Expat · Thailand

How to travel around Chiang Mai like a pro

Kad Suan Kaew [Chiang Mai, 2009]
Kad Suan Kaew [Chiang Mai, 2009]
Getting around a new city can be an interesting challenge. And depending on your personality, can either make you break down curb-side or saunter down the sois like a local. Here you will find a brief guide on directions, catching a songtaew (red truck taxis) and riding a motorcycle around town.

Directions

Thais generally do not know street (tanon) names. They do not use west, north, east, south, etc although they do have words for them. So, do not say you want to go to the northeast corner of the moat. You are better off using landmarks. Wats or temples are very good choices. But don’t you dare say it is next to the 7-11.

songtaew-and-bikes

Catching a Songtaew

1. Palm facing down, wave your hand. Your hand can be high or low, it doesn’t matter. Please try to wave down a driver on the side of the road, not in the middle of it.

2. Tell the driver where you want to go: Ja bai rong paya baan (I want to go to the hospital) ~ ja bai means “want to go.” (Or simply state your destination. Keep it simple.)

3. Hop in the back. When you reach your destination you should only pay 20B unless you cross the river.* Or if you erroneously start to negotiate with the driver like you are paying for a private taxi in which you will end up paying more.**

*The river is a boundary of sorts for the drivers, so if you want to go just a short distance pass the river, in order to save money, consider being dropped off at the river and walking the rest of the way.

**Negotiate when the distance is far. And remember some drivers will not be going in the direction you want to go so don’t take it personally if they shake their heads and drive on. Or they might not know where you want to go.

motorbike-lockup
Watch where you park! Red and white stripes mean no. Yellow is a loading zone only.

Motorcycle tips

If you decide to rent a motorbike, rentals will hold your passport as a deposit. Driving here is for those who are comfortable on a motorbike. CM is not the place to learn. Watch for potholes. And remember:

  • Maintain a line. Don’t make sudden movements. Gradually get over to the next lane.
  • Never pass a songtaew on the left. Other vehicles are fine, but a songtaew is looking curb-side for customers. They are notorious for not seeing motorbikes.
  • The person behind is responsible. If a bike pulls out in front of you, it is your responsibility to avoid hitting them.
  • The biggest vehicle on the road has the right of way. First trucks, then cars, then motorbikes and then pedestrians. But please stop for pedestrians.
  • There is no such thing as a four-way stop. When there is no traffic light, anything goes. Some folks honk and blow through. Others slow down or yield. Some stop.

*Pay attention. Between darting dogs, cats, chickens and children, let alone cyclists and general traffic this is not the time for checking out the scenery. Motorbike accidents are common. If you get in one, don’t expect anyone to stop and help. Of course, some will.

*Police set up random checkpoints and if you are not wearing a helmet you will be asked to pull over and fined. They’ve really cracked down on this in recent years, favoring areas where they can nab you with no escape.

Final word: tuk tuks are the most expensive mode of transportation because they are your personal taxi. (Speaking of metered taxis there are a few, but this is not Bangkok.) Public buses are reputed to exist and like the loch ness monster, there have been sightings.

sun-mrkt-night
Safe travels!

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