On the Road in Chiang Mai

The pretty girl at the hotel reception told us that there was a free daily shuttle to Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar.

“Is there a pickup point for the ride back?” we asked.

“Sorry, no pick-up,” she said.

“We take a taxi then. About how much is the fare?”

“No taxi working today,” she said. “Red truck only.”

“How much?”

She pointed her finger to her chin, blinked and thought.

“100 to 150 baht,” she said.

As it turns out, taxis are not so plentiful in Chiang Mai. We had taken a blue taxi from the airport to the hotel but didn’t see another for the duration of our stay. More common for public transit are red-trucks and tuk-tuks. I call them red trucks but the real name is song taew.

Song taew

They are converted flat bed trucks outfitted with bench seats and overhead hang rails. Song taews are not always red, they can be white, blue, green and yellow depending on the outlying city region served. The way to engage a red-truck is to flag down a passing driver on the street. You tell him your destination and if he’s going in that direction you can negotiate the fare. The good news about red-trucks is that you’re driven directly to your door. The bad news is that in a crowded truck, you’ll get driven to everyone else’s door too. It’s not a bad way to see the city. Unless you’re in a hurry.

The other alternative is Tuk-Tuk. Motorized tuk-tuks are common throughout Asia. In Chiang Mai it is normally a two person carriage mounted behind, or alongside, a motorbike. Depending on the owner, the tuks-tuks can be vehemently decorated. We once traveled in a thud-thumping tuk-tuk liberally decorated with flashing blue led lights. It was never a problem to locate him for return trips. Typically, the tuk-tuks are clean with clipped back plastic curtains for rainy days. Reading material is strategically posted by the driver seat with laminated brochures offering day trips to Elephant farms, Tiger reserves and shopping.

Less common are the old style cycle rickshaws or samlors.

We saw a few in Chiang Mai and they were mostly driven and ridden by older Thai locals. We never saw a Westerner in a cycle rickshaw. Maybe because it wasn’t commonly available. Or maybe it was just self-preservation by the drivers.

Later that night, Luc and I took the hotel shuttle to the Night Bazaar. The shuttle was a squeaky clean, pristine white golf cart. We arrived early and choose the middle bench seat. We were followed by a fellow guest who squeezed his six foot tall two hundred and fifty pound frame into the back seat. As the golf cart lurched and settled two inches lower than when we boarded, I could see  why rickshaw drivers wouldn’t want Western riders.

For our return trip to the hotel we decided to take a red-truck. We approached a driver standing beside a queue of trucks lined up beside the bazaar. Luc handed over the hotel’s take-me-home card and asked for the fare.

“Hmm. 200 baht,” the driver said.

“No, too much. 150 baht,” Luc said.

The driver hesitated and yelled something in Thai to the group of drivers clustered behind him. They yelled something back and the driver shook his head.

“Maybe later. After more passengers,” he said.

We walked a bit further and easily found a tuk-tuk driver who agreed to the 150 baht ride.

While researching this article I looked for the expected fare price for rides within Chiang Mai. Red-truck fares are normally 50 – 60 baht per person.

I guess that’s the local, non-Westerner price.

Thailand, 2015


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