To look on a map of Chiang Mai you would think all the city’s major temples and cafes are well within walking distance of each other. Unfortunately the reality is a little different. The city has so much traffic, and so little provisions for pedestrians that waiting to cross the road can literally take 5 minutes. If are staying outside the old town you will have no choice, but to spend money on some form of transport. Luckily, as this guide shows, transport in the city is cheap, straight forward and readily available.
International and National Services
Serving Thailand and South East Asian countries such as Laos and Myanmar, Chiang Mai International airport receives 2 – 3 million visitors a year. A grain in the sand compared to Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, but plenty for what is a small, albeit well equipped, single two terminal building.
From the airport you can catch a meter taxi a tuk-tuk, or a songtaew. It costs 120 baht for a meter taxi into the center; just make sure you ask the driver to put on his meter before you leave. While tuk-tuk fares are always open for negotiation they are the city’s most expensive form of transport. The cheapest option is a songtaew (one of the red buses). A songtaew should cost no more than 60 baht.
– If you think a driver is charging you too much, he probably is. Say no to him and the price will soon come down.
– Only catch taxis from the taxi ranks outside the terminal.
There are two main bus stations in Chiang Mai. The Chang Puak Station near Chang Puak Gate serves the Chiang Mai province, including buses such tourist towns as Mae Rim. The Arcade bus station is Chiang Mai’s national and international bus station. It has three terminals. Terminal one serves the Northern Thai provinces such as as Chiang Rai, terminal two serves national provinces and cities such as Bangkok and terminal three serves nearby countries such as Laos.
Neither bus station has a website. The larger bus companies, such as Green Bus, have websites, but they tend to have limited information. For schedules and tickets it is best to visit the station a day or two in advance.
– From the old town it costs between 40-50 baht to get to the Arcade bus station by songtaew
Chiang Mai railway station is located in Chaoren Muang Road near the Ping River. Most people use it to get to Bangkok railway station. From Bangkok you can travel onto other countries such as Laos and Vietnam.
– From the old town it costs about 50 baht to get to the railway station
– You should ask at the nearest tourist center about time trains, but you are best booking and paying for the ticket at the station. You can pay for it through a tour operator, but they will probably charge you commission.
The cheapest and most common form of transport are the songtaews – the red vans that appear after every other car, sit outside malls and stop in front of you when you are trying to cross the road. They have no designated stops and instead you have to flag them down like a taxi. They work in a similar way in that they go where you want – if they are going in that direction; the difference is they that will pick up other people on the way. Sometimes songtaews are so crowded that passengers stand on the steps outside the van. Prices usually go from 20 baht to 60 baht.
– Don’t worry if a driver shakes his head at you and speeds off. He is not being rude. He is just going in another direction.
Sometime you will see taxis outside shopping centers such as the Airport Plaza, but they mostly they are a rare breed. It is a shame because they are cheaper, more comfortable and far less of a hassle than their closest alternative – the tuk-tuks. If you want a taxi you can book one through Taxi Meter Chiang Mai.
Ranging from 100 baht to 200 baht tuk-tuks are very expensive compared to other forms of transport in Chiang Mai. With so many songtaews on the road for a tenth of the price during the day, it is not really worth the money. Late at night however, a tuk-tuk will be your only option. Just make sure your driver doesn’t try to overcharge you. For a ten minute ride for example, he should ask for no more than 100 baht. If you are willing to barter you could probably get him down to 60-80 baht.
The old part of Chiang Mai, where you will find most of the city’s Buddhist temples, is the only area of Chiang Mai you can negotiate easily by bicycle. Not only do the roads have far less cars compared to the rest of the city, but they are connected by a number of sois (side roads) usually only used by pedestrians and motorcyclists. Renting a bike is easy. In the old town you will find numerous – some very unlikely looking shops – renting out bicycles from as little as 30 baht a day. Some hostels such as the popular Deejai’s hotels also rent out bikes, but you have to be staying there.
If you want to zoom all across the city there is no better or cheaper option than a scooter. You can rent them out at shops throughout the city from as little as 250 baht a day. Just keep your keeps you wits about you. From the outside Thai motorists don’t seem to adhere to any speed limit (they either go too fast or too slow) and can appear from nowhere.