Imagining how yellow Medallion cabs become the iconic symbol of the Big Apple, red cabs has been recognized to symbolize Chiang Mai in just the same way. Often referred to as Songthaews (Two Rows) or Rod Dang (Red Car), the red cab is a modified pick-up truck with roof and two rows of seats aligned on each side of the back of the vehicle. They are common throughout the country but those in Chiang Mai are unique that they are painted in either red or crimson.
In some other provinces, Songthaews are passenger vehicles that provide commutes between villages but Rod Dang in Chiang Mai offers a cheap ride for a group of people traveling in the city area. On top of that, the Red Cars are very convenient and require very little of waiting. It is important to note that Songthaew with other colors like yellow, blue, white, etc will take you out of the city to other districts of Chiang Mai instead – so avoid those if you’re not planning to leave the city. The red cabs are very easy to notice and find since there are even too many of them anywhere in Chiang Mai.
Hailing a red taxi is as simple as stepping onto the curb and raising your hands and waving at it. It might not be very easy to check if the taxi is available since, unlike regular taxis, the red cars do not have a ‘vacancy’ light – and you may need to try your luck for that. My suggestion is that you just hail any cab; if it stops for you – just go for it. There is no better way to know whether the taxi is on-duty unless you call for it.
Since the red cab is a shared taxi that can be loaded with up to 10 passengers at a time, it may take you longer to get to your destination if there are too many passengers and the taxi must be pooled by other passengers going to different places in the same directions before it reaches yours. All you have to do is to find one with less passengers or simply offering to pay a little more than regular fare and making a deal that you need to reach the place within your designated duration of time. The best way is to spare some additional time to make up with it because the traffic can go bad in the evening as well.
The harder part is to negotiate the cab fare since the red taxi is unmetered. For relatively short distance (5 minutes or less), you should be charged for 15-20 baht (about 50 cent) during the high time. During late night, you may be charged a little bit more than regular rate. If you happen to be the only passenger during the late night, you may be asked to pay up to 80 baht for a 20 minute ride, which is at about 40 baht (approximately 1 US dollar) in regular daytime.
It is recommended that you have negotiated the fare before getting on the cab. It is, however, not rude to pass up on the taxi you’ve just hailed if you feel that the fare is unusually too high. Do hassle because some unscrupulous drivers may overcharge you if they think you have no clues what you’re doing. Have your say and bargain like you know what to do. The trick is to follow the old saying; “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” and just catch the right one.
Many authors of some articles are careful enough to tell you how to call a red taxi but most of them seem to forget to tell you how to get off of it. In case you want to stop the red car before it gets to your destinations or to impose an emergency stop, you can ring a bell by pressing a button under the roof. You will get to pay the fare once you get off the taxi. Most passengers usually seat themselves in the back of the truck but the front seat is also available if you’d love it air-conditioned.
The red cab is cheap, fun, safe and very available. It is a very nice way to cruise through the city and explore different parts of Chiang Mai since they do not run on fixed route and can be tailored and bargained to your requirements. Just state your destination, negotiate the fare and off you go – it’s as simple as that.