Every Thai town has its public transport idiosyncrasies and Thailand’s northern capital of Chiang Mai, is no exception.
Firstly, despite being one of the kingdom’s larger towns, there is no public bus service — well, there are a few buses, but not much of a service. Probably under pressure from the songthaew and tuk tuk mafias, the rare public buses are now reduced to going round and round the Super Highway ring road. If you are lucky enough to find one it’s a 10 baht flat fare.
Secondly, there are no motorbike taxis – not a great loss!
So you’re left with tuk tuks and the red songthaews (meaning two benches in Thai). The songthaews are bright red, souped up pick-up trucks that more or less function as buses anyway and while not having fixed routes – the first passenger to get in determines the route – they will stop and drop off anyone, anywhere on their way. Flat fare is 20 baht within downtown, and 30–40 baht if you’re going a bit further, such as to the Arcade bus station or the railway station. Flag one down, tell the driver where you want to go and then they’ll tell you whether it’s on their route or not. You can also rent one for the day – good if there’s a few people – and that will set you back around 2,000 baht or so depending upon where you want to go.
Chiang Mai tuk tuks are of the cramped, low-roof Bangkok style, so not great for going any great distance and not particularly cheap either. Congratulations if you can get one to turn their engine on for less than 50 baht – most inner city rides will be 60–80 baht while longer rides such as to trains station or Nimmanhemin, will set you back 100–120 baht. You do have to negotiate for tuk tuk fares, but fortunately the common Bangkok tuk tuk scams are largely absent from Chiang Mai.
Finally, last and probably least, are the metered taxis. Similar in appearance to Bangkok ones, they also in theory have a 35 baht starting fare then clock up per kilometre. But since Chiang Mai is a lot smaller than Bangkok, this is never going to amount to more than a 50 baht ride. No wonder they won’t turn their meters on, and a usual fare within Chiang Mai is going to set you back 120 baht or so. They are very few and far between, and you’re only going to come across them at busy points such as Airport Plaza or the airport itself.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 22nd February, 2011.