In many towns and cities (apart from Bangkok), the songthaew is the main form of public transport. Songthaews (literal meaning = two rows) are converted pick-up trucks with two rows of seating in the back for passengers. In some tourist areas such as Pattaya, a songthaew is sometimes referred to as a ‘baht bus’.
To call a songthaew, simply wait by the roadside until one approaches and wave it down by stretching out your hand (palm down). There are key differences in the way songthaews operate in various towns and cities. In Chiang Mai for instance, once the songthaew has stopped, tell the driver where you want to go to. If it is on his route he will nod and you can get in the back. If it isn’t on his route he will shake his head and drive on. Just wait until the next songthaew comes along (normally every few minutes). In Pattaya, the songthaews drive along set routes. When one has stopped for you, just jump in the back and ring the buzzer or bell in the back to indicate when you want to get off. Fares vary from town to town. At the time of writing, in Pattaya a short journey would usually be B10 and
15 Baht 20 Baht in Chiang Mai. In Ko Samui, a similar short journey could cost a minimum of B40 or upwards. The majority of drivers are trying to make an honest living, but inevitably there is an element which will try to inflate fares for foreigners. Even if you live in Thailand and can speak fluent Thai, it is a fact of life that in many situations you will pay more than your Thai counterpart. However, fares are still cheap and it is unseemly to argue over an extra B10.
By getting in to a parked songthaew and telling the driver your destination the driver will take this as a sign that you wish to charter the whole vehicle for your own use and he will not stop en route to pick up passengers. This will normally mean you have to pay upwards of B100 for the privilege. Songthaews can very often be chartered for a half-day or full-day sightseeing. Just negotiate an agreed rate with the driver and pay at the end of your journey. Speaking a little bit of Thai is a distinct advantage but don’t worry unduly as a combination of English, sign language and a few smiles will get you through.