Although Chiang Mai doesn’t has a metro or skytrain like in Bangkok, it is easy and affordable to get around town. Over the past couple months, the public transportation system has been greatly improved with lots of further improvement and changes coming up in 2018.
Before we jump in and talk about the different methods of transportation in Chiang Mai, it’s worth to highlight that public transport almost solely runs during daytime. It’s usually more difficult to get anything after 22:00/23:00 and before 06:00/06:30 in the morning.
Red minibus, known as Songthaew
Songthaew literally means two benches and refers to what it actually offers: two sitting banks on the back of a pickup truck, of course, covered. Since Songthaews come in different colors, the red one is the most common one and the only one that functions as a taxi/bus mix: whenever you see one in the direction you’re headed, just stick your arm out. Once the driver stops, tell him your destination; he will take you if he headed the same way, if not, just wait for the next one (don’t worry, it never takes long). Prices range between 20-40 THB within the moat and about 50-100 THB from the Old City to the train or bus station.
Pro tip: don’t ask the driver for the rate. This shows immediately that you have no idea and the driver offers you a ridiculous high rate. Just go straight to the back and seat after telling the driver about your destination. If he proposes a rate, haggle!
Beside the red one, you can see also Songthaews in various other colors, whereas each color stands for a specific route. In other words, unless you’re staying at a dedicated bus stop, they won’t stop for you. Here are the colors and routes:
Yellow: to/from Mae RIm
Blue: to/from Sarapee & Lamphun
Green: to/from Mae Jo
White: to/from San Kampaeng
Each trip is 20 THB.
The (in)famous tuk tuks. The only reason taking a tuk tuk should be just for the experience, not necessarily because you want to get from A to B. Drivers have widely a reputation for being unfair scam artists and will often charge you way higher than Songthaew drivers would for the same route.
Taxis here can be easily spotted, as they come in a distinctive yellow/blue color. If you’re hailing a taxi, make sure the driver turns on the meter. If he doesn’t, you either agree on a good rate (make sure you know the distance before) or just wait until the next red Songthaew comes. Unlike in Bangkok, you can just find a few taxis around since the main method are the aforementioned red minibuses.
Airport Taxis / Airport transfers
Prices range between 100-150 THB within the Old City and 200 THB around the other side of the moat (near the bus and train station). Consider paying 50-100 THB more during nighttime.
Renting a car from an international company
You can rent a car right at Chiang Mai International Airport, where you can find several international companies like Hertz, Sixt or Avis. Prices are significantly cheaper than in Western countries, ranging somewhere between 1000-3500 THB per day, depending on the size.
Renting a car from a local company
Car rentals weren’t much in demand until recent years but now gaining more and more popularity. While many bigger motorbike rentals nowadays offering cars as part of their service, you have to be extra careful here. Though Chiang Mai’s vehicle rentals are safe to rent from you have to pay always extra attention here; check the documents thoroughly (what does the contract exactly says? Is it in English?). Always read the fine print. If the owner/staff gets pushy, it’s a red flag. Needless to say that you have to inspect the car as well. Always take pictures of the car. Daily rates start from as low as 800 THB for a Nissan March or equal.
Ride-hailing: Uber and GrabTaxi
Uber just recently came to Chiang Mai and enjoys quite some success and popularity among expats. Currently, there is only UberX available, in Europe known under the name UberPop; just download the app and get started. Fares range between 60-100 THB. Another one is GrabTaxi which arrived in Chiang Mai by the end of 2015 and charges as well between 60-100 THB (you also have to download an app here). Both services are great and safe options when travelling at night.
The most popular option among travelers and expats. Scooters/motorbikes are the ideal method of transport in Chiang Mai. You can get easily anywhere without being stucked in traffic jams or worrying about a parking place. In addition, they’re easy and inexpensive to maintain. Renting a scooter like a Honda Scoopy or Honda Click costs between 100-200 THB per day. Manual motorbikes usually cost more, depending on the engine size. Expect to pay higher rates when renting from a motorbike shop near main tourist areas such as Thapae Gate or Nimmanhaemin Road. As with the cars, inspect your bike properly before paying.