It is an important decision to choose which city to visit when you travel to a country for the first time. Many have been to Thailand, I'm sure. Their total land mass is so much bigger than Taiwan, it's not hard to imagine that things would be very different from, say, Bankok to Chiang Mai. Not to mention the Northeast or the beaches and the islands that all have their distinctive features. It's important to think about what you want to get from the trip. Although it's been a very long time since I was last here, Chiang Mai is still a very different place than Bangkok! The people are much nicer, so is the weather! Prices are lower, and the traffic is so much better also! In the north, you get to experience things that you can't find in Bangkok. So don't tell me you've been to Bangkok... You haven't seen the whole of Thailand if you haven't been to Chiang Mai.
Of course, Bangkok, being the capital city, has a higher population and more tourists as well. Naturally, public transportation would be a lot more convenient, as of all capital cities around the world... I've always thought that Bangkok was a city you could just visit. Chiang Mai's different. Without a bit of research, you wouldn't get anywhere (even for someone who knows the language...) But don't worry, I'm here to give you a few tips, so at least you could save some money on transportation and spend that money on something more worthwhile!
雙條車（Song thaew) 發音
There is no taxi meter on the streets of Chiang Mai. However, the streets are crowded with these song thaews. These are the 'taxis' of Chiang Mai. Students can pay the driver monthly to drop them to school and back every day. It's the most convenient way of sending your kids to school (and affordable, too). The buses here are horrendous, so no body really takes the bus. That's why this has become the most important public transport. But do be careful! Don't get to excited and hop on a song thaew just because it has a colour other than red. The colours distinguish the districts in which they are suppose to operate. The red ones run in the city centre, and the other colours run in the suburbs.
How do you ride on these? Just like how you'd hail a cab, only you can also hail these when there're people already on it. Here's how it works. You tell the driver your destination, he'll decide whether he wants to take you (if it's on the way). If so, then hop on and join the rest of the passengers. If not, then try the next one. It's safer for your purse to hail one with people on it already, as you know that you are not the only one providing income for this trip. If you are the only one, do be careful of getting ripped off. If you need to go all the way from east to west, then I think it's reasonable to ask for a little more (like 30 or 40 baht per person). But if it's only a 10-15 minute ride, that same price would be a bit too steep! If you think you're being ripped off, don't worry. Just try your luck with the next one! The down side to the song thaew is that the drivers mainly serve the locals. Those who can speak a little English can go only so far as the numbers.
Sometimes when the driver realises that you are a traveller, he'd let you know when to get off. But if you happen to be on a crowded song thaew, and the driver forgot about you, just ring the bell, to tell him you'd like to get off. But please do remember to agree on a price before hopping on, and don't forget to pay after you get off!
嘟嘟車 (Tuk tuk) 發音
The tuk tuk can also be found on the streets of Bangkok. If you've been to Bangkok before, you might notice the difference, though. See the difference?
The difference is that you can get on and get off the tuk tuks in Chiang Mai from both sides. The ones in Bangkok allow passengers to get on and off on one side only. Therefore, it's even more risky to ride one of these (without the traffic, sometimes they can go very fast). The good thing is that you are the only passenger, so it's an exclusive ride! But because of that, the price is a little higher. The rule is basically the same: ask for the price before hopping on. Try and bargain if you're not happy with the price. If bargaining doesn't work, then try it with the next tuk tuk. After three attempts, if bargaining still doesn't work, then the price is probably non-negotiable!
Take, for instance, my experience this time - the ride from our hotel to the night market on the song thaew cost 20 baht per person (there were two of us) and the ride back to the hotel on the tuk tuk was 60 baht (they might charge 100 if you didn't speak Thai). If you're on your own, the song thaew would be a more economic choice.
If a child is travelling with you, I'd suggest that you only try this once (and choose a shorter route). Because it can be dangerous!
It was autumn when we were there. The cool autumn breeze and the not-so-polluted air of Chiang Mai made the tuk tuk rides quite enjoyable!