Chiang Mai is a fairly compact city, with many of the attractions within easy walking distance of the main hotels, and each other. Walking around Chiang Mai is a great way to appreciate its antique charm. An afternoon spent wandering the twisting sois (alleyways) of the old city is a pleasant way to lose yourself amidst genuine Thai life.
If you don't wish to walk there are still plenty of ways to get around Chiang Mai. The song thaews are the ubiquitous red open-air busses that constantly orbit the moat. These hover somewhere between taxis and city busses and are a cheap, if slow, method for getting around. A lot flashier and faster are the tuk-tuks, three wheeled, open-air taxis. These generally crowd in ranks near the major hotels and tourist areas. They are a lot quicker than the song thaews but a little more expensive.
Car and motorbike hire are also readily available and having your own vehicle is a great way to explore some of the landmarks and attractions just outside of Chiang Mai. If you're taking any kind of day tour or package tour, then don't worry about transport; almost every hotel and travel agency provides some kind of transport service.
- Wat Doi Suthep & Hmong Hill-Tribe Village
- Doi Inthanon National Park Tour
- Ping River Dinner Cruise
- Khantoke Dinner with Traditional Dance Performance
- Old City Half-Day Bike Tour
- Flight of the Gibbon™ Zipline Tour
- 2-Day Whitewater Rafting & Ziplining
- Full-Day Countryside Bike Tour with Lunch
- Aroy Aroy Thai Cooking School & Market Tour
- Full-Day Excursion to Chiang Rai & Golden Triangle
Car rental is readily available in Chiang Mai. Avis, Budget and Hertz all maintain locations in Chiang Mai and there are many smaller local companies offering rental services at competitive rates. Vehicles on hand range from small commuter compacts to four wheel drive jeeps and trucks suitable for exploring the rugged countryside.
To rent a car or truck in Chiang Mai you will need a valid passport and a valid driver's license. Many companies will require an international driving license, while many others will accept a valid license from the renter's home country. All rental companies provide insurance with their vehicles, including third party liability. Be sure to read your rental agreement carefully, however, and make sure that you keep a copy with you at all times.
Song Thaews are the standard means of travel for most residents of Chiang Mai. Cheap and readily available, they are perfect travel within the main city. Most Song Thaews drive along standard routes but are more than happy to take you to a specific destination. Flag the driver down and ask where he's heading. If your destination lies in the same direction, then hop in and signal him when you want to get off.
The fare for most destinations in the city center is about 10-20 baht. If you want to go to a specific destination then you should negotiate the fare beforehand. In general, expect to pay about 30 baht for a trip within the city center.
Tuk Tuks are a second option for traveling around Chiang Mai. These colorful, three wheeled vehicles are an unofficial symbol of Thailand. If you are traveling somewhere outside the main city area, or are in a hurry, then a tuk tuk is a better option than the slower song thaews. Tuk Tuks can be found near all of the major hotels and tourist areas such as the night bazaar and Moon Muang Road. Make sure to negotiate the fare before you climb in. For a ten minute ride a tuk tuk should cost about 50 baht.
Motorbike Hire - Bike Rentals
If you want the freedom of your own vehicle but don't want the expense of renting a car, then motorbike hire may be for you. There are several large motorbike rental companies in Chiang Mai and almost every business in the tourist areas will have a bike or two for rent. The most common bikes are 100 or 125 cc Hondas. These bikes are reliable and easy to drive. The cost is about 100 baht per day, with discounts available for weekly or monthly rental. Many of these bikes do not include insurance and for those that do you will need an international or Thai driving license to file a successful claim.
In general, if you are involved in a motorbike accident with a Thai person you will be held responsible 90% of the time. Having said that, Chiang Mai is a fairly safe place to ride a motorbike, especially compared to the rest of Thailand. If you wish to ride something a bit more substantial than a Honda scooter then there are a number of companies that specialize in 'Big Bikes'- road bikes, touring bikes and dirt bikes.
Many people prefer to explore under their own power on a push bike. Bicycles are a cheap and enjoyable way to see the sights of the city and there are often group bike rides that take in the major landmarks. If you're looking for some thrills there are plenty of rough mountain trails that wind down from the nearby mountain tops. Most of these end up at Huay Thung Tao reservoir, perfect for a dip and some lunch after a long trail ride.