Getting Around In Chiang Mai – Overview of Transportation

Chiang Mai, Thailand – Transportation in Thailand is VERY different from the USA. Think a school of fish (Thailand) versus an organized military drill (USA). Here is a little sample of the methods available to get around;

The sidewalks are merely a suggestion (compared with the wide sidewalks of Bangkok) and you often find yourself walking in the street. We are improving our ability to look down at where we are placing our feet and simultaneously look around at the surroundings. We are also exercising our peripheral vision as cars, motor scooters and such come up behind us (because we are regularly walking on the street).  IMG_5497 3

Street crossing is an attained skill. There are a few sidewalks, but no-one pays attention. You just step out, look confident and go. Don’t hesitate, stop or run…. or you will get run over. We usually look for a nice gap and head out. The bikes and cars adjust speed and work their way way around you. The first days in country are a little frightening, but by day 3 the skills are sharpened and we feel pretty comfortable. If we took this ‘skill’ back to the States, we would certainly be killed!

While my time in Asia is limited, if comparing to Vietnam I would say this is much easier on street crossing and obeying lanes. I rarely see motor scooters on sidewalks and if there are stop lights, the cars to obey.

A songthaew (pronounced song tao), literally means “two rows”is a common passenger vehicle in Thailand, adapted from a small pick-up truck and used as a share taxi or bus. The songthaews are color coded by area (red, white, grey). You just flag one down, confirm a rate before climbing in and bang on the window when you get where you are going. The bench seats are slick and our ride up a steep windy road had us clutching our bags and hanging on.

Always negotiate with the driver before you get in.

The tuk-tuks are all over and many are elaborately decorated with colored lights, fun seat fabrics and even big sound systems.

Tuk Tuks











For short trips motorbikes are common. You literally jump on the back of a scooter. We saw tons of this in Bangkok. Drivers wear a reflective vest and a license around their neck as identifiers. With motorbikes ability to shoot up past the cars and get through traffic it is a  quick way to get around. I have not seen any tourists traveling by this method, typically just locals.

Why ride with only 1 passenger if you can fit more?

Rental motorbikes are also common for tourists.  While the country side looks a bit more relaxed and inviting.  The rules of the road, right away and overall chaos will keep us off bikes in town.  We spoke with some folks from the American Embassy who told us every single employee who has a bike, including long time motorcyclists, have gotten into an accident.  So while their commute would be shortened by 40 minutes with a bike, they are sticking to a car.

Taxis are prevalent in Bangkok and we have seen a few here in Chiang Mai as well. In traveling from the Grand Palace in Bangkok, back to our lodging we went about 5 miles in 45 minutes! Thankfully it was air conditioned.

Uber just started a few months ago in Chiang Mai and we had the pleasure of taking a ride in Uber. We used our existing phone app and everything went smoothly. The pickup was a little slower, about 12 minutes. But it was nice to have an air conditioned car for our ride home from the market. Our driver had just been driving for Uber for a week.

Buses for private transportation are common. We understand there was a bus company in town and often see the remains of bus stops. But we have read that the public bus system is no longer running.

Bicycles are seen in and around town.  The traffic makes it a bit scary for riding in town (in my opinion).  But our good friends who are here for a month brought their road bikes and are having an excellent time riding all over the area.  There is an active cyclist community.

Love the hand warmers – it is winter and only 86F

The songthaew is the most popular method of transportation around town.  However, when given a preference we prefer to walk if possible. We need the exercise because the food is SO good!  And so we are off to find another great meal…

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