So you’ve arrived in Chiang Mai to find that there aren’t many local buses, and the transportation methods are either limited to Taxi, Motorbike, or TukTuk. So how the hell do you get around cheaply? When we arrived from Khon Kaen, we had to work it all out, and in this article, we’re going to share exactly what to do and what to avoid in terms of transport when you arrive in Chiang Mai.
Getting Tuk Tuks Around Chiang Mai
Tuk Tuks are a very popular form of transport in Chiang Mai. They are like a cheaper version of a Taxi and slightly smaller, so are able to sift through traffic much easier making them a bit quicker. Short trips should cost around 50-80 baht ($1.41-2.26), and longer trips 150 baht+ ($4.24). Be careful though, as many Tuk Tuk drivers can inflate the prices for tourists and lots will try to sell your tour packages.
Personally, we would avoid getting Tuk Tuks unless you’re fine with bartering and dealing with things like that during your journey. If you install Grab or Bolt, you can order Taxis and Motorbike Taxis for not too much more.
For instance, below is a screenshot of a very short 2.2km journey we took in Chiang Mai on the most popular applications Grab and Bolt (Bolt is cheaper). You would likely pay a similar price in a Tuk Tuk for this journey.
You can see the trips are anywhere between 50-80 baht ($1.41-2.26)
Getting A Songtaew (Local Bus)
Chiang Mai doesn’t have a public bus yet. They are working on the RTC bus, but it is still yet to be released. For some reason there is information online about the RTC bus being opened, so maybe it was trialled and then stopped again.
Anyway, because of this most locals use Songtaews or Taxis to get around. It’s a cheap way to get around the city and to neighbouring towns surrounding Chiang Mai. However, it is not the most efficient and will often take a lot of time to get to your destination. During the ride the driver may pick up more people who are going your route and will try to fill the car, seeing as that’s what makes them the most money.
There are 6 kinds of Songtaew available in Chiang Mai:
- Red – no have specific route, take you anywhere in the city limit, picks up people on the way, slow but cheap at 20-30 baht ($0.57-0.85) per ride, never exceeding 100 baht ($2.83)
- Yellow – follows routes, only picks up passengers from the bus stop, 20-30 baht ($0.57-0.85) per ride, most finish at 7pm so no use after then
- Blue – follows route Chiang Mai – Lamphun, costs 20-30 baht ($0.57-0.85), and runs 5am – 8pm.
- White – follows multiple routes, costs 20-30 baht ($0.57-0.85) per ride, all routes will finish before 9pm
- Green – follows route Chiang Mai – Mae Jo, costs 20-30 baht ($0.57-0.85) per ride, operates 9am – 4pm
- Orange – follows route Chiang Mai – Fang District, costs 30-80 baht ($0.85-2.26) per ride, operates 6am – 6pm
The red is the most common Songtaew you’ll see in Chiang Mai’s centre, as all other colours follow strict routes and cover the different districts and zones around Chiang Mai. If you are travelling in the centre it’s most likely you’ll get red, for anything outside of the centre, you can get the other coloured routes. The red will be the longest ride, because they will only take you on a route they think they can get a full bus for and they will stop along the way or divert from the route you want to go on to get a full bus so they can make the most money out of the single ride.
The Cheapest Taxi Applications To Use Around Chiang Mai
The best taxi apps to use in Chiang Mai are (in order):
Bolt is by far the cheapest Taxi application to use in Thailand. You can only pay by cash using bolt, so if you don’t have Thai baht or want to pay on your card, then it’s best to use Grab for this. Usually waits are longer on Bolt than Grab in our experience getting taxis all over Thailand.
For a 4.5km journey on Bolt in Chiang Mai expect to pay:
- 80-100 baht/$2.26-2.83 (no rush hour, no rain)
- 100-200 baht+/$2.83-5.66+ (rainy conditions, rush hour)
Even for long-haul travel Bolt is extremely reasonable. In the image above we took a 500km ride from Chiang Mai to the Thai/Laos border. This is about a 4-5hr trip, and only cost $38.81 USD. We did give the driver a massive tip for doing it, seeing as he was driving there and back in one go. But if you don’t want to tip, that’s how much it costs.
Grab is more convenient than bolt, and generally has faster pick up times. It’s more expensive than Bolt, but you can also pay by credit card, which is a useful feature to have if you need to withdraw money or you don’t have enough Thai baht to hand.
It’s the most popular Taxi app in Thailand, so there are many more drivers using Grab, and *generally* drivers tend to use Grab more/are more likely to accept Grab because of the higher payments that it offers, despite that it charges a 5% higher fee than Bolt, drivers will still make more. For instance, if we take the Bolt price (above), the driver earns 70.55 baht minus commission. With Grab the driver earns 72 baht minus commission. On larger rides this gap is bigger.
For a 5km ride Grab Taxi in Chiang Mai, expect to pay:
- 90-120 baht/$2.55-3.39 (no rush hour, no rain)
- 120-250 baht+/$3.39-7.07+ (rainy conditions, rush hour)
InDrive is the least used application. We had no luck using it in our stay at all, and drivers seem to be far more active on both Grab and Bolt. However, some travellers have reported getting better prices with InDrive and it being a useful service so we included it here. It’s usually cheaper fares than Grab or Bolt.
For a 5km ride InDrive Taxi in Chiang Mai, expect to pay:
- 80-100 baht/$2.26-2.83 (no rush hour, no rain)
- 100-200 baht+/$2.83-5.66+ (rainy conditions, rush hour)
Getting A Motorbike Taxi in Chiang Mai
Getting a motorbike taxi around Chiang Mai is by far the cheapest and fastest way to get from A to B. For short rides, you’ll pay 30-70 baht ($0.85-1.98) and no more than 100 baht.
Motorbike Taxis are much quicker than your normal Taxi becuase they can weave through traffic jams and move past them. They are more dangerous than Taxis because often you don’t wear a helmet and if you’re in shorts and a shirt, if you crash well… yeah your skin & body is not going to like that.
If you want to be covered in the event of an accident, be sure you get a travel insurance plan that covers you for taking taxi services that use motorbikes.
For a 5km motorbike taxi ride in Chiang Mai, expect to pay:
- 30-50 baht/$0.85-1.41 (no rush hour, no rain)
- 50-80 baht+/$1.41-2.26+ (rainy conditions, rush hour)
Using A Meter Taxi in Chiang Mai
Most meter Taxis won’t be found in the center, so are quite hard to get unless you have a Taxi number to call. They are the most expensive form of transport, but the most convenient, setting you back around 100-300 baht ($2.83-8.49) for a short ride. If you are traveling from the airport by Taxi, keep his/her number so you can call them out for future rides. Alternatively, you can ask your hotel to book a Taxi for you. Make sure the meter is on when you get in and don’t take any “the meter is broken” rubbish.
Taxis will usually wait outside popular places in Chiang Mai. If you want to wave one down, it’s usually quite unlikely they’ll stop. This is similar in Bangkok, most Taxis wait outside train stations, airports, malls, immigration etc. when trying to wave them down it’s 50/50 whether they’ll stop or not and you have much more luck doing this with Songtaews or Tuk Tuks.
For a 4.5km trip from Chiang Mai Airport to the Centre a meter taxi costs:
- 150 – 200 baht ($4.24-5.26)
Using The New (ish) RTC Bus
The public bus is the cheapest way to get around, but the most limited. Tickets cost 30 baht ($0.85) per ride to anywhere on the route, they are air-conditioned buses and have free WiFi You can either pay by cash, or you can use a top-up card (much like the BTS).
For tourists, you can purchase a specific card which will allow you to travel the route all day long, without having to constantly pay 30 baht for each ticket. If you are travelling all day this is a good option. A 1-day pass will cost you 180 baht ($5.09).
Renting Motorbikes & Driving Around Freely
Renting a motorcycle in Chiang Mai is fairly expensive, but it’s hands down the best way to travel. You can take it anywhere, weave through the traffic, and skip the queues. An automatic 100cc bike will set you back around 300 baht/day ($8.49). These prices go up with higher-quality bikes. If you rent for a month you can negotiate this price much lower to around 150-200 baht per day ($4.24-5.66)
If you rent a bike you need an international driver’s permit (IDP) and a valid license from your home country. You cannot drive in Thailand without this, and you will be fined if you do. Fines are 500 baht ($14.15) and you will have to go to the police station to pay the fine. If you’re caught on the same day twice, you can’t be fined twice. The police officer will give you a note/receipt. If you get pulled over, show it to the police officer.
Either way, you shouldn’t ride without a license. It’s only a matter of time before you get caught, and if you crash you are not covered by any insurance and will be expected to pay any medical fees or additional damages to the person you crashed into. However, if you want to, most motorbike rentals will not check for an ID at all. There are very few that do, but they usually rent out bigger bikes that they want to maintain and keep well.
Make sure that before you rent, to check the bike over. Check the brakes, make sure the front brake is properly working and will stop the bike well, check the tyres to see that they have enough tread etc. You can take bikes for a short test drive before agreeing.
When renting a bike you’ll also be asked to leave your passport in case you run off in the instance something goes bad. If you don’t want to leave this, then you can usually pay a deposit. Another thing you can do is give an old passport. If it hasn’t expired, and you have to get a new one, you can give the old one. No one is going to check a database for that, and if it’s lost then there are no problems with you leaving the country.
Here is a map of all the motorbike rentals in Chiang Mai:
Renting Cars & Driving Around Freely
Renting a car in Chiang Mai is fairly expensive, but it’s one of the better ways to travel. A 5-seater car should set you back around 800-1200 baht per day. Depending on the model, the price will increase. You can additionally negotiate the price down if you are renting the car for the entire month, so bear that in mind.
If you are driving you need an international drivers permit and you need a valid driving license, most shops will not rent to you if you don’t have these things. Make sure that you have the correct travel insurance too, otherwise, you won’t be covered if you crash and will be liable to pay damages and all your health care costs.
Please don’t be the next GoFund me page.
Also, make sure you’re going to a reputable company that will offer breakdown cover and insurance. You don’t want to be on your own if you crash, or be liable to pay the full damage costs.
Another thing to note is that you will have to either leave your passport or pay a large deposit in case you run off in the instance something goes bad.
Here is a map of all the car rentals in Chiang Mai:
Getting To Chiang Mai (Cheapest Long Haul Transport)
The coaches in Thailand are a great way to get around from province to province. The trains are also fantastic, cheap, and very efficient forms of travel. If you’re travelling on a budget, it’s recommended to get either coach or train as these are much cheaper costs. However, they have much higher time commitments. Flights are the fastest but will set you back the most.
We personally got a coach to Chiang Mai. It took 8hrs+ and set us back around 594 baht ($16.80) from Bangkok.
We recommend checking the Thai coach websites if you’re located in another country because otherwise, you’ll get results that charge you more because they’re targeted at foreigners.
To do this go to google.co.th and search for รถบัส (it’s Thai for “bus”). Then type (using Latin alphabet) the places you want to travel between.
- รถบัส Bangkok Chiang Mai
- รถบัส Chiang Mai Bangkok
You can do the same with trains, just translate the word for train using google translate.
If you do this, make sure to use Google chrome, so you can use the “translate page” feature.
We’re Harry & Iris – and we were tired of the same old “10 best places I’ve never been but I’m writing about for some reason” blog posts. So… we’re two young travelers on a mission to travel the world and share our true, unfiltered experience, including all the gristly details. From packing our life into one bag for a year to traveling Vietnam by motorbike, to sorting out Visas for specific countries – we’ve done it all, are doing it all and only give our advice on things we have done – not regurgitated cr*p from another source *cough* most publications *cough*. So bear with us! This project will take some time to grow, and will take a fair bit of money. But we’re determined to make it the single best source of information about traveling on the internet.