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How to Use a Song Thaew

The most common type of public transportation has to be the "song thaew". Named for the two benches found in the rear passenger area, the song thaew is a pickup truck converted for carrying passengers and some cargo.

During peak hours, passengers will often stand on the rear platform and hold on for dear life, but this is a 'sport' for the young and strong.

For locals, a song thaew is used by hailing the next one to pass, stating your destination, and boarding the vehicle at the rear when the driver accepts your destination. If the driver rejects your destination, you simply wait for the next song thaew and then start again.

When you reach your destination, push the alert button to tell the driver you want off. After he has stopped, you exit the vehicle and go to the front to pay the driver.

The Color is the Route

The color of the paint on a song thaew indicates the general route or usage of a song thaew. For instance, in Chiang Mai area of Warorot market (by the Ping river) is the most common terminus for song thaews that will travel along a fixed route. From Warorot market white song thaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellow song thaews travel to Mae Rim in the north, blue song thaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green song thaews travel to Mae Jo in the northeast. The flat rate cost along these fixed routes is 10 baht.

There is one other departure point, which is the Pratoo Chiangmai market, and song thaews travel from here to Hang Dong and San Patong to the southwest of Chiangmai. The flat rate cost to Hang Dong is 10 baht, while San Patong costs more.

You may see song thaews out on the highways in the countryside, travelling to and from small towns and villages. It is probably not proper for them to do this (as such travel is supposed to be done by bus companies), but in Thailand people will find a way to make some extra money.

The Free Spirits: Red Song Thaews

a street full of song thaews
A street full of song thaews

Red song thaews roam inside the Chiangmai city limits and are free to travel anywhere. They can be found on most large streets, but many red song thaews congregate along Wararot Road, perhaps to pick up passengers who are getting off of a fixed route song thaew. The rate structure for red song thaews is variable; for simple destinations shared by several passengers, 10 baht is the normal fare; while less common destinations or longer travel might rate a 20 baht fare.

However, if you 'charter' an empty song thaew, the trip can cost 100-200 baht, especially if you are a farang. The prices to a particular destination can vary widely from driver to driver, so some gentle bargaining can be worthwhile. Red song thaews that wait for fares at the bus station or train station are an opportunistic lot who are quite adept at bargaining for the highest fare possible. Tourists may find it difficult to obtain the flat fares enjoyed by locals, since the song thaew drivers will often treat all tourists as 'chartering' their vehicle, even if other passengers are aboard.

The best way to avoid this 'charter' situation is to discuss your destination and not the price; asking for a price is interpreted as asking for a charter. Then, when you dismount and go to pay, hand the driver the correct change. If the driver demands more, then it is up to you to work out a fair payment, but armed with the information in this article, you should have a reasonable idea of the proper fare, and that will aid you in your bargaining.

You may see song thaews at the airport, but they are not allowed to cruise there for fares, as the airport concession is held by the airport taxi operators. So, a song thaew at the airport likely just dropped someone off. You can hail them and bargain for a fare into town, and the driver will be delighted to take you.

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