Travel In Chiang Mai: Tours, Car Hire, Hotels
Among the delightful aspects of Chiang Mai are its many modes of travel. In a previous blog, we shared how to get to Chiang Mai by plane, train, bus, songthaew, and taxi. Here we explain travel options within our lovely Rose of the North.
Travel in Chiang Mai
- hire a car and driver
- rent a car and drive
- ride an elephant
Hire a Car and Driver
Hiring a car and driver spares you the particulars of driving in an unfamiliar country. It is preferable to driving a rental car yourself. See the section below for details under “CAR RENTAL.”
Since not all drivers speak English, it is helpful to ride with a Thai-speaking tour guide who can translate. It is a common courtesy to pay for the lunch of your driver and tour guide. It’s also a welcome gesture to ask them to join you for lunch. In fact, a driver and guide are most likely to know the best places to eat. You should also tip your driver and guide. According to www.whototip.net, it is suggested that you offer 300 baht to each person per day.
Before you book a tour guide, make sure they have a TAT license. This is issued by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, ensuring ethical operation. The tour guide’s license should be posted on their website or in their email.
Note – For the car rental, you will need to leave a cash or credit card deposit as a guarantee of payment.
Chiang Mai Tour Guides
The following tour guides are highly recommended by TripAdvisor members:
Car Hire in Chiang Mai
Renting a car enables travel where and whenever you wish. Following are guidelines and tips for driving in Chiang Mai.
Obtaining an International Driver’s Permit
To lease a car in Thailand, you need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). This can be obtained at an authorized auto club or government department from your homeland, such as a Post Office.
Note – It is easier to obtain an IDP prior to your trip rather than applying for one after your arrival in Thailand.
To apply for an IDP in Thailand, you will need to go to the Department of Land Transport. The building is a purple complex located off the east side of Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road.
Address – 192 Hang Dong Road, Moo 7, T. Mae Hiya, Chiang Mai
Telephone – 053-278-265, 053-278-570
Hours – Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm
The application process takes from one-half to a full day. Plan to arrive no later than 8:30am. It may take until 4pm to receive the IDP.
What to Bring:
- Original driver’s license and copy
- Affidavit for an International Driver’s License (PDF 40KB)
- Proof of residence
- Work permit
- Passport with a photocopy of the main page
- Valid Visa with a photocopy of the Thai Visa page
- Departure Card and most recent entry stamp
- Medical Certificate from a doctor
- Two photos, sized 2 x 2 inches
- Baht fee, 505 as of 4/21/15
Obtaining the Affidavit
The Affidavit (PDF 40KB) is obtained at your homeland Embassy in Thailand. It is recommended that you arrive before noon. To locate your representative Embassy, go to: www.embassy-worldwide.com
Note – You can complete the PDF 40KB before arriving at the Department of Land Transport, but do not sign the form. You will need to sign it in front of a Consul. As of this writing, the fee for the Affidavit is 1050 baht ($32 USD, £22 GBP).
Obtaining a Medical Certificate
Go to any doctor’s office or hospital in Chiang Mai. Bring your passport with you. At the reception desk, ask for a Medical Certificate for a Driver’s License Application. The doctor will do a basic physical exam, assessing blood pressure, heart rate, height, weight, and vision. Expect to pay 100 baht. The entire procedure should take about 15 minutes, including wait time.
IDP Application Process
In addition to completing the application, you’ll view a safety film, take a multiple question test, reflex exam, visual tests, and driving test.
To prepare for the written exam, go to the following website. Choose the English version and review the three exams.
Note – The answers are in bold. Ignore the arrows. They point to incorrect answers from a former test taker.
Go to: www.phuket.dlt.go.th
At the Department of Land Transport, the written exam is taken on a computer. Don’t be discouraged if you fail the test. If you arrive early enough, you can re-take the exam the same day. Otherwise, take the test again the following day.
If you have a valid driver’s license from your homeland, you won’t need to take the driving test.
Car Hire Companies
Rental companies are located at the Chiang Mai International Airport Terminal. You can also find a company by going to: www.expedia.com/Car-Rentals-In-Chiang-Mai This reference will give you a price comparison.
Your auto insurance from home might not cover an accident while driving a Thai rental. Review your policy with your insurance agent before your trip. If your home policy doesn’t cover international car rental, you’ll need to purchase insurance. It is advisable to purchase extra insurance beyond the mandatory minimal. Be sure to have coverage for yourself, passengers, the car, and any injuries to a third party.
Check a vehicle thoroughly before renting. Have your salesperson document existing damage to avoid being charged upon return.
Read the contract carefully, including fine print.
You’ll need to leave a deposit. Do not offer your passport as collateral. Unless cash is required, pay the deposit with your credit card.
Before taking to the road in a rental car, be sure to review Thai:
- traffic laws
- street markings
- traffic lights and signals
- right of way situations
- local law enforcement
- traffic violations
Always have your driver’s license, permit, and passport with you.
Gas stations are plentiful in Chiang Mai. Not all of them will accept credit cards, so be sure to have cash on hand.
If you need police assistance, the emergency telephone number for Tourist Police is 1155.
Avoid using tuk-tuk service in Thailand. A tuk-tuk is a 3-wheeled motorised vehicle operating as a taxi. Drivers have a poor reputation for overcharging, dangerous driving, dishonesty, and not taking you directly to your destination.
Chiang Mai by Bicycle
Biking is a safe, fun, and quick way to get around Chiang Mai. There are several bicycle rental shops near Thae Pae Gate and Somphet Market. Following is a highly-rated shop offering local bike tours:
Chiang Mai Biking
Address – 135/48, Soi 2, Moo Baan Nai Fun 1, Pa-Dad, Chiang Mai
Telephone – +66 53 282 055
Hours – 7am-7pm Daily
Website – www.chiangmaibiking.com
Chiang Mai Biking offers four cycling tours of varying lengths:
Colors of Chiang Mai – a 5-hour tour through southern Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Paradise – a full-day cycling adventure through southeastern Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai City Culture – a half-day tour of the city centre
Chiang Mai Treasures – a 3-day trip including a Ping River boat ride and stops at a farmhouse, temple, hot springs, and candle factory
For detailed information on the above tours, go to: www.thailandbiking.com/chiang-mai
- Most tours are on flat terrain. Cycling is done at a relaxed pace. The operator provides plenty of refreshing drinks and rest stops.
- Tours operate rain or shine. Heavy rain rarely lasts more than 20 minutes. Guides know where shelters are along bike routes. Ponchos are provided for cycling in light rain.
- Guides are licensed, professional, and English-speaking.
All tours include:
- boat and ferry transfers
- beverages, snacks, and a meal
- bike rental
- safety helmet
- over-the-tire bags for long-distance tours
Note – Reservations are recommended at least one day in advance.
Biking Tips in Chiang Mai
If you plan to ride the technical trails, especially hills, it is advisable to hire an experienced guide and use proper equipment.
Wear comfortable cotton clothing and a hat for sun protection. Closed shoes provide the best foot grip and control.
A belt bag conveniently carries personal belongings. Pack sunblock, a camera, and extra batteries.
Select a bike with new tires.
When riding in traffic, never assume you have the right of way. A cyclist is expected to defer to pedestrians and vehicles. Drivers don’t hesitate to pull out in front of a cyclist.
The best cycling maps for Chiang Mai can be found in the book Exploring Chiang Mai by Oliver Hargreave, sold by bookstores such as Suriwong or DK Books. The paperback can also be purchased online at amazon.com.
Chaing Mai with Elephants
For a novel way to explore Chiang Mai, consider an elephant tour. Many tour operators are known to abuse their elephants with hooks and chains. The following tour operators are highly rated and considered ethical by TripAdvisor members.
Note – The basic differences between the two elephant tours below are:
Ran-Tong is less expensive.
Patara group size is smaller.
Patara focuses more on elephant care than riding.
Patara offers a complimentary DVD.
Ran-Tong Save and Rescue Center
Address – 67/2 Tepharuk Road, Suntitam Plaza, Chiang Mai
Telephone – +66 53272023
Website – www.elephant-training.com
Elephants at this camp have been rescued from abusive conditions. The full-day trek runs from 8am-4pm. Your tour begins with pick-up from our resort. After registering at the main office, you’re taken to the camp, a trip of approximately 40 minutes. You’re given traditional clothing worn by trainers known as mahouts. Then you’re taught basic verbal commands, such as go, stop, left, and right. After meeting and feeding your elephant, you begin your trek through the lovely countryside. You sit directly on the animal, without a saddle. This is the most humane means of riding. Then you have great fun bathing your elephant in a local reservoir. You shower before enjoying a delicious lunch. A question and answer session follows.
The animals at this camp are well-cared for. No hooks, sticks, or chains are used. Elephants are trained with treats.
Full-Day Program – 8am-4pm; Cost – 4,500 baht per person
Morning Program – 7am-1pm; Cost – 3,000 baht per person
Evening Program – 1:30pm-7:30pm; Cost – 3,000 baht per person
The price for the Full-Day Program includes transportation to/from the center, mahout clothing, drinking water, meals, insurance, bananas to feed your elephant, and tour guide service.
A deposit is necessary to book, deducted from the total price.
Patara Elephant Farm
Address – 299/22 Siwalee, RachapreukMaeHea, Chiang Mai
Telephone – +66 53 286 321
Website – www.pataraelephantfarm.com
Elephants at Patara are rescued and rehabilitated. Tour groups are limited to six people. Children and the disabled are welcome.
Your tour begins with pick-up at our resort. You’ll receive an overview of how the camp operates and cares for the elephants. Then you’ll change into mahout clothing made by local Karen tribes. You’re taken to camp and paired with an elephant based on your personality. Then your mahout will teach you how to approach, feed, and care for your elephant. You’ll learn how to communicate with your elephant with verbal commands. You’ll bathe your elephant before mounting bareback. A professional photographer will accompany your tour.
The first trek is up a steep jungle trail for approximately 45 minutes. You’ll enjoy a gourmet lunch at a picnic table. You’ll feed your elephant and then continue for 35 minutes to a local waterfall. You’ll bathe your elephant a second time. Then you’ll return to camp. You’ll receive a complimentary disc of photos and videos, documenting your day.
Full-Day Program – 7:30am-4pm; Cost – 5,800 baht per person
Half-Day Program – 1pm-6pm; Cost – 3,800 baht per person
The Full-Day price includes round trip transportation to/from camp, training, Thai picnic lunch, drinking water, and complimentary DVD with photos and videos of your tour.
The Half-Day price covers transportation to/from camp, drinking water, and the DVD. The program focuses more on caring for your elephant than riding.
Preparing for an Elephant Tour
Bring water shoes for safety at the waterfall. The wet rocks are slippery.
Wear long shorts or slacks to protect your legs. Elephant hair is rather coarse.
Pack a swimsuit and change of clothing.
Bring shampoo, soap, sunblock, insect repellent, snacks, and a camera.
Take extra money to tip your mahout.
To fully enjoy traveling within Chiang Mai, try to be safety-minded. Protect yourself from the sun. Avoid accidents by yielding the right of way. Build extra time into scheduled activities. Then you can relax and pace yourself.
Here’s wishing you safe travel through the spectacular city of Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai Hotel
The staff at our Five Star Hotel in Chiang Mai are waiting to welcome you.
Our luxury hotel suites are perfectly appointed to pamper you. Akyra suites are elegant, with bathtub balconies and private courtyards. In-room amenities include plush robes, comfy slippers, and lavish towels. Cozy up with luxurious linens. Unwind with natural toiletries. Enjoy the convenience of a fully-stocked mini-bar, the delight of a stellar entertainment system, and the perks of your own espresso coffee machine. Manor suites are especially spacious, with walk-in closets and expansive bathrooms. There’s plenty of room for a family of four.
Set your sights on a trip of delight and adventure in Chiang Mai!
- Chiang Mai Four Day Travel Guide
- How to get to Chiang Mai
- Travelling To Chiang Mai
- Where to Stay In Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai Old City Wall Gates