One of my least favorite parts about traveling is when you first land in a foreign country, after a dozen hours of flying, and have to find transport to your lodging. In a perfect world a limo driver would just be waiting for me holding a “Princess Annette” sign and a glass of red wine. But, since that typically never happens, this was one aspect of traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand that I spent many hours researching; would it be a tuk tuk, songthaew or taxi? Oh my.
I had read a lot of warnings about Thai cabbies being a little sneaky by not turning on their meters, taking the long routes through needless shopping areas and taking advantage of tourists. That made this my last option as a ride from the airport.
But, the other choices had disadvantages too.
Even though riding in a tuk tuk was on my bucket list, with its limited cargo space, it was not the most practical mode of transportation from the airport. A songthaew, a shared taxi truck, would have been a cheaper alternative to a taxi. But, depending on who else was on the truck and who they decide to drop off first, it could take four times as long to reach your destination.
And after a 17 hour flight, I just want to get to the hotel ASAP in order to destinkify.
All considered, a taxi was the final choice and to my surprise the easiest transport throughout my visit to Thailand. As soon as we exited the baggage claim at the Chiang Mai airport there were two taxi booths that offered a prepaid ride to your hotel for just 150 baht ($5 usd). No negotiations. Perfect.
After my successful Chiang Mai taxi ride, I thought I would try my hand at riding in a tuk tuk. And, on my first attempt, I immediately got turned down by a tuk tuk driver.
What? Does that ever even happen? Apparently, to me it does.
It was fairly late and we were walking back to the 3 Sis Lodge when I decided I was too tired to take another step. I quickly waved a tuk tuk down and told him to take me to the hotel. He smirked and then told me to just walk 100 meters and take a right. It was too close for him to escort me. Fine.
Though the first tuk tuk experience was a dud, I still tried again.
This time I wanted to be dropped off on a street corner in the North end of the city, just outside of the Chiang Mai center. Where do you want to go? I repeated the corners again, for the third time. Why? There’s nothing there. Just tell me what you want to see. There is nothing in particular I want to see, I just want to be dropped off at the north end of the street so I could walk to the South end. You just want me to drop you off on a corner? Yes. Was I being unreasonable? With the shake of his head, he quoted me 150 baht and the negotiations began. That’s too much, it’s what I paid for an air-conditioned taxi from the airport. Finally, we agreed on 100 baht, mostly because I was tired of the bantering…and walking. After achieving this bucket list check, I did not ride in a tuk tuk again.
I was a bit hesitant to try my hand at hitching a ride on a songthaew. These shared taxi trucks took a bit more understanding to master. You will see dozens of them throughout the city of Chiang Mai and they basically have no scheduled routes. You wave one down, tell them where you are going and they either nod their head indicating to get in or shake it to non-verbally say that you are out of luck.
The standard charge is 20 baht, unless you actually ask how much they charge, a sure sign of a tourist, then they will immediately quote you double. Don’t ask.
After you get the hang of it, it is the most practical and economical way to go, as long as you are clear about where you are heading. One morning I asked the driver to drop me off at Wat Pan Tao and he drove me to the other section of town to let me off at Wat Pa Pao. I was aware that we were heading in the wrong direction, but had assumed we were just dropping off another passenger before backtracking. Once we were stopped at the wrong Wat, the driver kept continuously tapping on the glass, my cue to get off, but I was looking around to see which one of the others would be exiting. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the tapping was meant for me.
Still, I decided that red trucks were going to be my mode of transport from this point forward. Though I would only be quoting major attractions as my destination from here on out. Thankfully, my hotel was right next to the famous Wat Chedi Luang. There was never a misunderstanding getting there.
The only time I briefly strayed from the songthaew was to do an afternoon tour with Segway Gibbon. I am no stranger to this two wheeled transportation and have been a fan ever since gliding through the streets of Barcelona.
The Chiang Mai Segway excursion took us on a two-hour tour through the city center, hitting many of the key hot spots; Tha Phae Gate, 3 Kings Monument and four spectacular Wats. This was a perfect way to explore and get your bearings of the area, especially when you lack any sense of direction like me.
Plus, our two guides were entertaining even though you could tell their biggest concern was our safety, expertly weaved us in and out of the cities bustling traffic while pointing out interesting attractions along the way. We even stopped for a beverage, a Thai iced tea for me. My favorite. Next to red wine.
Which would be your Thailand transportation choice? Tuk Tuk, Songthaew, Taxi or Segway?
Disclosure: My Segway excursion was sponsored by Segway Gibbon, but all the words I write come straight from my, sometimes distorted, mind. Just as it should be.