Getting around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai's town centre is relatively flat and compact making it easy to walk or explore by bicycle.
For local transportation, most visitors prefer to take a songthaew (shared taxi) or hire a tuk-tuk as there isn’t a public transportation system, other than a very basic, limited bus service. Renting a motorbike is also popular.
Metered taxis are generally painted yellow and blue; you can pre-book these by phone from Taxi Meter (tel: +66 53 241 955; www.taxichiangmai.com) or flag them down in the street. They’re best used for journeys to and from Chiang Mai International Airport and for privately chartered day trips out of the city.
For quick trips use tuk-tuks and songthaews (red pick-up trucks that act as shared taxis). When getting into a tuk-tuk, be sure to bargain and fix a fare before you set off. Songthaews usually charge a fixed price unless you’re travelling to the edge of town. A handful of samlors (tricycle rickshaws) also operate in the city centre.
Driving around Chiang Mai is not for the faint-hearted. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, vendors and stray dogs all jostle for space on the road, while traffic signals and road lines are generally ignored. That said, renting your own set of wheels is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to explore beyond the city centre.
You can hire cars at the airport or from agencies around Tha Phae Gate. Recommended companies include North Wheels (tel: +66 53 874 478; www.northwheels.com) and Avis at Chiang Mai Airport (tel: +66 8 9969 8677; www.avis.com).
There are several agencies on the east side of the old city that rent out motorbikes. You can also hire them from local shops, hotels and guesthouses. Dependable companies include Mr Mechanic (tel: +66 53 214 708; www.mr-mechanic1994.com) and Tony’s Big Bikes (tel: +66 53 207 124; www.chiangmai-motorcycle-rental.com).
To hire a car or motorbike, foreigners are technically required to have an international driver's licence, although most rental car companies accept national licences. Few motorbike rental shops even ask for proof of a licence. International agencies accept credit card details as security, whilst small agencies often want a cash deposit or to hold on to your passport.
Bicycles are available from several agencies or at hotels and guesthouses. Chiang Mai Mountain Biking at 1 Thanon Samlan (tel: +66 81 024 7046; www.mountainbikingchiangmai.com) rents out mountain bikes and runs cycling tours.