Travel in Thailand is inexpensive and efficient, if not always speedy. Unless you travel by plane, long-distance journeys in Thailand can be arduous, especially if a shoestring budget restricts you to hard seats and no air conditioning.
Nonetheless, the wide range of transport options makes travelling around Thailand easier than elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Buses are fast, cheap and frequent, and can be quite luxurious; trains are slower but safer and offer more chance of sleeping during overnight trips; moreover, if travelling by day you’re likely to follow a more scenic route by rail than by road. Inter-town songthaews, air-conditioned minibuses and share-taxis are handy, and ferries provide easy access to all major islands. Local transport comes in all sorts of permutations, both public and chartered.
Buses, overall the most convenient way of getting around the country, come in four main categories. In ascending order of comfort, speed and cost, they are ordinary buses (rot thammadaa; not air-conditioned, usually orange-coloured) and three types of air-con bus (rot air or rot thua; usually blue): second-class, first-class and VIP. Ordinary and many air-con buses are run by Baw Khaw Saw (BKS), the government-controlled transport company, while privately owned, licensed air-con buses (rot ruam, usually translated as “join buses”), some of which operate from Baw Khaw Saw terminals, also ply the most popular long-distance routes. Be warned that long-distance overnight buses, on which some drivers are rumoured to take amphetamines to stay awake, seem to be involved in more than their fair share of accidents; because of this, some travellers prefer to do the overnight journeys by train and then make a shorter bus connection to their destination.
Ordinary and second-class
On most routes, including nearly all services out of Bangkok, second-class (baw sawng; look for the “2” on the side of the vehicle) air-con buses have now replaced ordinary buses as the main workhorses of the Thai bus system, though you’ll still see plenty of the latter on shorter routes in more remote parts of the country. Whether air-con or not, these basic buses are incredibly inexpensive, generally run frequently during daylight hours, pack as many people in as possible and stop often, which slows them down considerably.
It’s best to ask locally where to catch your bus. Failing that, designated bus stops are often marked by sala, small, open-sided wooden structures with bench seats, located at intervals along the main long-distance bus route through town or on the fringes of any decent-sized settlement, for example on the main highway that skirts the edge of town. Where there is only a bus shelter on the “wrong” side of the road, you can be sure that buses travelling in both directions will stop there for any waiting passengers; simply leave your bag on the right side of the road to alert the bus driver and wait in the shade. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere with no sala in sight, any ordinary or second-class bus should stop for you if you flag it down.
First-class and VIP
Express services, with fewer stops, are mostly operated by first-class (baw neung; look for the “1” on the side of the vehicle) and VIP (usually written in English on the side) buses. These are your best option for long-distance journeys: you’ll generally be allotted specific seats, there’ll be a toilet, and on the longest journeys you may get blankets, snacks and nonstop DVDs. The first-class services have fewer seats than second-class and more leg room for reclining, VIP services fewer seats again. Other nomenclature for the top-of-the-range services is also used, especially by the private “join” companies: “999”, “super VIP” (with even fewer seats), “Gold Class” and, confusingly, sometimes even “First Class” (in imitation of airlines, with just eighteen huge, well-equipped seats).
On a lot of long-distance routes private “join” buses are indistinguishable from government ones and operate out of the same Baw Khaw Saw bus terminals. The major private companies, such as Nakhon Chai Air (t02 936 0009), Sombat Tour (t02 792 1444) and, operating out of Chiang Mai, Green Bus (t053 266480), have roughly similar fares, though naturally with more scope for price variation, and offer comparable facilities and standards of service. The opposite is unfortunately true of a number of the smaller, private, unlicensed companies, which have a poor reputation for service and comfort, but gear themselves towards foreign travellers with bargain fares and convenient timetables. The long-distance tour buses that run from Thanon Khao San in Banglamphu to Chiang Mai and Surat Thani are a case in point; though promised VIP buses, travellers on these routes frequently complain about shabby furnishings, ineffective air conditioning, unhelpful (even aggressive) drivers, lateness and a frightening lack of safety awareness – and there are frequent reports of theft from luggage on these routes, too, and even the spraying of “sleeping gas” so that hand luggage can be rifled without interruption. Generally it’s best to travel with the government or licensed private bus companies from the main bus terminals (who have a reputation with their regular Thai customers to maintain) or to go by train instead – the extra comfort and peace of mind are well worth the extra baht.
Tickets and timetables
Tickets for all buses can be bought from the departure terminals, but for ordinary and second-class air-con buses it’s normal to buy them on board. First-class and VIP buses may operate from a separate station or office, and tickets for the more popular routes should be booked a day in advance. As a rough indication of fares, a trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a distance of 700km, costs B600–800 for VIP, around B500 for first-class air-con and B400 for second-class air-con.
Long-distance buses often depart in clusters around the same time (early morning or late at night, for example), leaving a gap of five or more hours during the day with no services at all. Local TAT offices occasionally keep up-to-date bus timetables, but the best source of information, apart from the bus stations themselves, is wthaiticketmajor.com, which carries timetables in English for 360 routes as well as useful information on how to buy tickets in advance. Options include buying them online through the site; by phone on t02 262 3456 (making your payment within five hours at, for example, any branch of 7–Eleven); and buying them at 83 major post offices (as listed on the site), including the GPO in Bangkok, the Ratchadamnoen post office in Banglamphu and the Thanon Na Phra Lan post office opposite the entrance to the Grand Palace in Ratanakosin.
Songthaews, share-taxis and air-conditioned minibuses
In rural areas, the bus network is often supplemented by songthaews (literally “two rows”), which are open-ended vans (or occasionally cattle-trucks) onto which the drivers squash as many passengers as possible on two facing benches, leaving latecomers to swing off the running board at the back. As well as their essential role within towns (see Local transport), songthaews ply set routes from larger towns out to their surrounding suburbs and villages, and, where there’s no call for a regular bus service, between small towns: some have destinations written on in Thai, but few are numbered. In most towns you’ll find the songthaew “terminal” near the market; to pick one up between destinations just flag it down. To indicate to the driver that you want to get out, the normal practice is to rap hard with a coin on the metal railings as you approach the spot (or press the bell if there is one).
In the deep south they do things with a little more style – share-taxis connect many of the major towns, though they are inexorably being replaced by more comfortable air-conditioned minibuses (rot tuu, meaning “cupboard cars”). Scores of similar private air-conditioned minibus services are now cropping up all over the country, generally operating out of small offices or pavement desks in town centres – or from the roads around Bangkok’s Victory Monument. Some of these services have a timetable, but many just aim to leave when they have a full complement of passengers; then again, some companies publish a timetable but depart when they’re full – whether before or after the published time. They cover the distance faster than buses, but often at breakneck speed and they can be uncomfortably cramped when full – they’re not ideal for travellers with huge rucksacks, who may be required to pay extra. These services are usually licensed and need to keep up their reputation with their regular Thai passengers but, as with full-sized buses (see Tickets and timetables), you should be wary of unlicensed private companies that offer minibuses solely for farangs from Bangkok’s Thanon Khao San.
In many cases, long-distance songthaews and air-conditioned minibuses will drop you at an exact address (for example a particular guesthouse) if you warn them far enough in advance. As a rule, the cost of inter-town songthaews is comparable to that of air-con buses, that of air-conditioned minibuses perhaps a shade more.
Managed by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), the rail network consists of four main lines and a few branch lines. The Northern Line connects Bangkok with Chiang Mai via Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Phitsanulok and Lampang. The Northeastern Line splits into two just beyond Ayutthaya, the lower branch running eastwards to Ubon Ratchathani via Khorat and Surin, the more northerly branch linking the capital with Nong Khai (with a short extension over the Mekong into Laos) via Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. The Eastern Line also has two branches, one of which runs from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet on the Cambodian border, the other of which connects Bangkok with Si Racha and Pattaya. The Southern Line extends via Hua Hin, Chumphon and Surat Thani, with spurs off to Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat, to Hat Yai, where it branches: one line continues down the west coast of Malaysia, via Butterworth, where you usually change trains for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore; the other heads down the eastern side of the peninsula to Sungai Kolok on the Thailand–Malaysia border (20km from Pasir Mas on Malaysia’s interior railway). At Nakhon Pathom a branch of this line veers off to Nam Tok via Kanchanaburi – this is all that’s left of the Death Railway, of Bridge on the River Kwai notoriety.
Fares depend on the class of seat, whether or not you want air conditioning, and on the speed of the train; those quoted here exclude the “speed” supplements (see Train information and booking). Hard, wooden or thinly padded third-class seats are much cheaper than buses (Bangkok–Chiang Mai B121, or B221 with air-conditioner), and are fine for about three hours, after which numbness sets in. For longer journeys you’d be wise to opt for the padded and often reclining seats in second class (Bangkok–Chiang Mai B281, or B391 with air-conditioner). On long-distance trains, you also usually have the option of second-class berths (Bangkok–Chiang Mai B381–431, or B491–631 with air-conditioner), with day seats that convert into comfortable curtained-off bunks in the evening; lower bunks, which are more expensive than upper, have a few cubic centimetres more of space, a little more shade from the lights in the carriage, and a window. Female passengers can sometimes request a berth in an all-female section of a carriage. Travelling first class (Bangkok–Surat B1063–1263 per person) generally means a two-person air-con sleeping compartment, complete with washbasin.
There are several different types of train: slowest of all is the third-class-only Ordinary service, which is generally (but not always) available only on short and medium-length journeys and has no speed supplement. Next comes the misleadingly named Rapid train (B20–110 supplement), a trip on which from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, for example, takes fifteen hours; the Express (B150 supplement), which does the Chiang Mai route in about the same time; and the Special Express (B170–190 supplement) which covers the ground in around fourteen hours. Among the last-mentioned, fastest of all are the mostly daytime Special Express Diesel Railcars, which can usually be relied on to run roughly on time (most other services pay only lip service to their timetables). Nearly all long-distance trains have dining cars, and rail staff will also bring meals to your seat.
Booking at least one day in advance is strongly recommended for second- and first-class seats on all lengthy journeys, and sleepers should be booked as far in advance as possible (reservations open sixty days before departure). You can make bookings for any journey in Thailand at the train station in any major town, and it’s now also possible to book online, at least two days in advance, at SRT’s w
thairailticket.com. The website is allocated only a limited number of seats, but it allows you to pay by credit card and simply print off your ticket. Otherwise, you can arrange advance bookings over the internet with reputable Thai travel agencies such as Thai Focus (wthaifocus.com) or Thailand Train Ticket (wthailandtrainticket.com). Trains out of Bangkok can be booked in person at Hualamphong Station.
Regular ferries connect all major islands with the mainland, and for the vast majority of crossings you simply buy your ticket on board. Safety standards are generally just about adequate but there have been a small number of sinkings in recent years – avoid travelling on boats that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. In tourist areas competition ensures that prices are kept low, and fares tend to vary with the speed of the crossing: thus Chumphon–Ko Tao costs between B200 (6hr) and B600 (1hr 45min).
On the east coast and the Andaman coast boats generally operate a reduced service during the monsoon season (May–Oct), when the more remote spots become inaccessible. Ferries in the Samui archipelago are fairly constant year-round. Details on island connections are given in the relevant chapters.
Thai Airways (thaiairways.com) and Bangkok Airways (wbangkokair.com) are the major full-service airlines on the internal flight network, which extends to all parts of the country, using some two-dozen airports. Air Asia (wairasia.com), Nok Air (wnokair.com), which is part-owned by Thai Airways, and Orient Thai (formerly One-Two-Go; wflyorientthai.com) provide the main, “low-cost” competition; Thai Airways are also about to set up a new low-cost arm, Thai Smile. In a recently deregulated but ever-expanding market, other smaller airlines come and go with surprising frequency – and while they are operating, schedules tend to be erratic and flights are sometimes cancelled.
In some instances a flight can save you days of travelling: a flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket with Thai Airways or Air Asia, for example, takes two hours, as against a couple of days by meandering train and/or bus. Book early if possible – you can reserve online with all companies – as fares fluctuate wildly. For a fully flexible economy ticket, Bangkok to Chiang Mai costs around B4000 with Thai Airways, but you’ll find flights on the same route with the “low-cost” carriers for under B1000 (with restrictions on changes), if you book online far enough in advance.
If you’re planning to make lots of domestic flights, you might want to consider the airpasses offered by Thai or Bangkok Airways – their complex conditions and prices are posted on their websites.
Most sizeable towns have some kind of local transport system, comprising a network of buses, songthaews or even longtail boats, with set fares and routes but not rigid timetabling – in many cases vehicles wait until they’re full before they leave.
Buses and songthaews
A few larger cities such as Bangkok, Khorat, Ubon Ratchathani and Phitsanulok have a local bus network that usually extends to the suburbs and operates from dawn till dusk (through the night in Bangkok). Most vehicles display route numbers in Western numerals – see the relevant accounts for further details.
Within medium-sized and large towns, the main transport role is often played by songthaews. The size and shape of vehicle used varies from town to town – and in some places they’re known as “tuk-tuks” from the noise they make, not to be confused with the smaller tuk-tuks, described below, that operate as private taxis – but all have the tell-tale two facing benches in the back. In some towns, especially in the northeast, songthaews follow fixed routes; in others such as Chiang Mai, they act as communal taxis, picking up a number of people who are going in roughly the same direction and taking each of them right to their destination. To hail a songthaew just flag it down, and to indicate that you want to get out, either rap hard with a coin on the metal railings, or ring the bell if there is one. Fares within towns are around B10–20, depending on distance.
Wherever there’s a decent public waterway, there’ll be a longtail boat ready to ferry you along it. Another great Thai trademark, these elegant, streamlined boats are powered by deafening diesel engines – sometimes custom-built, more often adapted from cars or trucks – which drive a propeller mounted on a long shaft that is swivelled for steering. Longtails carry between eight and twenty passengers: generally you’ll have to charter the whole boat, but on popular fixed routes, for example between small, inshore islands and the mainland, it’s cheaper to wait until the boatman gets his quorum.
Taxis also come in many guises, and in bigger towns you can often choose between taking a tuk-tuk, a samlor and a motorbike taxi. The one thing common to all modes of chartered transport, bar metered taxis in Bangkok and one or two cities in the northeast, is that you must establish the fare beforehand: although drivers nearly always pitch their first offers too high, they do calculate with traffic and time of day in mind, as well as according to distance – if successive drivers scoff at your price, you know you’ve got it wrong.
Named after the noise of its excruciatingly unsilenced engine, the three-wheeled, open-sided tuk-tuk is the classic Thai vehicle. Painted in primary colours, tuk-tuks blast their way round towns and cities on two-stroke engines, zipping around faster than any car and taking corners on two wheels. They aren’t as dangerous as they look though, and can be an exhilarating way to get around, as long as you’re not too fussy about exhaust fumes. Fares come in at around B60 for a medium-length journey (over B100 in Bangkok) regardless of the number of passengers – three is the safe maximum, though six is not uncommon. It’s worth paying attention to advice on how to avoid getting ripped off by Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers.
Tuk-tuks are also sometimes known as samlors (literally “three wheels”), but the original samlors are tricycle rickshaws propelled by pedal power alone. Slower and a great deal more stately than tuk-tuks, samlors still operate in one or two towns around the country.
A further permutation are the motorized samlors (often called “skylabs” in northeastern Thailand), where the driver relies on a motorbike rather than a bicycle to propel passengers to their destination. They look much the same as cycle samlors, but often sound as noisy as tuk-tuks.
Even faster and more precarious than tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis feature both in towns and in out-of-the-way places. In towns – where the drivers are identified by coloured, numbered vests – they have the advantage of being able to dodge traffic jams, but are obviously only really suitable for the single traveller, and motorbike taxis aren’t the easiest mode of transport if you’re carrying luggage. In remote spots, on the other hand, they’re often the only alternative to hitching or walking, and are especially useful for getting between bus stops on main roads, around car-free islands and to national parks or ancient ruins.
Within towns motorbike-taxi fares can start at B10 for very short journeys, but for trips to the outskirts the cost rises steeply – reckon on at least B200 for a 20km round trip.
Despite first impressions, a high accident rate and the obvious mayhem that characterizes Bangkok’s roads, driving yourself around Thailand can be fairly straightforward. Many roads, particularly in the northeast and the south, are remarkably uncongested. Major routes are clearly signed in English, though this only applies to some minor roads; unfortunately there is no perfect English-language map to compensate.
Outside the capital, the eastern seaboard and the major tourist resorts of Ko Samui and Phuket, local drivers are generally considerate and unaggressive; they very rarely use their horns for example, and will often indicate and even swerve away when it’s safe for you to overtake. The most inconsiderate and dangerous road-users in Thailand are bus drivers and lorry drivers, many of whom drive ludicrously fast, hog the road, race round bends on the wrong side of the road and use their horns remorselessly; worse still, many of them are tanked up on amphetamines, which makes them quite literally fearless.
Bus and lorry drivers are at their worst after dark (many of them only drive then), so it’s best not to drive at night – a further hazard being the inevitable stream of unlit bicycles and mopeds in and around built-up areas, as well as poorly signed roadworks, which are often not made safe or blocked off from unsuspecting traffic. Orange signs, or sometimes just a couple of tree branches or a pile of stones on the road, warn of hazards ahead.
As for local rules of the road, Thais drive on the left, and the speed limit is 60kph within built-up areas and 90kph outside them. Beyond that, there are few rules that are generally followed – you’ll need to keep your concentration up and expect the unexpected from fellow road-users. Watch out especially for vehicles pulling straight out of minor roads, when you might expect them to give way. An oncoming vehicle flashing its lights means it’s coming through no matter what; a right indicator signal from the car in front usually means it’s not safe for you to overtake, while a left indicator signal usually means that it is safe to do so.
Theoretically, foreigners need an international driver’s licence to rent any kind of vehicle, but most car-rental companies accept national licences, and the smaller operations have been known not to ask for any kind of proof whatsoever; motorbike renters very rarely bother. A popular rip-off on islands such as Ko Pha Ngan is for small agents to charge renters exorbitant amounts for any minor damage to a jeep or motorbike, even paint chips, that they find on return – they’ll claim that it’s very expensive to get a new part shipped over from the mainland. Be sure to check out any vehicle carefully before renting.
Petrol (nam man, which can also mean oil) currently costs around B38 a litre, gasohol, which can be used in most rental cars (though it’s worth checking), B36 a litre. The big fuel stations are the least costly places to fill up (hai tem), and many of these also have toilets, mini-marts and restaurants, though some of the more decrepit-looking fuel stations on the main highways only sell diesel. Most small villages have easy-to-spot roadside huts where the fuel is pumped out of a large barrel.
Renting a car
If you decide to rent a car, go to a reputable dealer, such as Avis, Budget or National, or a rental company recommended by TAT, and make sure you get insurance from them. There are international car-rental places at many airports, including Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, which is not a bad place to kick off, as you’re on the edge of the city and within fairly easy, signposted reach of the major regional highways.
Car-rental places in provincial capitals and resorts are listed in the relevant accounts in this book. The price of a small car at a reputable company can start as low as B900 per day if booked online. In some parts of the country, including Chiang Mai, you’ll still be able to rent a car or air-conditioned minibus with driver, which will cost from around B1000 for a local day-trip, more for a longer day-trip, up to about B3000 per day for a multi-day trip, including the driver’s keep and petrol.
Jeeps or basic four-wheel drives are a lot more popular with farangs, especially on beach resorts and islands like Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui, but they’re notoriously dangerous; a huge number of tourists manage to roll their jeeps on steep hillsides and sharp bends. Jeep rental usually works out somewhere around B1000–1200 per day.
International companies will accept your credit-card details as surety, but smaller agents will usually want to hold on to your passport.
Renting a motorbike
One of the best ways of exploring the countryside is to rent a motorbike, an especially popular option in the north of the country. You’ll never be asked for a driving licence, but take it easy out there – Thailand’s roads are not really the place to learn to ride a motorbike from scratch. Bikes of around 100cc, either fully automatic or with step-through gears, are best for inexperienced riders, but aren’t really suited for long slogs. If you’re going to hit the dirt roads you’ll certainly need something more powerful, like a 125–250cc trail bike. These have the edge in gear choice and are the best bikes for steep slopes, though an inexperienced rider may find these machines a handful; the less widely available 125–250cc road bikes are easier to control and much cheaper on fuel.
Rental prices for the day usually work out at somewhere around B150–200 for a small bike and B500 for a good trail bike, though you can bargain for a discount on a long rental. Renters will often ask for a deposit and your passport or credit-card details; insurance is not often available, so it’s a good idea to make sure your travel insurance covers you for possible mishaps.
Before signing anything, check the bike thoroughly – test the brakes, look for oil leaks, check the treads and the odometer, and make sure the chain isn’t stretched too tight (a tight chain is more likely to break) – and preferably take it for a test run. As you will have to pay an inflated price for any damage when you get back, make a note on the contract of any defects such as broken mirrors, indicators and so on. Make sure you know what kind of fuel the bike takes as well.
As far as equipment goes, a helmet is essential – most rental places provide poorly made ones, but they’re better than nothing. Helmets are obligatory on all motorbike journeys, and the law is often rigidly enforced with on-the-spot fines in major tourist resorts. You’ll need sunglasses if your helmet doesn’t have a visor. Long trousers, a long-sleeved top and decent shoes will provide a second skin if you go over, which most people do at some stage. Pillions should wear long trousers to avoid getting nasty burns from the exhaust. For the sake of stability, leave most of your luggage in baggage storage and pack as small a bag as possible, strapping it tightly to the bike with bungy cords – these can usually be provided. Once on the road, oil the chain at least every other day, keep the radiator topped up and fill up with oil every 300km or so.
For expert advice on motorbike travel in Thailand, check out David Unkovich’s website (wgt-rider.com).
The options for cycling in Thailand are numerous, whether you choose to ride the length of the country from the Malaysian border to Chiang Rai, or opt for a dirt-road adventure in the mountains around Chiang Mai. Most Thai roads are in good condition and clearly signposted; although the western and northern borders are mountainous, the rest of the country is surprisingly flat. The secondary roads (distinguished by their three-digit numbers) are paved but carry far less traffic than the main arteries and are the preferred cycling option. Traffic is reasonably well behaved and personal safety is not a major concern as long as you “ride to survive”; dogs, however, can be a nuisance on minor roads so it’s probably worth having rabies shots before your trip. There are bike shops in nearly every town, and basic equipment and repairs are cheap. Unless you head into the remotest regions around the Burmese border you are rarely more than 25km from food, water and accommodation. Overall, the best time to cycle is during the cool, dry season from November to February and the least good from April to July.
The traffic into and out of Bangkok is dense so it’s worth hopping on a bus or train for the first 50–100km to your starting point. Intercity buses, taxis and most Thai domestic planes will carry your bike free of charge. Intercity trains will only transport your bike (for a cargo fare – about the price of a person) if there is a luggage carriage attached, unless you dismantle it and carry it as luggage in the compartment with you. Songthaews will carry your bike on the roof for a fare (about the price of a person).
Local one-day cycle tours and bike-rental outlets (B30–100 per day) are listed throughout this book. There are also a number of organized cycle tours, both nationwide and in northern Thailand (see Trekking and other outdoor activities in Chiang Mai). A very useful English-language resource is wbicyclethailand.com, while Biking Asia with Mr Pumpy (wmrpumpy.net) gives detailed but dated accounts of some cycling routes in Thailand.
Strong, light, quality mountain bikes are the most versatile choice. 26-inch wheels are standard throughout Thailand and are strongly recommended; dual-use (combined road and off-road) tyres are best for touring. As regards panniers and equipment, the most important thing is to travel light. Carry a few spare spokes, but don’t overdo it with too many tools and spares; parts are cheap in Thailand and most problems can be fixed quickly at any bike shop.
Bringing your bike from home is the best option as you are riding a known quantity. Importing it by plane should be straightforward, but check with the airlines for details. Most Asian airlines do not charge extra.
Buying in Thailand is also a possibility: the range is reasonable and prices tend to be cheaper than in the West or Australia. In Bangkok, the best outlet is Probike at 237/2 Thanon Rajdamri (actually off Soi Sarasin next to Lumphini Park; t02 253 3384, wprobike.co.th); Velo Thailand also sell international-brand aluminium-frame bikes, as well as renting mountain bikes for B300 per day. You can also rent good mountain bikes through the Bangkok cycle-tour operator Spice Roads (t02 712 5305, wspiceroads.com) for B280–400 per day. There are a few good outlets in Chiang Mai, too (see also wchiangmaicycling.org): Cacti, who also rent all manner of mountain and city bikes; Chaitawat, on Thanon Phra Pokklao, south off Thanon Ratchamankha, on the right (t053 279890); and Canadian-owned Top Gear, 173 Thanon Chang Moi (t053 233450).
Public transport being so inexpensive, you should only have to resort to hitching in the most remote areas, in which case you’ll probably get a lift to the nearest bus or songthaew stop quite quickly. On routes served by buses and trains, hitching is not standard practice, but in other places locals do rely on regular passers-by (such as national park officials), and you can make use of this “service” too. As with hitching anywhere in the world, think twice about hitching solo or at night, especially if you’re female. Like bus drivers, truck drivers are notorious users of amphetamines, so you may want to wait for a safer offer.