Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is as popular destination as it is in part thanks to its size. It’s a major Thailand city but compact enough that getting from one side to the other is easy to do.

Choosing the right mode of transport to get around will need different consideration at any given time of day – or weather condition! You are likely to find yourself using every one of these at some point during your time in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai’s Famous Red Trucks

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

The songthaew – or rod daeng (red car) – is one of Chiang Mai’s most recognizable institutions. Whilst they can be booked as private hire, they are the dominant “public” transport form in the city.

Songthaew’s (roughly translated as two rows) are a hybrid of a shared taxi and public bus. They don’t operate on set routes, but they won’t necessarily go straight to your destination – or even drop you off in order of boarding – if another passenger’s drop-off point is closer or more convenient. The driver makes up their route as passengers board so it can be a great way to see streets you otherwise wouldn’t, as well as mix with city-folk who rely on them to go about their daily lives.

Journeys are a fixed 30-baht rate (as of writing) for any distance around the city, but use a little discretion. If you’ve jumped on board at The Riverside Condo and gone all the way to The Convention Centre, you might want to compensate your driver a little for such a long ride!

Be aware that drivers can – and will – refuse to take you if they aren’t going your way, are full…or the fare just doesn’t feel worth their while! This can be especially true at night, if are you going a long distance, or from a busy tourist spot, so expect to have to barter in one or more of those scenarios.

Songthaews can commonly be full at peak times (7-9am, 4-7pm) and aren’t known for their speed, so temper expectations if you need to get somewhere fast, especially when traffic is heavy.

To take a songthaew, simply flag one down when you see one, tell the driver where you want to go, confirm the fare cost, and jump in at the back of the truck. Pay your fare when you reach the destination.

Quick Tip: Drivers often won’t speak much English so make sure you have either a little Thai in the locker, or your destination open on Google Maps. These drivers know Chiang Mai very well, but they aren’t New York Taxi drivers or London cabbies who have to know the city as a prerequisite. They may not know every shop, hotel, or bar.

Tuk Tuks

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

Equally synonymous, with Thailand at large, are the three-wheeled tuk tuk. Not as numerous as in Bangkok, they are still a fun and effective way to get around Chiang Mai. 

Comfortable-ish for three people (though this is Thailand, and you are bound to see them loaded up with a family of locals, their shopping, and maybe a three-piece sofa), they offer a much quicker way to get around the city than the songthaew.

You’ll have no problem hailing one down – in fact you are highly likely to have one slow down and honk at you whenever you are on the street – just be prepared to barter for your fare. Don’t jump in until you have fixed your price.

Expect to pay at least 100 baht if you are travelling more than a couple of kilometers, which does make them one of the pricier forms of transport around the city. It is an experience though! 

They do, perhaps, offer the most in terms of convenience. There is no need to book, and they are more agile through the traffic than a car or songthaew.

As pollution becomes more of a conversation piece in Chiang Mai, more electric tuk tuks are popping up around the city. Half the fun of jumping in one, though, is the noise and colorful décor of some of the more personalized versions of this most iconic of vehicles.

The Popular Ride Apps

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

Few countries have escaped the ride app revolution, and in fact they are a perfect fit for Thailand.

Grab, Bolt, LineMan, and InDrive all offer various forms of transport around the city with just a couple of taps on their app. They are also extremely cost-effective, and in Chiang Mai you are very rarely waiting long for a vehicle to arrive.

The cheapest form will usually be a motorcycle taxi, perfect for one person to make a quick journey around the city – though prepare for a more visceral experience than you might get in the back of a Toyota Vios! You can get across the old town on a motorcycle taxi for as little as 20 baht, depending on demand and time of day.

You’ll be able to book anything from a scooter ride to a luxury 4×4 to a songthaew, depending on availability, and plenty of long-term visitors rely on them to get around the city.

Super convenient, and usually the most cost-effective way to get around.

Private Hire Taxis

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

Despite the emergence of ride apps, there are still plenty of private hire vehicles around. In fact, most of them moonlight between being hailed down on the street, private bookings, and taking fares from the apps.

Usually visible by their blue and yellow exterior, private taxis can be waved down on the street or booked in the more traditional manner of a telephone call (or more likely these days, a Line or WhatsApp message). They have meters, but you will usually have to ask or remind them to use it. It is more likely that you’ll need to negotiate a rate, so do so before the journey starts.

Expect to pay less than a tuk tuk, but probably a little more than the ride apps.

Often drivers will be friendly and chatty, and plenty of tourists, expats or long-stay visitors have found a regular driver they have then negotiated deals with for future journeys.

Whilst tuk tuks and songthaews are fun to ride, it also can’t be underestimated how often the air-conditioning inside a taxi is of great relief on a hot Chiang Mai day!

Get On Your Bike

Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai

The relative flat of Chiang Mai’s roads make it a fairly easy city to ride a bicycle around – despite the heat! That’s if you are happy to share the roads with a diverse variety of vehicles, of course.

It is also quite a pleasant way to get around the city at a slightly slower pace, see a few more sights, and stay active. Most hostels and hotels in the old town will rent you one for a day for 100 baht – or 50 baht for just a few hours – but there are numerous bicycle shops around where you can purchase one.

You will also find inexpensive used bicycles on Facebook marketplace, or at some of the rental shops around the city.

For you serious cyclists, you will find a thriving cycling community in Chiang Mai and several stores selling high end on- and off-road bicycles.

While Chiang Mai is a city, it doesn’t have the extensive public transport options some major cities around Asia have. However, it does have some of the more fun – and quick – methods of getting around that many of them don’t!

Costs to get around are relatively low – whichever method you choose – and many will still use them, even if they choose to rent or purchase a motorbike {Link to motorbikes article] and/or a car.

If you’ve a favorite way of getting about – it might not even be on our list – then let us and other visitors to Chiang Mai know below in the comments.

Find out more about the day-to-day costs of living in Chiang Mai in these articles:

Utility Costs In Chiang Mai

Banking Costs In Chiang Mai

Drinking WaterCostsInChiang Mai

Alcohol And Tobacco Costs In Chiang Mai

2 thoughts on “Transportation Costs In Chiang Mai”

  • Nicole

    Thank you for this, very helpful.
    Where can we find the schedules for free shuttle buses. Have looked all over the internet. And where do they pick up and stop.?

  • lynne

    precious little stays the same for very long here! the free shuttle bus service at both maya and promenada malls no longer run…that at centralfestival and central airport plaza malls most definitely still do but, weirdly, neither publish their respective shuttle bus timetable online…you will find the info online, though (try a google image search for ‘shuttle bus’ + name of the mall, eg), just be aware that the schedules, routes and stopping off points change regularly enough that often the said info is out of date…in other words, the most reliable source for the most up-to-date shuttle bus timetable is the mall itself, hence i suggest you stop by both central malls to get the info you need…also since this article was published, uber doesn’t operate in chiang mai any more (it was bought out by grab), the white city bus now has a third route (b3) as does the airport shuttle bus plus the rtc smart bus service was introduced in april this year and they’re already operating a handful of routes all over the city and beyond (20 baht a head), even if it isn’t a very efficient system right now! hope that helps!

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