With scenic views wherever you go, travelling in Chiang Mai is indeed part of the fun and a joy. Getting around Chiang Mai is SAFE & CHEAP, if not straightforward for first time visitor. It’s a bit frustratingly lack of public transport, but plenty of other means of transport to see you arrive safely at your destination.
Depending on your budget and the places you would like to go, this article provides the latest information and guides to get around Chiang Mai so that your visit to this beautiful city will be hassle free and without any trouble.
1. Songthaew (pron: song-tail)
Songthaew (aka Road-Daeng, Red Taxi or Red Truck) is the most common and preferred mode of local transportation in Chiang Mai. It’s a converted pickup truck named after its two rows of seats (in Thai language: song taew).
Riding a songthaew is the perfect way to meet local Thais.
It is very easy to find songthaew in Chiang Mai either day or night all over the city. Simply wave one down the street (or approach a waiting driver) and tell the driver where you want to go. If it is along the general route or the driver is going that direction, ask the price and hop on. The fare is by person.
For only 30 baht during day time (after dark you may need to negotiate a little) you can get a songthaew going to anywhere and everywhere in the city, so long as you don’t mind sharing your ride with the other passengers and pick up & drop off as they go.
Some songthaew can provide taxi service (your own private ride) if you ask the driver, and you may sit next to driver’s seat with air-conditioning on, going to any location you decide. The fare is, of course, higher but still cheaper than a taxi (usually 150 baht or less for a one-way ride in the city). Also, a taxi can sometimes hard to find on the streets, songthaew is always around.
A private songthaew can also be requested by using GRAB, a very popular ride-sharing mobile app that works pretty much the same way as UBER. Read here to find out how to use GRAB to book a ride at your fingertips.
Some tour operators use a songthaew to transport their guest to their destination. For example, the elephant sanctuaries, and some cooking classes in an organic farm located outside of Chiang Mai city.
The red-coloured songthaew is most commonly found in Chiang Mai city. Besides red, there is also yellow, white, green and blue songthaew. Different coloured songthaew indicates different routes (normally to the other towns nearby Chiang Mai city).
White songthaew goes to the east (Sankampaeng city), Blue songthaew goes to the south (Lamphun province), Yellow songthaew goes to the north (Mae Rim), and Green songthaew goes to the north-east (Mae Jo).
Riding Songthaew Like a Local
There is air-conditioned Taxi in Chiang Mai but their numbers are small and it is not easy to wave down. These taxis do not cruise the streets – they are waiting at the airport, railway station, bus station, malls, and hotels.
It is a good idea to ask your hotel to call taxi for you and ask the driver for his phone number. Get one or two more taxi numbers in case he is not available. Taxi fare is by the meter and it costs around 100 to 200 bath per ride in the city. Most tourists will take a taxi to their hotel on arrival at Chiang Mai airport.
3. UBER and GRAB (ride-sharing app) in Chiang Mai
Mobile ride-sharing app, UBER and GRAB is probably the most convenient way (for public transport) to travel around Chiang Mai. In fact, the fare is often cheaper than a regular taxi service if you follow the latest COUPON code (which is so frequently available).
FYI, GRAB is a popular Southeast Asia’s own version of UBER. If you are planning a long vacation in Southeast Asia, please install this app on your mobile phone as it will be extremely useful for your travelling experience in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and The Philippines.
In fact, GRAB gives you the options to choose between a private car (GrabCar), a regular taxi cab (GrabTaxi), or even a Songthaew (Grab RodDaeng). If you book a taxi ride via GrabTaxi, there will be a small booking fee on top of the regular metered taxi fare.
You can read here for more information about riding GRAB and UBER in Chiang Mai, which is really cheap and easy to use.
The public bus service is not prevalent in Chiang Mai. There is shuttle bus covering 2 routes connecting the airport to the city. The fare is 40 baht per person.
There is also local white colour minibus running 2 routes in the city.
The fare is only 15 baht.
Route B1 – From Arcade Bus Terminal to Chiang Mai Zoo:
Route B2 – From Arcade Bus Terminal to the airport:
Latest 2018: There is a new public bus service launched in Chiang Mai since June 2018. It’s called the RTC Chiang Mai Smart City Bus, and it has become one of the best modes of transportation in Chiang Mai.
And it charges a flat fare of only 20 Baht per ride, it’s really that cheap !!!
5. Tuk Tuk
Everyone knows about Thailand’s tuk-tuk – they are quick, noisy, they go everywhere, and depending on your bargaining skill, they are inexpensive.
Tuk-tuk is, after songthaew, the second most common mode of transport in Chiang Mai. Compare to songthaew, tuk-tuk is more expensive. Rate starts at 60 baht for a short trip and 100 to 150 baht for longer distance.
If you are going somewhere far and not in a hurry, it is better to take songthaew instead of a tuk-tuk, as tuk-tuk driver tends to charge more (and some drivers are likely to rip you off). Some drivers can be pushy and may try to steer you towards attractions that pay commissions.
6. Samlor (Thai’s Rickshaw)
Samlor, literally means “3 wheels” in Thai, is mainly used by tourists taking a casual spin around the old city or some die-hard vendors using them to shuttle their wares to the markets. They can be found around Warorot Market by the river. Unlike rickshaws in Europe’s major cities, Chiang Mai’s samlor drivers are not young hipsters, but old men peddling a dying trade, so make sure you leave a nice tip.
You can rent a bicycle in Chiang Mai, normally for 50 baht a day (24 hours). It’s very easy to find a bicycle shop or a guesthouse which have bicycles for rent. There is also bicycle hire stations (insert coin) around the city. Some hotels/guesthouses even offer free use of bicycles for their guest.
Riding a bicycle in Chiang Mai is a very good way to explore the ancient capital especially within the old city moat, as the historical attractions, temples, cafes, hotels, shops, restaurant etc are located not far from each other.
Riding a bicycle gives you the freedom to make a short stop for a sip of coffee, pause for a snapshot of a beautiful temple, make a u-turn anywhere you like etc. You can park the bicycle at a roadside, in front of restaurant, temple, under a tree etc, as long as it doesn’t obstruct pavement or the main road.
There are some guided bicycle tour operators in Chiang Mai if you wish to explore beyond the historic old city, especially to the beautiful countryside and forested foothills.
Chiang Mai is a beautiful city to walk around, especially during the “Thai Winter” time – November – February, when the temperature is cooler. Whether you have a destination in mind or just feel like a stroll, you will always discover something new by putting your best foot forward…the other one helps too.
The old city is only a square mile and as such is easy to walk around although some of the sidewalks are uneven. The old city is truly a joy to discover on foot as it has not just more than 30 temples, but also compact with museums, art galleries, public parks, bars, cafes, juice & dessert bar, and restaurants.
9. Motorcycle Taxi
Motorbike Taxi is available at Chang Phueak Bus Station and Arcade Bus Station. Unlike songthaew and tuk-tuk, these motorbike taxies don’t cruise around looking for passenger. They gather in groups at the bus station.
Just look out for their pink vests, tell them where you want to go, and hop on. Fare normally starts from 50 baht (and it’s always negotiable) and it’s cheaper than normal taxi and tuk-tuk.
10. Rent a Motorbike (Scooter)
If you know how to ride a small and speedy motorbike (scooter), this could be the BEST (and cheap) way to get around Chiang Mai and to the towns nearby. It’s a fun way to explore Chiang Mai and it also brings you closer to the community.
Renting a motorbike is very cheap in Chiang Mai. With 99 baht per day (24 hours), you can get a 100cc motorbike plus 2 helmets. A more common 110cc – 125cc motorbike costs around 150 to 200 baht per day. (automatic transmissions capable of carrying 2 people)
Rental & charges are pretty standard at a different shop, and they will request to keep your original passport as collateral. But if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your passport there, you can pay a cash deposit, which is around 2000 baht to 3000 baht per bike.
The motorbike shop normally won’t check (or won’t bother at all) whether you have a valid driving license. A valid Thai or international license is legally required when riding a motorbike in Chiang Mai.
The policeman frequently fine drivers (200 baht) without a valid driving license and for not wearing a helmet. Normally there will be a small payment counter whenever a roadblock is conducted and a receipt (fine ticket) will be given upon payment. Remember to keep the ticket and show it in case you encounter another roadblock on the same day (you won’t be punished twice for the same offence).
See here for more details about renting a motorbike in Chiang Mai.
11. Rent a Car
If you travel with families or in a group and want a more relaxing road trip, consider renting a car. Rate starts from 800 – 1,000 baht per day (24 hours) for the most common 5 seater sedan. SUV, pickup truck and a van will costs around 2,500 – 3,000 baht per day.
Most cars don’t come with any GPS device. However, there should be no problem using the mobile app such as WAZE or Google Map as your navigator because the 3G/4G coverage in Chiang Mai is excellent even if you are planning a road trip to the peak of a mountain.
If you need a vehicle immediately upon arriving Chiang Mai International Airport, there are two companies operating at the airport i.e National Car Rental and Avis Rent a Car. Please contact the company to reserve ahead, to be sure they have the available car for you.
If you are not in rush for a car, there are plenty of car rental companies in the old city, with a cheaper rate. Some companies will request for your original passport as collateral. But you can also pay cash deposit, for around 10,000 baht. Stick to the company that offers comprehensive insurance and 24-hour emergency roadside assistance to avoid hefty damage costs in case of accident.
Note that Thai people drive on the left side of the road. A valid Thai or international driving license is required to be legally driving in Thailand. Some car rental company will insist that you possess a valid driving license, or else they won’t rent to you.
There are many tour operators that can arrange and customize your trips which include transportation such as an air-conditioned van, or simply a songthaew. Some travel companies, hotels, and guesthouses can arrange tours.
Ask the agent about the transportation before joining a tour. A songthaew has no air-condition, no seat belt, and uncomfortable bench seat. But the price is likely to be cheaper.
13. Segway (!?)
Take the Segway City Tour ‘glided’ tour and cruise around the various historical sites and landmarks in the scenic old city. Ok, ok …… this is more like a tour, rather than a mode a transportation.
But if you have a few hours spare to kill while enjoying your lazy vacation in Chiang Mai, try gliding on a segway along the small lane in between the ancient temples and busy cafes might give you a different perspective of the beautiful city. It’s truly the most interesting way to experience the and explore the city.