Getting around Chiang Mai is relatively easy with several modes of transportation to choose from. The Old Town is a key attraction in Chiang Mai and deserves your time, but there is so much to see beyond the moat that you will need to hire some transportation.
You can easily explore the Old Town by strolling through the quiet streets and narrow lane ways on foot. There are several Wats, museums and little markets which are great to wander slowly through. Rickshaw’s are regularly cruising around the main streets of the Old Town and is a great option if your legs are a little tired and you are after a bit of shade.
Renting a bicycle is one of the best way to see the Old Town and the sites beyond, even though it’s considered by most South East Asians the poor man’s transportation. You can rent a bike for about 50THB ($AU1.60) a day and there are places offering city bicycles within and outside the Old Town on almost every corner!
Unlike some of the destinations we have previously visited, it seems child’s seats are rare. So if you are travelling with kids, you might need to search a little harder for one that can offer you a seat. If you are planning to spend a longer period of time in Chiang Mai and like cruising around on a push bike, we recommend you purchase one. There are several bike shops on the edge of town and in the larger department stores where you can buy both city or mountain bikes. You can also purchase used bikes relatively cheaply from hire shops, cafes and tourist places. We purchased our ex rentals for 950THB each ($AU31.00) at the CM Mountain Biking, Kayaking & City Bike Rent on Samlarn just south of the Wat Phra Singh. Just opposite their store is also a repair shop who can provide any modifications or servicing required.
Popular with most locals and tourists are motorbikes or scooters, not only because it’s quick and easy to get around but also because they are pretty cheap too. You can rent one for about 100-150THB ($AU3.00-5.00) a day and it only costs an average of 100THB ($AU3.00) to fill up which lasts a pretty long time. Again, if you are staying for an extended period, it may be worth your while to purchase a second hand bike. We have seen used bikes for as little as $AUD1,000.
If enclosed vehicles are more your thing then you have a few options:
There are ample Tuk Tuks poised ready to take you around Chiang Mai particularly hanging out in front of larger hotels, the markets or some of the main Wats. It’s not the most cost effective way to get around, but it is good fun. Make sure you haggle hard because the initial price is generally overinflate
Song Teaws (pronounced song-tee-ow)
These are by far the most cost effective form of transportation if you prefer a car with most trips costing 20THB ($AU.60) per person. They also run 24/7 and there are lots of them out and about.
You are best to negotiate a price before you get in. In most cases when you are travelling around the central parts of Chiang Mai, you will be the only one in the truck, but other times you might find yourself packed in with a few others particularly if you are going out of town. Just stand on the side of the road and wave the Song Teaws down. Once on board, there is a little button on the interior ceiling to alert the driver you want to get off.
The colour of the Song Teaws indicates their general route. Many also have the destination written in Thai on the front of the truck, but this gives you an idea of what colour Song Teaw goes where.
Red Song Teaws
Central part of the city
Yellow Song Teaws
North out to Mae Rim
South West out towards San Pa Tong
North East out to Doi Saket
White Song Teaws
Eastern route towards Sankampaeng
Blue Song Teaws
South out towards Lamphun via Sarapee
Green Song Teaws
North East route towards Mae Jo
Meter taxis are also roaming about town especially at big shopping malls, hotels and arrival points such as the airport and train station. The luxury of seat belts, air conditioning and a radio makes taxis the most expensive mode of transportation to get around. If you do choose to take a taxi, make sure you ask how much before you get in and ensure he turns the meter on if you haven’t agreed on a fix price.
Our advice is to rent a motorbike (or buy one if you are in Chiang Mai for an extended period) and take advantage of the out of town destinations. If you have kids and putting them on a motorbike is not your thing, then a bicycle is a great solution. Enjoy exploring this great city!