If one is not to drive in Chiang Mai, it could be a hapless effort to walk, since the distances can be large between the sights and potential shopping areas. Taking taxis in Chiang Mai can be a risky “gamble”, as most do not operate their meters even though they are mandated to do so, reducing the ride to a haggling nightmare. Tuk Tuks, for the rickety ride they offer are not only “not as safe” from a traffic perspective, but also rife with drivers who want to bring you where you don’t.
So what your alternatives?
If you, like us have traveled to Chiang Mai before, you will notice that there are so many of these red jeepney like modified pickups running around the city. These red pickups seem to ply in a directionless manner is your most likely answer.
Called “songthaews” locally, these are licensed miniature bus/taxi etc that do not follow exact routes. However the color of the Songthaew dictates that it may only operate within a specific geographical area, of which red indicates it to be most of the city area.
Flagging them down is easy enough. See one? Stick out your hand, or the drivers frequently call out to you (horn or otherwise). Generally it has been safe and since the license of the driver is pasted on the pickup, it is a very good alternative to walking in the dusty roads of the city!
Now you still need to bargain, but the price guidance here is quite narrow – usually 20 baht per person for a ride within the city area (good as of Sep-15). You can get this price most of the day time as supply outstrip demand. However as evening sets in the price rises as not only tourists but locals may take these for the homeward journey. The Songthaew will also pick up other passengers along the way, so don’t think the long benches are for you alone!
While you may have agreed on a designated destination or drop off point, you can also press the button usually located on the roof of the pickup. You can stop the Songthaew and then proceed to the passenger side to make your payment – yes pay when you get to your destination and not before!
Be careful getting on or off
Safety is paramount and getting on and off the Songthaew is something to be aware of. Remember that there can be many other passengers onboard. Don’t forget anything, because it is very likely you will not find it again. Sometimes the ride appear circuitous, but that is the nature of the road system in Chiang Mai with its many one-way roads and hey – the price you agreed with the driver does not change. He simply drives around looking for business while going in your drop-off direction.
If you do wish to travel further than the city limits, the songthaew remains a viable option. Here is where the colors come into play. From Warorot Market, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim in the north, while the blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south. In addition, green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the northeast and white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng.
So don’t just jump into any of the other colored songthaews!