Chiang Mai is a backpackers’ dream with a great mix of Thai culture, fun accommodation, cheap food and nightlife and decent WiFi. However, despite being well-and-truly on the tourist trail the public transport options still leave a little to be desired. Chiang Mai doesn’t benefit from the bus and metro system of Bangkok and therefore travellers need to be open to trying some more authentic, local transport choices instead. Read on to find out our top tips for using local transport in Chiang Mai.
Songthaews or Rót Daang
Songthaews or rót daang (literally translated as ‘red truck’) are some of the most common forms of transport in Chiang Mai. They may not be the most glamorous or comfortable (think: two wooden benches stuffed in the back of a truck) but they are definitely cheap! A short journey costs around 20 Baht ($0.60), whereas a longer route out of the city will cost around double that.
You’ll see these pick-up trucks roaming in and out of the city at all times of the day and night with a mix of both locals and tourists piled in the back. Although these trucks don’t have an exact route, the drivers are happy to pick up and drop off anyone who is heading in the same direction as them. Flag down the driver and state your destination and they’ll give you a simple yes/no answer. Easy as that!
If you’d rather get from A to B without any stops, a tuk tuk may be a better option than a songthaew. These little rides are available all over the city with friendly (if a little cheeky) drivers ready to barter for your business. Make sure you negotiate your rate before setting off. It’s worth chatting to locals in your hostel about tuk tuk prices so you have a vague idea of how much different journeys should be.
Taxi or Grab
As you would expect, being a multicultural city with tons of Digital Nomads and Expats, Chiang Mai is home to plenty of taxis as well as the Grab taxi service (South East Asia’s equivalent of Uber). These are both safe and relatively cheap and ensure you get to your destination in a little more comfort than using a tuk tuk! If you’re planning on travelling around Asia downloading the Grab app is a great shout as you’ll be able to use it throughout Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and beyond.
Bike or Foot
The Old City of Chiang Mai, home to the majority of accommodation and tourist attractions, is only 1.5 square kilometres and can be easily explored on foot or by bike. There are loads of bicycle rental places around the city and each major temple or attraction is likely to have somewhere outside where you can lock up your bike.
The only thing we wouldn’t particularly recommend is motorbike taxis, especially at night. These can be an alright option for confident solo travellers but there is a possible risk involved as you are alone and at the hands of the driver. They can be a quick option for short routes but be aware that some drivers may be willing to drive recklessly to get you to your destination fast while others may not even offer a helmet for safety.
So, although Chiang Mai’s transport isn’t quite at the level of other South East Asian cities, you’ll still find it a breeze to get around and with some of the best bars, restaurants, and attractions being in the small square of Old City you’ll probably reach most of them on foot.