4 Reasons why you should rent a car in Chiang Ma
1. The Freedom to go and see what you want when you want
Many guided tours or sights take up a full day. You see this and that and the other thing – oh, and don’t forget a stop at the gift shop! Or having to go to a specific area where the only thing you can do is shop.
In general, I don’t have an issue with this. I have simply found that with many day tours to catch all the tourist sites, there is maybe 2-3 out of the 6-8 things on the itinerary that I am really looking forward to. Sure, sometimes those other things surprise me and are excellent. However, the vast majority of the time I end up at too many shops where the only thing to do is spend money, and not enough activities. And when there are activities, there’s not enough time to enjoy them as there are so many other activities planned for the day.
The best part?
When you rent a car, you decide what you want to see, how long you want to be there, and when you want to go. Far too many tours require getting picked up at 8 am – or earlier if your activity is far away – and then driving around for an hour to a bunch of other hotels to pick up the other passengers for the tour. Can you tell I’m not a morning person?
Besides, if you see something you like or a beautiful view, you can just stop when you want!
In Chiang Mai, we decided to rent a car and spent a day at the elephant sanctuary. We didn’t intend on spending the whole day there but we loved just hanging out with the elephant. Giving it a bath, walking around a trail with it, and feeding it.
Most elephant – related tours we found were for a few hours and you watch an elephant show and ride them down a path (which I don’t personally suggest, but to each their own) – and then off on a bus!
On our drive, we passed a sign that mentioned a waterfall just up the road. Because we didn’t have to rely on the bus to take us back to the hotel, we checked it out.
2. No being herded around in group tours
Despite living in Asia for a couple years, I’m still not one for crowds.
Being put onto a tiny bus that may or may not have air conditioning doesn’t particularly appeal to me. Also, I find many large group tours feel like you’re being herded around like cattle.
“Everyone over here”
“Now look at this interesting thing”
“Oh, times up here! Let’s move on!”
The second day in Chiang Mai we went to the Tiger Kingdom. Thinking it would be similar to the elephant sanctuary time wise, we went fairly early (and by that I mean like 11 am after a leisurely breakfast), but only ended up spending a couple hours there.
Not far from there (walkable, we didn’t need to re-park) was the elephant poop museum! Sounding interesting and thinking there would be elephants, we went.
After a quick walk around it was easy to see there were no elephants actually there and it’s all about how they make paper out of elephant poop! Neat idea, but not quite what we thought it would be.
We at least thought there’d be elephants there. So after maybe 15 minutes, we left. Should we had been on a tour (it was included in many of the packages we saw) we could’ve been stuck there for hours! Gotta have at least half hour for everyone to buy their poop paper products after all.
3. Cheaper over multiple days
Because you’re only going where you want to, you spend less on entrance fees and really only pay for what you want. You can rent a car for as cheap as $20/day – possibly less if you shop around. If you plan on doing all your touring on one day – a guided tour is probably best. If you want multiple days worth of touring (so you’re not exhausted from being herded around from 8 am onwards), multiple days is better for you. However, booking a group tour for multiple days is not only exhausting, it can also be pricey! For example, a full day elephant tour at Patara Elephant Farm is 5,800 baht – that’s about $160USD! Mind you, this does include water, lunch, and pick up from your hotel, but still, it’s a lot.
When you rent a car, you pay the walk-in entrance fee – we did ‘half day’ at around 1,200baht (roughly $30USD) – free parking, and stayed most of the day. The rest of the day was spent at a waterfall down that road that we wouldn’t have been able to on a group tour.
Overall, by not renting your forcing yourself on these pricey group tours if you want to visit the attractions out of the central city, or taking taxis everywhere – or those trucks you hop in the back of.
There is the alternative of taking public transit, however it isn’t always available (or reliable) and can take a VERY long time.
4. You don’t need an International Driver’s License (Probably)
At the Chiang Mai airport, we didn’t need an international driver’s license. We were never pulled over so the legality of this was never tested. If your driver’s license is from an English speaking country, you shouldn’t have any problems, if not I would suggest having an IDL.
There are many options to choose from at the Chiang Mai airport, making it easy to shop around, however, we found Budget to be the best option at the time. Do note that most car rental places require you to be over the age of 25 to rent (or be charged quite a bit more).
Bonus – Why you should go for a car over a motorcycle/scooter
Although I totally understand the thrill and extra freedom from a motorcycle, I would still suggest going with a car. If it’s just for a day or so around town – totally take the motorcycle. When going to other cities or out far from town, the car is the better bet.
For one, it’s safer. Of course, car accidents happens, but you’re not just going to fall off your car.
Secondly, it can start down pouring rain any minute in Thailand – and you’ll be safe and dry in a car.
Lastly, you can lug your stuff around and keep it safely locked in the trunk while you’re out. So convenient.