After having lived in Bangkok for two months I got used to using public transportation like Taxis, Motorcycle Taxis, Khlong Boats or the BTS. I never had much trouble getting from A to B there. You just have to choose the transportation that is right for your trip.
When I arrived in Chiang Mai I expected to have at least Taxis and Motorbike Taxis but the latter was nowhere to be found and apart from the airport I could hardly ever see a taxi in the wild.
The only public transportation that is widely available in Chiang Mai are Songtaews (Red Trucks) that drive around town all day and take you to the location of your desire – if you know how to explain where exactly you want to go that is.
To keep things short: Public transportation in Chiang Mai is a hassle.
Luckily the traffic here is way smoother than in Bangkok so renting a scooter is a very safe option to ensure stress-free commuting. Since most attractions of the region are outside the city, it’s also perfect for your next weekend trip in Chiang Mai.
Renting a scooter
There’s an abundance of scooter rental shops in Chiang Mai and unlike in Pattaya, where renting Jetskis and other vehicles may end in an elaborate scam to make you pay for scuffs, I’ve never heard anything like that here.
Rental places will almost certainly ask you for a deposit and some might want to keep your passport while others will only make a copy of it. Ask beforehand if a copy is okay or if you decide to give the shop your original passport, make sure you get the right one back afterwards. It happened to me on one occasion that a shop gave me someone else’s passport.
Personally, I have used Mango Bikes in the past whenever I could and had a very pleasant experience. It’s not the cheapest option around but the bikes are reliable and they are very fair when it comes to handling damages you might have caused in a crash for example. Another option I heard good things about is Bikky.
Driving a scooter
At first traffic here might look very scary but after a while you will get the drift. All the rules you learned back home will also apply here with the only difference for most people being that you have to drive on the left hand side of the road.
Cars are driving overly cautious (at least inside the city limits), so you’ll have one thing less to worry about. Try getting started on streets with low traffic and then try riding around the Old City. Make sure to keep to the left side of the road, especially if you’re driving slower.
In the past few years, Traffic Police has been very relaxed when it came to scooter drivers with checkpoints maybe every once a month. This has changed dramatically in mid 2015, though. If you drive a lot, chances are that you will encounter a police checkpoint at least once a day (especially around the Old City).
Back in the day if you weren’t wearing a helmet or didn’t have a driver’s license on you, handing over THB200 to the policeman could save you the trouble of going to the police station to pay your ticket. While this is still possible today, I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a regular basis because it might just happen that you drive right into another checkpoint. If you already have a ticket, showing it to the police officer will get you back on the streets in no time. If you don’t have one, well – you might have to either pay another THB200 or they’ll give you a ticket then. In any case I would recommend having two 100 Baht bills of pocket money on you when riding a scooter. If you are in a rush and need to pay off the police it will come in handy. Rest assured that they don’t carry any change for you. 😉
Important: Sometimes policemen will ask you to pay THB500 to them after stopping you. Don’t pay that amount! Don’t be afraid to tell them that you will pay them only THB200. If they make things complicated or if you’re not okay with bribes at all, then just ask for a ticket.
If you want to avoid dealing with having to pay money to the police, just wear a helmet and have your driver’s license with you at all times. If you stay in Thailand for under three months, you are not required to have an international driver’s license, however having one makes things a lot easier for you since police might ask for it anyway.