Chiang Mai now has a large air-conditioned bus service; the public bus system runs from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm, covers the major city routes and is not expensive. There are also abundant songthaews, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, mountain bikes, cars. Chiang Maiís streets have become busy and sometimes congested, although, usually a journey never takes more than 20 minutes.
The most common form of transportation in the urban area of Chiang Mai is by songthaew, also known as ďseelorĒ or ďrod-daengĒ. Cheap and readily available, Songthaews are colorful and small covered pick-ups with two benches in the back. To board one just raise your hand and look at the driver, who will stop, the fare depends of the distance, you should negotiate the price beforehand if you want to go to a specific address.
You can easily get a songthaew to town from the airport, train station and bus terminal. Songthaews congregate outside the flower market, Suan Dok hospital, Central shopping mall, Chiang Mai University and other popular spots.
The color of the songthaew indicated its general route or usage.
- Red songthaews, which roams the main streets, are the most common.
- White songthaews travel from Warorot market to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng.
- Yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim in the north.
- Blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south.
- Green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the north-east.
The three wheeled tuk-tuks are common around the town; riding these three wheeled vehicles is the quintessential Thai experience. These small vehicles are good for a short ride around in the old city and to the temples around, these are very effective at beating the traffic. Tuk-tuks can be found near all of the major hotels and tourist areas. Negotiate the fare with the driver prior to starting the journey.
The most practical way to get around Chiang Mai is by hired motorcycle, visitors can rent motorcycles from several motorbike rental companies around town, the most common are the typical Asian motorbikes such as Honda and Yamaha, expect discounts when renting for several days. Passports (in some cases just a photocopy) are usually taken as a deposit, motorcycles can be rented and helmets must be worn and do pay the extra for insurance. Make sure you read and understand the agreement before parting with your money. Chiang Mai is a safe place compared to the rest of Thailand, but one must have the nerve to tackle the traffic and bizarre driving habit here.
Bicycles are popular among visitors; this is an enjoyable way to explore Chiang Mai town, especially within the old city walls. Bikes can be rented from almost every corner around the old city; prices donít vary so much, so the quality of the bike is the most important criteria for choosing one. Sometimes humidity and heat make bike-riding uncomfortable; furthermore traffic isnít very respectful of cyclists.
There is no substitute for discovering a city by walking at your own pace. The old city is easy to walk around. The airport is quite close to the old part of town.
Rent a car is a good idea if you intend on exploring the province. You can enjoy great scenery and roads have good sign posting. There are several car rental agencies around town, including Budget, Hertz, Avis and National, most hotels will be able to arrange a car and driver for longer trips. Vehicles range from small compact to four wheel drive jeeps, to rent a car, visitors will need a valid passport and a valid driverís license. Itís better to rent a car with a chauffeur.
Chiang Mai has a limited number of metered taxis; most of them operate the airport-city route. Those probably are the most expensive form of transportation, although safe and with air-conditioned. There are not licensed taxis, use them at your own risk.