Chiang Mai has all the expected modes of public transport in a Thai city except for a metro rail. Well, a metro rail is not a possibility any time in the near future but recently the city has got its first air-conditioned local bus service. Before the local bus, the primary mode of public transport in Chiang Mai was ‘songthaew’, which is somewhat similar to a Baht bus that you might have seen in Pattaya. The songthaew is still there, and so is the tuk-tuk. And every once in a while you may also spot a meter taxi too, especially when you arrive at the Chiang Mai airport. Let us read in detail about these four modes of public transport in Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai City Bus
The Chiang Mai city bus runs on five different routes including a route that connects Chiang Mai International Airport to the city. Four out of the five routes touch Tha Phae Gate and hence are an excellent convenience for those staying in the old city. The one route that does not touch Tha Phae Gate is ‘R1 Chiang Mai Zoo to Central Festival Mall’. You may see an official route map here: http://rtccitybus.com/, but this website is not secure and is not complete. At the time of writing this article, the website’s homepage only had this map. There was no other content. Passengers have to pay a flat fare of 20 THB regardless of where they board and where they alight. Service for all the routes starts at 6:00 am but the last bus service timing depends on the route.
Chiang Mai City Bus Timetable
|R1 Chiang Mai Zoo to Central Festival Mall||6:00 am to 9:15 pm|
|R1 Central Festival Mall to Chiang Mai Zoo||6:00 am to 10:30 pm|
|R2 Promenada Mall to Tha Phae Gate||6:00 am to 7:35 pm|
|R3 Airport to Tha Phae Gate via Nimman||6:00 am to 11:30 pm|
|R3 Airport to Tha Phae Gate via Wua Lai||6:00 am to 11:30 pm|
Rabbit Card For City Bus
For those who need to stay in Chiang Mai for long and need to use the bus regularly may consider buying a Rabbit Card to pay the bus fare digitally. The Rabbit Card is available in Chiang Mai at Chiang Mai International Airport, Central Festival Mall, and Promenada Mall. Your Bangkok Rabbit should work in Chiang Mai, but I have yet to be sure about that. I have written an article on Rabbit Card for Bangkok.
Songthaew (meaning “two benches”) has been Chiang Mai’s public transport for long. It is a high powered pickup with benches for seating passengers in the back. The starting price for riding in a songthaew for a tourist is 40 THB. My guess is that they will take less from a local passenger. In a way, songthaew is better than the city bus because the bus has to go as per its official route but a songthaew does not have any official route. They go where their passengers want to go. Once while bringing me from Chiang Mai Zoo to Tha Phae Gate, my songthaew driver found a passenger for the airport. He forgot about dropping me but instead changed his route to accommodate the passenger going to the airport. It took me an hour to reach Tha Phae. That might also have depended on the price agreed to between the songthaew driver and the airport passenger, because if you offer to pay more, they may take you to your destination first. And to decide on something like that with the driver, you need to know how to speak Thai. Do not hop onto a songthaew if you find any communication gap between you and the driver.
If you have been to Bangkok, you will know about tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk in Chiang Mai is more expensive than songthaew and may prove to be even more expensive than a meter taxi. I have tried but could never make a tuk-tuk driver go anywhere for less than a 100 THB, either in Bangkok or in Chiang Mai. But sometimes, they are very helpful in Chiang Mai. You can show them your hotel’s address on the booking confirmation, or any other address, and they will take you there. You will easily find a tuk-tuk near bigger hotels or in busy tourist areas like Night Bazaar. The basic rules are, agree on a price first and make sure the tuk-tuk driver understood where you want to go.
The easiest place to find a meter taxi in Chiang Mai is its airport from where you can get a prepaid taxi to go to your hotel in Chiang Mai. The concepts of “prepaid” or “meter” may work when you are leaving the airport but for your return trip to the airport or to go anywhere in Chiang Mai, you have to pay what the taxi driver demands. And you have to be lucky to find a meter taxi in Chiang Mai. They charge 150-160 THB from the airport to the city and so it may be alright to pay 200 THB for the return trip, but not more than that.
Chiang Mai is a small place if you consider the areas where tourists like to stay, near Night Bazaar or in the old city (read where to stay in Chiang Mai). And if you have selected your hotel in Chiang Mai carefully, you may not need to search for local transport much. Try riding in the city bus to and from the airport, and take a tuk-tuk for other short trips. You will be fine.