Songthaew (shared taxis)
The public transport system in Chiang Mai is not what you might expect. In fact, it is not public at all. However, It does function as one and quite well for the most part. It consists of a fleet of privately owned and operated shared taxicabs commonly called “songthaews” (for their “two row” seating arrangement) that essentially cover all major routes and areas much like a public bus system.
There are two kinds of shared taxicabs: free route red trucks, known locally as Rod Daeng (Thai for “red car”) and those with fixed routes which come in several other colours, these are useful for out of town trips.
By far the most common way of getting around is by red truck. They are easy to find on any main road as well at high-traffic spots such as malls, large shopping outlets and popular tourist areas. Here is how it all works:
Even though routes are not fixed, drivers tend to follow along the major arteries where they can be certain to pick up more passengers, keeping that in mind will help you chose a good spot to hail one, according to your destination.
- You flag the truck down, the diver pulls over and you give him your destination (it is best to use intersections, landmarks or a have it written in down in Thai if you have a more precise location)
- If your destination is along his current planned route, the driver will nod affirmatively, otherwise they just say “no”. This is perfectly normal and there is no need to try to persuade him, just look for the next red truck which should not be far behind. If you are not sure how far you’re going, ask “how much?” before you get in to avoid a surprise.
- Generally speaking, rates are not discussed beforehand as they start at 20 THB and should not exceed 50 THB, that is unless you wish to charter the truck, in which case the driver will take you anywhere in town, for a rate you both agree on. Generally speaking you should expect to pay a lot more since you will have the truck all to yourself but it may well not be the case. It all depends on the distance and on how easy it would be for the driver to find passengers in the destination area.
The fixed-route trucks can be a good option for longer trips to specific destinations. The biggest advantage is that they charge a flat rate of 20 THB and will drop you off at any spot along their route. Of course, a look at the map and some planing is needed to use their services. You can catch one along it’s route but the more common way is to get on at one of the two terminals in town. The routes are named for the destination town (the trucks run continuously between the terminal and the town):
San Kampang Route – White truck: departing from Warrot Market terminal ( 7am – 9pm)
Lamphun Route Route – Light blue truck: departing from Chang Phuak terminal ( 5am – 8pm)
Fang Route – Orange truck: departing every 30 minutes from Chang Phuak terminal (7:30am – 4:30pm)
Mae Rim Route – Yellow truck: departing every 6 minutes from Warrot Market terminal (6:30am – 6:30pm)
Mae Jo Route – Green truck: departing every 15 minutes from Chang Phuak terminal (6am – 7pm)
The ubiquitous motorcycle powered taxi of Southeast Asia is your best bet when in a hurry. Although, considerably more expensive than shared taxis, tuk-tuks offer two big advantages:
- they can be found literary everywhere and at all times of the day or night and
- they will take you to your destination directly (as opposed to a songthaew which usually takes many detours as it drops off other passengers).
Tuk-tuk rates start at 50 THB and should always be negotiated beforehand.
The so called “meter” taxis are easy to recognize as they look very much like taxis anywhere in the world (in Chiang Mai they are blue and yellow) but are generally hard to find with the exception of the airport, train station, and in front of the malls and bigger hotels. The other issue which makes them largely unpopular is that in the majority of situations the driver will refuse to turn on his meter and ask for a flat rate instead. The most practical way of using one is to call the company and ask them to send over a car – they will give you a quote. This is a list of the main companies in Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai Airport Taxi (Tel: 066 53 201307 or 066 53 922128)
Taxi Meter Chiang Mai (Tel. 053 279291 or 053 271242)
Taxi Lanna (Tel. 053 922142 or 053 922152)
Taxi Chiang Mai (Tel. 053 262878 or 053 241955)
Although Chiang Mai’s “public” transport system may take some getting used to, in general it works quite well. Depending on where in the city one resides, it can be a very good option especially for older people who may not feel comfortable driving in the city’s busy streets.