Riding in a songtaew can be rather intimidating when you first get to Chiang Mai. Even if you’ve been to other provinces in Thailand, they don’t operate in the same fashion. Even the blue, yellow and white song taews are totally different than Alpha-Red.
The first thing to be aware of is that songtaew drivers might try to overcharge you if they can and it isn’t just because you are a foreigner. They aren’t usually as aggressive as tuk-tuk drivers, though they may honk at you and will likely stop if you are standing on the side of the road looking lost.
The current standard fare is 20 THB, which may not sound like much, but is actually twice as high as song taew fare for the rest of the country. In Bangkok, for example, the fare is 7-10 THB.
Rule #1 - If your destination isn’t far away, don’t ask the driver “how much?” Asking means you don’t know that the price is 20 THB.
Exceptions: Airport, bus station, train station or anywhere across the super highway.
The fact that Chiang Mai’s transportation hubs aren’t too far away doesn’t matter much when you’re trying to get to the airport, bus station or train station. Plus, the more visible power they have over a particular situation, the more they are going to be able to charge you. If it’s raining and/or you are carrying loads of luggage, you are more likely to pay more. In general however, from anywhere in/around the moat, you should be able to get to the airport for 40-80 baht.
The 3 new shopping malls, of which only one has just recently opened, are all along the super highway. The Super Highway has long been an invisible forcefield that song taew drivers are generally unwilling to cross without serious incentive.
Rule #2 - Learn some Thai!
It’s worth it to learn the numbers and a few phrases even if you are going to be here for just a short time. It makes getting around a lot easier, and a lot more fun. Plus, learn the useful phrases listed below.
Rule #3 - Expect to get ripped off now and then.
It’s going to happen every so often. Don’t let it stress you out. Try to learn from it and figure out what you could do better next time.
Some Thai Language Lessons:
สองแถว (song-taew) - two lines /rows. It’s referring to the 2 benches in the back of the truck
รถแดง (rot-daeng) - red car
สี่ล้อ (see-law) - four wheels. This name is a bit more old school, but you still hear it now and then.
Things to watch out for:
ไปกี่คน (Pai ghee kon) - how many people are going? This always means you are about to get overcharged.
Useful Words to Know & Understand:
คนเดียว (kon diaw) - alone
เท่าไร (tau rai) - how much?
กี่บาท (ghee baht) - how many baht?
ที่ไหน (tee nai) - Where?
ไม่ไป - (mai pai) - not going (there)
ไป xxx ก่อน (pai xxx gawn) - I’m going to xxx beforehand. The driver might say this if they are going in a totally different direction than where you are trying to go, and are giving you fair warning. Better to skip this car as another will be along any minute now....
ลง (long) - to get out (of the car)
ลง ที่ไหน (long tee nai) - Where will you get out/off?