Transport Options in Chiang Mai
Can you get around Chiang Mai without having wheels? Sure there are red pickup trucks called Song Taew or locally as the red bus these are 20 baht to anywhere in and around the city. Just stop any of them and tell them where to go, some won’t go some may try to ask for extra so just ask the next one but generally anywhere in the city should be 20 baht.
The Song Taew are OK they spew nasty fumes into the air and are generally dirty however the alternative public transport is the famous Thailand Tuk Tuk the same style as the ones in Bangkok. These are 60-100 baht depending on where you go and what time of the day.
The problem with the Song Taew is that they only operate during the day and for a few hours after sunset and prefer to take big groups of people. There is a Taxi service but this isn't metered so if you call for a ride it’s going to be 150-200 baht a trip again to most places in the city.
The alternative is to drive yourself
If you’re on a budget of 1000 baht days then you’re going to spend a lot of money in transport if you take the public option. Because your budget is minimal and you plan to stay in Chiang Mai for more than 6 months then it's best if you purchase a cheap scooter instead of paying 3000 baht a month for rent. Over 6 months you could have bought one anyway.
You can scoot across town and back on 10 baht of fuel but the cheapest public transport available will cost you 40 baht. If you arn't renting the bike your transport costs could be as low as 10% of the public option depending on how much you go out. I recommend if you've never ridden before to start with a Honda Click they are the easiest bikes to ride but they eat more fuel and are automatic not so great for climbing mountains. Next option is a Honda Wave which requires less fuel but is more difficult for the novice to ride.
If you've never ridden a motorbike or scooter before it’s really not that difficult and you’ll be blazing around town without a hassle one can learn to drive in only a few hours instruction.
There is a second hand scooter and motorbike dealership located on Rachadamnern road aka the Sunday night walking street 50 meters after the Wawee coffee shop on your left. For a second hand Wave you’re looking to spend 20-30,000 baht and the same for a second hand Click. You could purchase brand new either bike for 45-60,000 baht depending on the model. When you resell the second hand model you may only loose 5000 baht if anything at all and those bikes are easy to resell. However if you buy a new model you may lose up to 20,000 baht!
If saving money is not something your too concerned about, a larger CC bike can have many advantages. Firstly with what the locals call a Big Bike you can go further distances than just around town. An added side benefit of owning a Big Bike is the same as back home, girls love a guy on a motorbike.
If you have a problem with a regular scooter then changing a flat tire can be done all over the city, in fact getting someone to change your oil or flat tire in Chiang Mai is easier than ordering a coffee. There are places all over the city so no matter where you have a problem it should be easy to roll down and find someone to help you out. In Thai the signs are written as ปะยาง and typically have no English translation. ปะยาง in the most simplest translation means “hole in my tire tube”.
Safety on the road
Living here the past 4 years I've seen 100's of accidents on bikes and 95% of those accidents have occurred at intersections especially in Chiang Mai. And I'm sure 50% of those accidents were caused by someone running a red light. In fact running a red light is the second most driver offence committed in Chiang Mai after not indicating.
Please for your own safety NEVER race off a green light and ALWAYS slow down at intersections no matter if you have a green light or not.
Getting a drivers license might seem like a hassle and it is it's about a day out of your life in Chiang Mai but with the advantages of having one "cheaper prices" and a Thai form of identification. But this isn't why you get it, if your unlicensed have an accident your insurance may not pay you the money! Additionally if you're in an accident and you don't have a license you may have to pay the 50,000 baht fine that you will get for having done so.
Chiang Mai isn't as strict as most places in Thailand when it comes to wearing a helmet but they do go through stints of when they catch people. There is a map which tells you all the checkpoints where to avoid. Chiang Mai now does alcohol testing at Thapae gate typically on the weekends. You don't want to get done it's a 14,000 baht fine and you may go to jail overnight.
Wear a helmet at all times, if you don't wear one or park in a designated no parking area you will get fined. If your bike is locked or you got a fine and took your drivers license you'll need to pay the fine to get your license back. In all cases you will have to go to the police station at the main market in town. Check the map below.
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