So what exactly is a Wing 41 Pass?
Quite simply, it’s a special permit that allows everyday folk to drive their car or motorcycle on the 2km or so stretch of two-way road that runs through the Wing 41 Royal Thai Air Force base skirting the north-eastern flank of Chiang Mai International Airport. But naturally security’s tight with a Military Police checkpoint on the south side at the very end of Sanambin (Airport) Road as well as at the bottom of the recently finished extension road that connects with the junction of Suthep and Nimmanahaeminda Roads. And except on the odd occasion when it’s closed temporarily for a defence exercise or opened briefly to regular traffic, the Wing 41 bypass is accessible between 6AM and 10PM every single day but only to authorised vehicles…and that doesn’t include push bikes!
Where & when can I get a Wing 41 Pass?
After getting the nod to enter the Wing 41 base for a pass, the place to apply is at the not-so-surprisingly army green coloured building (GPS co-ordinates: 18.78271, 98.96636) (see Map below) which, coming from the direction of Suthep Road, is situated 600m after the checkpoint on the left-hand side. And with the customary presence of bright orange traffic cones ahead of the turning for the building plus any number of Military Police officers directing would-be permit hunters into the parking lot out front, it’s hard to miss the target!
With no appointment system set up, the application office is open for walk-ins from 8:30AM to 11:30AM and from 1:30PM to 3:30PM Monday to Friday but closed altogether on Wednesday afternoons and when the week day happens to fall on a Thai public holiday. All the same, getting hold of a Wing 41 pass isn’t something that can be done year-round; rather, it’s an annual fixture with applications only invited during the months of November and December (every so often continuing into mid-January) with permits valid for the whole of the following calendar year. The window of opportunity to put in for 2018’s Wing 41 pass opened on Thursday 2ndNovember with the very last day for applications on Friday 29th December 2017 so if you haven’t already applied for next year’s permit, you’ll need to get your skates on!
How do I get a Wing 41 Pass, what does it cost & how long does it take?
Now before hightailing it over to the Wing 41 application office, you’ll need to do a spot of prep. Assuming you’re requesting one or more permits as an individual and not as a company, each and every vehicle for which you (or your obliging rep!) are applying should have its own set of paperwork:
A signed copy of the vehicle and current owner details from pages 4 and 5 of the vehicle registration booklet (commonly called the ‘blue book’ for a car and the ‘green book’ for a motorbike) or some other proof of vehicle ownership.
A signed copy of the vehicle owner’s identification (which should match that in the vehicle registration booklet); for Thai persons, their national ID card and for foreign visitors, the bio-data page of their passport.
Perhaps unexpectedly, what you aren’t required to supply are the original documents…or, for that matter, the vehicle owner’s driving licence! As soon as you’ve gathered together the necessary photocopies, grabbed 105 baht in cold, hard cash for each application and a black or blue pen, you’ll be good to go though you might wanna pitch up at the Wing 41 application office the moment they open the doors otherwise you’re likely to find yourself amidst a sea of a few hundred other like-minded applicants with nothing less than an hour or three’s wait on your hands!
Once on site and for the princely sum of 5 baht apiece, start by fetching however many official application forms you need then get to work on putting pen to paper at the tables provided outside of the main building at the back. Although the form’s written in Thai, the more important information that needs to be entered is also presented in English. Besides, completed application forms have to be vetted and okayed before they can be submitted and, as luck would have it, Wing 41 staff have a deserved reputation not just for being supremely helpful but, well, for handling matters with military efficiency!
After filling out the application form to the best of your ability, you’ll need to get in one of the nearby lines (preferably the shortest!) to have your documents checked by one of two or three Military Police officers parked at the desk in front. And once all your papers are in order, they’ll receive a stamp of approval.
Last but not least, head back inside the main building and join the single queue for one of the two service counter windows and, upon reaching the head of the line, hand over all of your documents and cough up the inordinately reasonable fee of 100 baht per application. For your efforts, you’ll be returned the bottom portion of each application form as a receipt on which will have been stamped in blue a date range (with the months in Thai script and the year corresponding to the Buddhist Era calendar) for sometime in January to April of the following year for you to pick up your Wing 41 permit. While you must go get your permit in a timely manner or else it may be withdrawn, you’re given roughly a month (give or take a few days either side) to do so and, in the meantime, it’s perfectly legit to use the receipt slip itself as a makeshift pass!
What are the rules about having a Wing 41 Pass?
When the time comes for collection and with receipt in hand, take a trip back to the main building in office hours. Before you can become the proud owner of a Wing 41 pass (actually a circular tax disc style sticker), however, you’ll need to read the terms and conditions of issuance noted in both Thai and English right next to the service counter windows; chief among them are displaying the Wing 41 sticker only on the vehicle to which it relates; stopping when instructed such as at either checkpoint so Military Police can inspect your permit; observing speed limits as signposted; no overtaking; and buckling up when in a car or wearing a helmet when on a motorbike which apart from being the law of the land, common sense dictates you ought to be doing anyway in order to stay safer on Chiang Mai’s roads! Provisos taken on board, you can finally snag your very own Wing 41 sticker then, after cutting to shape, simply slap on your motor (or to be more precise and totally compliant, affix it on your vehicle so it’s clearly and easily visible) and Bob’s your uncle!
Still, don’t forget that the Wing 41 base is a fully operational military facility so you’d be extremely wise to obey the rules to the letter and at all times when in transit. Fail to comply and your permit, as it’s technically government property, can be taken away without warning jeopardising your chances of scoring a Wing 41 pass in the future.
What are the benefits to having a Wing 41 Pass?
As a convenient shortcut between the north-west/west parts of town and the south-eastern fringes of the city and onward to Hang Dong, the most obvious boon of having a Wing 41 permit is as a massive time saver on top of making getting around a heck of a lot breezier. Take, for instance, the journey from the Suthep/Nimmanhaemin intersection to Chiang Mai Airport – under normal traffic conditions, a tortuous 6km route through the ever heaving one-way outer and inner moat roads down the west side of the Old City so don’t bank on it taking anything less than about 20 minutes…and that’s with a good tail wind! Hitting the traffic light-free and direct Wing 41 bypass, on the other hand, will knock 15 minutes or more off the same trip and cover scarcely more than 2km of ground!
Less patently, the shorter distances and smooth-flowing traffic will cut your fuel spend as well as reduce wear and tear on your vehicle; and with strikingly fewer motors on the Wing 41 road and strictly enforced rules, offers an infinitely safer route not to mention, during daylight hours and especially at sunset, being a positively scenic drive with the lush mountains of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park looming majestically in the background. All this for the colossal overhead of half a baht a week!
Care to share your own experiences getting and using a Wing 41 Pass in Chiang Mai? Do you feel the permit is worth the time, money and effort or not? We’d absolutely love to hear what you have to say so please feel free to post a comment below!