratches with your camera, just like when renting a scooter, so there is no discussion when returning the rental car. To rent a car you need an international driver’s license.

Traffic in Chiang Mai

Rent a scooter in Chiang Mai

Probably the most used means of transport in and around Chiang Mai. The scooter gives you a lot of freedom because you can go where and when you want. Scooters are also often used to drive from Chiang Mai to Pai. There are already companies that make sure your suitcase or backpack is transported by bus so you don’t have to take it with you on the scooter. The ride to Pai is also known for its beautiful route with 762 bends.

For a day of renting a scooter you pay between 100 and 200 baht. Often you get a discount if you rent the scooter a few days in a row. It still happens that people ask for your passport as a deposit, we are not in favour of this. You literally can’t go anywhere if you have problems with the rental company. With most landlords you can also pay a deposit after asking a bit more, expect about 3.000 baht per scooter. Always make pictures and movies of existing scratches and dents in front of the owner, so there can be no discussion about this later on.

In Thailand they often use / rent scooters of more than 50 cc. Most scooters are 100, 125 or even 150 cc and often reach a speed of 100 km per hour. These scooters are legally seen as motorbikes for which you need a motorcycle license. Your health insurance or travel insurance can refuse compensation if you do not have a motorcycle license.

Scooterverhuur in Chiang Mai



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