My 2 daughters and I flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Chiang Mai, Thailand on AirAsia.
… this is our Chiang Mai story …
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht (or the ‘THB’). I will refer to them as T$s. At the time of writing, the exchange rates were:
|Published Wholesale Rate||T$31.47||T$35.73||T$40.73|
|Effective Exchange Rate||T$30.21||T$34.30||T$39.10|
You will not get these wholesale rates; expect to lose a minimum of 4% … and as much as 6% (see, below).
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
ABOUT CHIANG MAI:
Chiang Mai (meaning “New City” in Thai) is the largest city in northern Thailand. It is 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok near the highest mountains in the country.
King Mangrai founded Chiang Mai in about 1294 on the site of an older city of the Lawa people. Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the area. Chiang Mai was later enlarged, fortified, and surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall.
Chiang Mai was one of two tourist destinations in Thailand on TripAdvisor’s 2014 list of “25 Best Destinations in the World”. In early December 2017, Chiang Mai was awarded the UNESCO title of ‘Creative City’.
Until recently, Chiang Mai had no public bus, MRT, BTS, or other kinds of metro system.
BUS: On the few new bus routes that do run, the price is a flat-rate T$30 / US$1 per trip per person.
SONGTHAEW: The most common form of public transport is called a Songthaew (pronounced Songtail), which is a converted pick-up truck with two rows of back benches. Songthaews in Chiang Mai are 6 colours: Red, Yellow, White, Blue, Green and Orange. Different colours indicate different directions and routes. Red songthaews service downtown Chiang Mai. Other colours service routes to other towns or provinces. A short distance starts at T$20 per person but expect about T$50 each to get across town and up to T$100 each to get out of town.
TUK TUK: A private Tuk Tuk costs more. Expect about T$100 to get across town.
TAXI: A private taxi costs more than that.
GRAB: GRAB motos and GRAB taxis are available and they tend to be a bit cheaper than private taxis.
ABOUT CAT MOTORS:
Given the price of public transport in Chiang Mai, a motorbike rental can be very cost effective.
There is so much to see and do around Chiang Mai that we wanted the freedom to explore in our own way and in our own time. We decided to rent 2 scooters from CAT Motors Motorbike Rental located just inside the western wall of the Old Town:
The guys were very helpful and very professional. After choosing our motorbikes, we were taken to a room to choose our helmets (there were plenty to choose from). We were, then, encouraged to take photos of each bike to register any current bumps and scratches.
To secure your motorbike, you can either:
- Leave your passport with them; or
- Let them take a photocopy of your passport and leave a T$3000 / US$100 security deposit.
As I am a travel blogger, I got my bike for free. In return, I have written this post as a ‘thank you’. The fact that I got my bike for free has not, in any way, influenced what I have written in this post.
You need a valid driving license and, if that is not Thai, you also need a valid International Driving Permit. We were also told to:
- Keep our headlights on both day and night; and
- If stopped by a policeman who wants to be paid a fine, call the Tourist Police.
We drove away on our 2 motorbikes. They were both excellent: low kms, smooth, powerful, and in perfect working order.
FINAL NOTE: You can scooter around all day for only T$40-50 worth of petrol. The Honda was more economical on gas than the Yamaha.
INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT:
My daughter and I both had full NZ Driving Licenses. Before leaving NZ, we both got our International Driving Permits. We carried both on us as we drove around Chiang Mai on our motorbikes.
We set off on our first day trip: Temples and Hill Tribe (below). Just before the Chiang Mai Zoo, we were stopped at a Thai Traffic Police Checkpoint.
They said that we were driving illegally because our IDPs did not have a stamp on the Motorbike icon. We politely said that we would check with the Tourist Police. We got onto google and found the Tourist Police telephone number. Our call was answered immediately. We explained our situation and the Tourist Police asked us to pass our phone to the Traffic Police.
When the latter passed our phone back to us, the Tourist Police explained that we had to pay the fine. They said that the Traffic Police had agreed to reduce our fine from T$1000 to T$500 (each). We handed over T$1000 total. We signed a couple of fine forms.
As we jumped back on our motorbikes the Traffic Police told us that our ‘fine’ lasted 3 days … if we get stopped again within those 3 days, we just needed to show our fine receipt to avoid getting yet another fine.
Behind us were youngsters being stopped for the same problem. They didn’t phone the Tourist Police. Each were paying T$1000.
RECOMMENDATION: Many tourists rent motorbikes and do a trip up into the nearby hills. The Traffic Police know this. You can almost guarantee that the Traffic Police will be there waiting for you. They tend to lay in wait on Route 1004 near The Bloom Hostel. If you want to try and avoid them, take Route 121. Make sure that your IDP is stamped on the motorbike icon (if you have a motorbike license in your home country). If not, and you are stopped by the Traffic Police, call the Tourist Police. This should halve the size of your fine.
TEMPLES & HILL VILLAGE:
Entry is T$30 for adults. Add another T$20 if you want to go up and down in the elevator rather than climb the steps. NOTE: tickets are not checked on entry and nobody asks to see them on the way around.
We, then, headed for Ban Khun Chang Khian village to connect to the road (on Google Maps) from there heading southwest back to Chiang Mai. It DOES NOT EXIST.
We doubled back to Bhubing Palace and returned the way that we came.
Our whole trip took 6 hours.
On our second day, we decided to look around some waterfalls. We drove past the zoo (again). We were stopped by the Traffic Police (again) … but, this time, we showed them our ‘fine’ receipt from the day before … and, they let us pass without another fine.
We came at the wrong time of year. You walk about 500 metres up a path from the carpark.
Google Maps shows a road heading north from here to Ban Khung Chang Khian … IT DOES NOT EXIST. We turned back south to the ticketing office. They advised us to head 13 kms north to Mae Sa Waterfalls. We stopped for 3 expensive cups of tea along the way (T$180).
RECOMMENDATION: If you only have time to visit one waterfall complex, choose Mae Sa. It beats Monthathan hands down all year round.
Some more useful info …
I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$565. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.
MONEY / ATMs:
Thailand is one of the most expensive countries in the World for withdrawing money out of ATMs.
Almost every Thai Bank ATM charges a flat-rate T$220 per withdrawal. To keep your ‘cost of money’ to 4%, withdraw the maximum amount of T$30k / US$950 (assuming that you are going to spend that much). Some ATMs have a transaction limit of T$20k … so shop around for one that allows T$30k at a T$220 fee.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Do not buy your SIMcard at the airport: the tourist offers are over-priced. For example, AIS were offering a 1 month unlimited data plan with some call-time and texts for T$899.
AIS has the best overall coverage in Thailand. I went to an AIS Store in a shopping mall in the city. I purchased a SIMcard for T$50 and a 1 month unlimited data plan for T$200.
Have a look yourself:
WHEN TO GO:
Chiang Mai has a tropical savanna climate tempered by low latitude and moderate elevation. It has warm to hot weather year-round.
We were here in early March just before the start of the ‘Rainy Season’.
We returned our Motorbikes to CAT Motors. We had no issues. Our T$3000 deposits were returned immediately.
Renting a scooter in Chiang Mai makes a lot of sense. It is both cost effective AND gives you more freedom to explore.
Come with an International Driving Permit. Make sure that the Motorbike icon is stamped. If you do not have an IDP or Motorbike stamp, try and avoid getting fined by taking Route #121 to the zoo. If you do get stopped and fined, call the Tourist Police who will make sure that you only pay a T$500 fine and not a T$1000 fine.
Renting a scooter for 2 days is enough to get out of town to the easy-access sights. Rent for 3 days if you also want to tour the Day & Night Markets around town. If you get stopped and fined, your ‘fine’ lasts for 3 days anyway.
I can recommend CAT Motors.