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’ll take a taxi then. About how much is the fare?”
“No taxi working today,” she said. “Red truck only.”
“How much is the fare?”
She pointed her finger to her chin, blinked and thought.
“100 to 150 baht,” she said.
Taxis are not so plentiful in Chiang Mai. While we had chartered a blue taxi from the airport to the hotel, we 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. These are converted flatbed 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 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 South East Asia. In Chiang Mai, it’s a motorbike mounted with a two-person carriage behind or beside the driver. The tuk-tuks have covered canopies, occasionally fitted with 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. Tuk-tuks can be imaginatively decorated. We once traveled in a tuk-tuk decked out in flashing blue fairy lights. It was easy to find him for return trips.
Less common are the old-style cycle rickshaws or samlors. We saw a few in Chiang Mai, congregated around the central market. 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. Maybe because of self-preservation.
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’d arrived early at the departure point and chose the middle bench seat. Another guest followed us in, squeezing his six-foot tall, two-hundred-and-fifty pound frame into the back seat. As the golf cart lurched backwards, settling two inches lower than when we boarded, I understood why rickshaw drivers wouldn’t want Westerners for riders.
For the return trip we decided to take a red-truck back to the hotel. 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 found another tuk-tuk driver who agreed to the 150 baht ride.
While researching this article I looked for the regular fare price for rides within Chiang Mai. Red-truck fares are normally 50 – 60 baht. I guess that’s for the local, lighter, non-Westerner rides.
Photos taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2015
This post is one in a series inspired by Just One Person from Around the World. Every week I write about ordinary people living ordinary lives, in places around the world. CadyLuck Leedy kicked off the weekly challenge and on her blog, you’ll find similar posts for Just One Person from Around the World. Visit her on Wednesdays when she’ll have a new post and links to other stories.