20 May 2017

Your Own Transportation in Chiang Mai

Thai boys sharing a motorbike, photo source: flickr: foutriqu1's photostream
Courtesy by Romain


Suggestion for Your Own Transportation in Chiang Mai

Public transportation (bus, taxi, song-thaeo, tuk-tuk) in Chiang Mai has been, and still is in an awful state. Whether you are resident, expat or tourist, you might wish to have your own car or motorbike/scooter, or hire a car or motorbike/scooter to reach destinations in the vicinity off main roads, or to get around. Briefly described below are your options to hire a car, motorbike/scooter, or bicycle by day, week or longer. A car can be hired with or without a driver.


Hire a car through an international car rental company

Many international operating and well-known car rental companies offer service in/for Chiang Mai: Argus, Avis, Budget, Hertz, Holiday Cars, National, Sixt. They offer a variety of car types, car availability at Chiang Mai International Airport, full insurance and many other services, sometimes also a driver. Usually, you could get a better car rental rate if you book the car online, and several months in advance, or before your arrival in Thailand.



Hire a car through a local/nationwide car rental company

There are many locally operating car rental companies in town with their offices and agents (travel shops) in the city, e.g. asap, North Wheels, The Best Travel, Chiang Mai Car Rent, Bee Rent a Car, Master Car RentalMr. Mechanic. Some offer services similar as the international car rental companies. Carefully read their terms for insurance. Some require deposit of your passport!



When and how to hire a car?

If your stay falls into the high season period (November to April), it is strongly recommended to book a car online prior to that season, or several weeks in advance within this season, otherwise there is high risk not to get a car at all, or not at the wanted dates, or not a certain type of car. Most often, all small cars, hence cars lower in the rental price, are already booked out during high season, and only the bigger and more expensive cars will be available.

You can hire or reserve a car online, in person at, or by phone call with the Chiang Mai office of the car rental company, and you can decide if you want get access to the car at the company's location, at the Chiang Mai airport, or if the car should be transferred to Baan Sammi. For car transfer to a destination in or out of the city, the companies usually charge an extra fee, e.g. Budget charges 321 Baht within the city, and 535 Bath in the vicinity of the city (prices of Sep. 2017).


Highway Route from Chiang Mai airport to Baan Sammi

There are many routes possible to drive by car, but the easiest and less stressful highway route is #1141 – #1317 – #121 – #118, then continue on country roads as described and mapped in "How to find Baan Sammi".

You leave the Chiang Mai airport area on a broad busy main road by turning right. At the next intersection with traffic lights go straight on, and, in about 100 m distance, at the next intersection with traffic lights, go straight on again, then you are on highway #1141. Stay on this highway and take all overpasses straight on, then you reach the next intersection with traffic lights, where you have to continue straight on, and then you are on highway #1317. Stay on this highway until the next intersection with traffic lights, where you have to turn left. You are now on highway #121. Stay on this highway. On the next two intersections, both with traffic lights (intersection with #1006, then with #3013) continue straight on. On the next intersection with traffic lights turn right. Then you are on highway #118. Go straight on, follow the descriptions and map in the aforementioned link.


Hire a car with English speaking driver from small Chiang Mai based enterprises

A few advertisements for this type of service can be found in Chiang Mai magazines, which are in English and available free-of-charge through the premises of the magazines' advertising clientele (e.g. hotels, guesthouses, tourist inns, restaurants, travel shops). Here a selection:
Mr. Mike, Taxi Service and Tour Guide, crocodilemike8@yahoo.com, 087-1802455, cars: Volvo 940 and van.
Mr. Lee, Car and Taxi Service, manu2493@hotmail.com, 081-7246093, cars: Van and 2 saloon cars.
WowEasy Taxi Service, woweasy@hotmail.com, 089-8519697.
Mr. Dani, Taxi Service, indydear@hotmail.com, 081-3221303.


Hire a song-thaeo or tuk-tuk short-term (with a driver)

Many drivers of a red coloured song-thaeo in the city, or a tuk-tuk, won't mind to be hired right away and for a while if destination area and distance are within their expectations, as the rental price (always subject of negotiation) has to be.

Tuk-tuk (left), red song-thaeo (right)


Call a taxi

Taximeter taxis can be called under the numbers 053-279291, 019-520900, 019-616006 (Source: Citylife Chiang Mai).



Hire a motorbike/scooter in the city

There are many motorbike rental shops near Tha Phae Gate of the old city, mainly on the roads along the moat north and south of Tha Phae Gate, and within the easternmost area of the old city. Rental rates start from 99 Baht per day (price offered for a 105 ccm scooter in July 2016), and possibly all shops offer special prices for a week or month hire. You can rent nearly every type of motorbike. Most often offered, and most suitable for the city as well as countryside, even for dirt roads, is a 100-125 ccm motorbike like Honda Dream or Honda Wave, or a scooter with automatic gears. Helmets should be provided for driver and passenger. Carefully read their terms for insurance. If insurance is offered through a registered insurance company, the driver needs to show his national or international driving license when signing the rental contract at the shop. Most shops require deposit of your passport, or both, cash deposit and deposit of your passport! You should have two or more sets of photocopies of every page of your passport before you leave your passport with a rental company. Some companies have a website in English (e.g. North Wheels, Mr. Mechanic). You may contact these companies prior to your arrival in Thailand, so you may direct inquiries, ask for discounts and reservation for a certain type of motorbike. Especially during high season, it is recommended to book a motorbike in advance. At Baan Sammi, a motorbike is usually not available for long-term or short-term rent. For more detailed information on hiring a motorbike, please, read the information from Chiang Mai Buddy.

Motorbikes offered for rent
You should have a driving license explicitly for motorbikes. An International Driving License is required. It can be applied and issued in your home country only, and is valid for 3 months. Alternatively, you can have your national driving license with an authorized Thai translation. If you stay long in Thailand, you can apply for a Thai driving license. The easiest way to get a Thai driving license is if you already have a valid International Driving License. There are often police checks, especially regarding driving licenses and motorbike helmets.


Hire a motorbike/scooter online, with delivery of the vehicle to the Chiang Mai Airport upon your arrival by flight

A few motorbike rental shops, with Internet presence, do offer a delivery service to the Chiang Mai Airport. Maybe, they would also offer a delivery service to the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal, Chiang Mai train station, or to a hotel or guesthouse in Chiang Mai, but this is currently not known. Such a delivery service can save you some money and time. You need to order in advance by email or phone call, at least one day in advance by phone call. This delivery service is suitable if you have luggage in a size and quantity that can be easily loaded and fastened on your rented vehicle. When ordering the vehicle, ask also for supplying some tension straps to fix your luggage, and during rainy season ask for a rain coat.


Highway Route from the city of Chiang Mai to Baan Sammi

The easiest, fastest and less stressful highway route is as follows. Having rented a motorbike or car in the city, leave the city and eastern downtown by trying to reach at any point on the ถนนแก้วนวรัฐ (Kaeo Nawarat Road = Kaew Nawarat Road), which extends into highway #118, and is also called Chiang Mai – Doi Saket Road, or Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai Road. Then, after some 10 km, continue on country roads as described and mapped in "How to find Baan Sammi".


Hire a 3-wheel motorbike taxi (with driver) for the vicinity of Baan Sammi

You, or Khun Sam on your behalf, can call for a 3-wheel motorbike taxi. The next taxi terminal is located in บ้านน้ำแพร่ (Ban Nam Phrae), which is the village on the highway (#118, Chiang Mai – Doi Saket), 3.7 km distant from Baan Sammi. There, two taxi enterprises are located: (1) ลุงจันทร์ (Lung Chan = Uncle Moon), mobile phone 082-3887351, and (2) คุณฮวั้ (Khun Hua), mobile phone 086-9129466. The driver of the motorbike taxi will pick you up at Baan Sammi, and take you to any destination located within a reasonable distance, perhaps some 15 kilometers, or to farther destinations known by the driver, but this can become expensive. The motorbike taxi is good for 2 passengers with luggage. The fare is low for short distances, e.g. 40 Baht/person from Baan Sammi to the highway (#118) at Ban Nam Phrae. This is the only route that is recommended, and the service can be used during daytime, from morning to early evening. You may use this service as a shuttle to the highway (to continue your ride with a regular song-thaeo towards Chiang Mai, or, if you come from Chiang Mai). If you want visit one of the nearby markets, you should continue your trip by regular song-thaeo, e.g. from Ban Nam Phrae to the Doi Saket, 5 km distance, or, in opposite direction, from Ban Nam Phrae to markets beyond Bo Hin, 7–8 km distance.


Hire a bicycle from a shop in the City

There are quite a lot of bicycle rental shops near Tha Phae Gate, mainly within the easternmost area of the old city. Commonly offered are city bicycles or utility bicycles, usually for 50 Baht per day (July 2016). Hard to find are touring bicycles and mountain bicycles.

In order to get you with the bicycle to Baan Sammi, you may choose from the following three options:
  • You can bike along the Highway (#118) to บ้านน้ำแพร่ (Ban Nam Phrae), then continue on country roads to Baan Sammi (follow the route in our route description and map) — not really recommended as of much traffic on the Highway, especially during rush hours.
  • From the Super Highway (#11) you can bike along a net of country roads to Baan Sammi — recommended only if you are traffic-averse and if you are experienced using continuously Google Maps during the ride (we will supply a route recommendation on Google Maps).
  • From late morning to early afternoon, you can get your bike carried on the roof of a regular yellow song-thaeo from the city. Departure is on the street between ตลาดต้นลำใย (Talat Ton Lamyai = Ton Lamyai Market), next to better known ตลาดวโรรส (Talat Warorot = Warorot Market), and the Ping River. Destination is บ้านน้ำแพร่ (Ban Nam Phrae), where you get off with your bicycle. From there, you can bike 3.8 km on country roads to Baan Sammi.


Get a bicycle from Baan Sammi

Currently, two bicycles are available at Baan Sammi to ride. These bicycles might be sufficient for shopping in nearby villages, but hardly for long bicycle trips. The bicycles are not offered for rent by day, week, or month, but you can take them for your whole stay at Baan Sammi at a pre-agreed amount for expense allowance and a contribution to the purchase price. Care and maintenance of the bicycle is your sole responsibility. If repairs are needed, bring the vehicle to a repair shop for bicycles and motorbikes which is located within walking distance.


E-bikes are not available

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are in Chiang Mai not (yet) offered for rent (a Google search by Sep. 2017 remained without success). So far, only organized e-bike trips with a tour guide are offered for one or a few days by a company in Mae Rim.


Gasoline prices

Caltex: Gasoline 91 octane costs 23.4 Baht per liter, 95 octane 23.9 Baht, E20 21.5 Baht, and diesel 20.4 Baht (as of 30 Jan. 2016).
Shell: Gasoline 91 octane costs 24.7 Baht per liter, 95 octane 29.0 Baht, E20 22.6 Baht, and diesel 25.3 Baht (for Chiang Mai, as of 20 June 2016).

The fuel consumption for a 100 cm³ scooter is about 3–4 liters per 100 km.


Some driving recommendations

Although traffic seems to be free-style and not controlled by any rules in Thailand, drivers follow most often informal rules that should be attentively perceived and adopted to a certain degree by the inexperienced foreign driver. Don't stick to rules you learned in the West. Do expect unexpected driving behaviour all times, and drive slowly and smoothly and never jerky. The following is just to mention some informal rules that most likely could bring you in dangerous situations if unaware by the inexperienced or if being ignored. Do not expect your blinker signal will paid attention to (e.g. when turning right), do not expect drivers will pay attention to lane markings, red traffic lights, and traffic behind them. Watch carefully vehicles that might enter from the left into the (main) road, do not expect their drivers will notice you. Do expect drivers will cut blind corners and curves, warning you or not by a horn signal. At intersections with red traffic light, don't hinder traffic behind you from turning left.

A very detailed account on Traffic Rules in Thailand and How to Avoid Traffic Accidents was published by Kenny Wong in Chiang Mai Locator, 25 July 2016. It is a must read, even if you spend your time in traffic merely as a pedestrian and use public transport.


Some recommendations for geographic orientation

If you are not map-averse, you should get a city or regional map that meets your specific requirements for easier orientation in Chiang Mai and around (at Baan Sammi, there are different maps at your disposal). Orientation within the wall and moat of the square-shaped old city is quite easy, however in downtown, beyond and on the countryside might become troublesome. Asking locals for help to find an address, can easily lead to confusion, as many Thais have little sense for geographic orientation, are not familiar with maps, do not know their farther surroundings well, and a few even cannot read (Thai script) at all. This also applies to drivers. Destinations can easiest be identified and found if you have an address, or better a route description, but must be in Thai script. On many advertisements in printed magazines, and on business cards, these information is given, hidden most often in the text that follows the phrase "for taxi".


Remarks for using Google Maps

If you have a smart phone or similar device and wish to use Google Maps, be aware of some deficiencies that still persist (March 2016), mainly the following:
(1) Find provinces of Thailand by searching like "Chiang Mai Province".
(2) Find cities by searching like "Mueang Chiang Mai".
(3) Find districts by searching like "Doi Saket District" or "Amphoe Doi Saket".
(4) Find subdistricts by searching like "Tambon Pa Lan".
(5) Village names are usually not recorded and cannot be found. Sometimes, you can indirectly locate a village by searching for the school or the temple (wat) of the village, like "Ban Choeng Doi School" (instead of Ban Choeng Doi), "Wat Pa Lan" (instead of Ban Pa Lan).
(6) Private streets, e.g. streets in a gated residential compound, are not recognizable as private, hence indistinguishable from public streets.
(7) Directions, shown from a starting point to a destination, are often not the best routes for driving or walking. Streets may be unsealed and impassable during rainy season, or the road width may be too narrow for cars thus not pleasing the driver.