|Flight Bangkok - Chiang Mai ฿ 778–7,379 1h 10m – 1h 20m|
|Bus Bangkok - Chiang Mai 9h 30m – 13h|
|Train Bangkok - Chiang Mai ฿ 883–1,862 10h 17m – 14h 20m|
|Flight Don Mueang Airport - Chiang Mai ฿ 649–1,470 1h 5m – 1h 25m|
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are two famous cities in Thailand, with many attractive tourist destinations and distinctive cultural features of each locality. Traveling between these two cities is also very convenient, with many transportation options for tourists. In this article, we will explore the choices of how to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from traditional means of transportation to advanced and most convenient options.
Getting to Northern Thailand: Transportation Options and Tips
Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, is a city of infinite charm nestled in a northern basin of woodlands and mountains. The city is adorned with gorgeous ancient wats and chedis, some of which date back to the 13th century. Forest monasteries are nestled in the hills and mountains, while colorful markets burst with OTOP products and flavorsome Northern Thai cuisine, including the unforgettable khao soi.
The locals are welcoming and friendly, and there are endless opportunities to have unforgettable experiences, whether you are on a short 2-day visit or a month-long trip. Chiang Mai has something for everyone, from temples, museums, galleries, and waterfalls to quaint coffee shops, epic clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene for partygoers and music enthusiasts alike.back to menu ↑
Getting to Chiang Mai by Plane, Train, or Bus: Which One to Choose?
Traveling overland to Chiang Mai is both easy and convenient, with numerous buses linking the northern capital to major provincial centers across the country. If traveling from the capital, Route #1 Bangkok-Chiang Rai will take you as far as Lampang, where you can switch to Route 11 Lampang-Chiang Mai, which will take you all the way to your destination. Additionally, the northern line of Thailand’s state railway stretches 751km long, from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai, with the journey taking anywhere between 9 to 14 hours, depending on the mode of transport you choose.back to menu ↑
What to Expect When Taking the Bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Traveling by bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a convenient, affordable, and comfortable option for the long journey. Chiang Mai-bound buses depart from the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit), with many companies such as Bangkok Busline and Siam FirstNew Viriya providing departures throughout the day. Most buses leave after 8 pm and arrive early in the morning the next day.
However, during peak seasons such as Thai festivals like Songkran in April or Khao/Ok Phansa in July/October, it is advisable to book in advance. The bus prices vary depending on the level of comfort, with VIP coaches being the most comfortable option, offering 24 seats and ample space for both your legs and elbows, starting at 800 THB. However, even the cheapest buses from Bangkok (starting at 500 THB) are comfortable enough to sleep through the journey. Mochit Bus Terminal may seem enormous, but there is plenty of staff to assist passengers in finding their way. You will be greeted at the entrance and directed to the appropriate platform.
Traveling to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by bus is a convenient, affordable, and comfortable option for a long journey. Buses bound for Chiang Mai depart from the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit). There are many bus companies serving this route, such as Bangkok Busline, Siam FirstNew Viriya, and more, with departures available throughout the day. Most buses leave after 8pm and arrive early in the morning the next day. During peak seasons, such as Thai festivals like Songkran in April or Khao/Ok Phansa in July/October, it is advisable to book in advance. Prices for buses vary depending on the level of comfort provided. If you can afford to spend a bit more, VIP coaches with 24 seats (from 800 THB) are a great option, as they provide ample space for both your legs and elbows. However, even the cheapest buses from Bangkok (from 500 THB) offer enough comfort for sleeping through the whole journey.
Note that Mochit Bus Terminal is huge, but there are plenty of staff members available to help passengers find their way. Upon arrival, staff members will greet you at the entrance and direct you to the correct platform, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost.back to menu ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train: A Complete Guide
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by overnight train is a classic Thai experience. Tickets, especially for lower berths, sell quickly, so it’s recommended to book well in advance. The journey takes approximately twelve hours, slightly longer than the bus journey, but is considerably more comfortable. The first and second-class compartments are well-equipped for comfort with seats that convert into bunk beds (avoid the top bunk if you’re claustrophobic). Both fan and air-conditioned 2nd class sleepers are available, so make sure to check when booking. For a luxurious experience, consider purchasing the 1st class single sleeper which costs over 2000 THB per person but offers complete privacy. There are also 2nd class fan seats (around 600-650 THB), but these should only be considered if there are no other options left, as for an extra 100 THB, you can get a fan sleeper, or add 200 THB and travel with air conditioning.
Alternatively, you may choose to travel by day as the route takes you through stunning mountainous regions and sprawling countryside, offering scenic views from the train’s windows.
Tip: Food vendors are constantly patrolling the carriages, ensuring that snacks and refreshments are never in short supply. However, it’s important to note that it’s illegal to sell any alcoholic beverages on the train.back to menu ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Private Taxi: A Complete Guide
You can leave for Chiang Mai directly from your hotel at any time of day, which may be a great option for those traveling in a group of friends. A 9-seater Toyota Commuter costs THB 13,200 and takes approximately 9 hours to travel between the two cities. The roads are generally smooth, and there are gas stations with clean toilets and convenience stores along the way. The scenery is also great, making for a scenic journey.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take a Flight to Chiang Mai
If you’re looking to travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it might be worth considering taking a flight instead of spending an entire night traveling by land. With various low-cost carriers selling tickets for as low as THB1000 and providing a quick 1½ hour journey to your destination, flying can be a convenient and affordable option.
Thai Lion Air, a partner airline of Lion Air based in Indonesia, operates up to 10 round-trip flights daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Prices for airfare start at THB1000 and vary depending on the date and time of day you wish to travel. The busiest periods tend to sell out well in advance, but there are usually deals available for under THB2000 even a few days prior to your desired travel date. The ticket price already includes 15 kg of checked luggage and 7 kg of carry-on luggage. The first flight departs from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport at 8:55 am and the last one at 9:50 pm, with eight other options available in between.
Lion Air’s base in Bangkok is located in Don Mueang International Airport, situated to the north of the city center. You can reach the airport by taking the airport shuttle buses, either route A1 from Morchit bus terminal or A2 from Victory Monument, with stops at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations (fare of THB30). Morchit BTS station is also served by A1. The travel time can range from 60 to 80 minutes depending on traffic conditions. Alternatively, you can take the commuter trains that operate between Hua Lamphong train station and Don Mueang airport. These trains are a reliable option, taking approximately 50 minutes to travel from the train station to the airport. The trains operate from 4:20 am until 10:25 pm.
Chiang Mai International Airport is a significant gateway to Northern Thailand, with daily domestic and international flights to and from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and other destinations. As the airport is situated only about two kilometers from the city center, flying to Chiang Mai is a convenient and affordable option as you won’t have to spend much time or money getting to your hotel from the airport.
Note that many hotels in the city offer free transfers from the airport, but it’s necessary to arrange this in advance. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to get to the center. The cost of the ride may seem a bit high considering the distance, but it is still relatively inexpensive at around THB150.
Tip: Chiang Mai Airport serves as a hub for Kan Air, a domestic airline that provides flights to some of the most beautiful destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. It’s worth considering flying to these towns as the roads from Chiang Mai to Pai and Mae Hong Son can be quite treacherous for some travelers.
To get around Chiang Mai, most of the city’s attractions are located within the walls of the Old City. Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation and can be rented from almost every guesthouse. However, it’s essential to check the brakes before heading out, as the condition of the city’s bicycle fleet can vary. Expect to pay between THB50 to THB100 for a standard bike with a fixed gear.
Motorcycles and scooters are another excellent way to get around, and rental shops are scattered throughout the city. This mode of transportation provides more freedom to explore Chiang Mai and the surrounding area. Be prepared to leave your passport as a security deposit, but you should have no problem getting it back when you return the vehicle to the rental shop. It’s crucial to take extra caution when riding a motorcycle or scooter to Doi Suthep, the city’s picturesque peak, as the winding roads and breathtaking views can be challenging for inexperienced riders.
Songthaews, which are large trucks with benches in the back, are an affordable way to travel within the city (THB20-40 per ride), and the red and white ones are particularly useful. Yellow songthaews can take you to some of the neighboring Northern provinces. Negotiation may be necessary in some cases.
Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songthaews, and their prices, noise, pollution, and safety records may make them an unappealing option for some travelers. Taxis are also available everywhere, but unlike metered taxis in Bangkok, none of the cabs in Chiang Mai use meters. Always negotiate the fare before the ride.back to menu ↑
Where to stay
In recent years, accommodation prices in Chiang Mai have increased, making it nearly impossible to find a decent option for THB300. A budget room in a guesthouse within the walls now costs around THB1000, which is a more realistic figure. Staying within the walls of the Old City offers the convenience of being close to many attractions, but there are other excellent options available as well.
For example, you can find pleasant budget accommodations just east of the Old City in Thanon Tha Phae, near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Thanon Nimmanhaemin, with its plethora of bars and restaurants, is easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. Accommodations outside the city are perfect for those seeking a relaxed countryside atmosphere and are a great choice if you have your own transportation.back to menu ↑
While visiting Chiang Mai, it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You will undoubtedly visit plenty of temples, go hiking or trekking, and perhaps even try white-water rafting or rock climbing. However, consider adding some zest to your stay by enrolling in a massage class to learn the basics of Thai massage. Volunteering at one of the elephant camps, such as Elephant Nature Park, is also a fantastic opportunity. Additionally, seeing how the colorful Chiang Mai parasols are made and strolling down Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evening, when it transforms into the epicenter of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching, are other unique experiences to consider.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is famous for its vibrant festivals, and it’s worth planning your trip to participate in some of them. The Flower Festival, held during the first weekend of February, transforms the city into a blossoming garden. Songkran, which takes place on April 12-14, is a wet and wild water festival where revelers splash water on each other (and passersby) along the city moat. Loi Krathong, one of the most stunning Thai festivals, is known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float into the night sky over the city, creating an unforgettable scene.back to menu ↑
What to see along the way to Chiang Mai
There are two routes to take by car from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The quicker and shorter route involves driving to Nakhon Sawan and turning left before entering the city onto highway number 1. This route takes you through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang. If you enjoy pizza, be sure to stop at the Riverside restaurant in Lampang. Avoid the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai, as there are better places to interact with elephants. This route covers a total distance of approximately 700 kilometers.
The second route is slightly longer, but offers smaller roads through large forests. Drive up to Nakhon Sawan and take the highway to Phitsanulok (117). Continue on highway 11 to reach Lampang and then Chiang Mai. In Phisanulok, you have two options. Turning right towards Phetchaboon leads you to the “Switzerland of Thailand,” an area with relaxing resorts. In Phetchaboon, visit Khao Koh, a mountain with a spot where your car will slowly roll uphill. If you turn left, you can visit the city of Sukhothai and its historical park, where you can rent a bicycle to explore the 700-year-old temple ruins.
Traveling by bus takes about 10 hours, while the train takes about 14 hours. Overnight travel can save you the cost of a hotel room. Although many airlines fly to Chiang Mai, taking a car offers a beautiful trip. We recommend taking a plane back, especially if heading south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai’s best shopping destinations
Chiang Mai is a city brimming with attractions that would take several months to explore fully. While there are many popular things to see and do in Chiang Mai, we want to share some insider tips that you may not find in your guidebook. Let’s start with the basics. Visitors are often told to do three things in Chiang Mai: try Khao Soi, a delicious rice noodle dish with various ingredients, visit Boo Sang to see the colorful handmade paper umbrellas, and go to Wat Doi Suthep temple on the mountain. It’s best to visit Wat Doi Suthep on weekdays to avoid the crowds. If the sun is shining, you can capture beautiful pictures of the golden chedi. When taking one of the red songtaew taxis, keep in mind that the fare is higher for the ride down the mountain.
Khao Soi is a soup-like specialty made from rice noodles in a thin, yellow curry similar to Massaman style. It is usually mixed with deep-fried crispy noodles and boiled egg noodles, served with shallots, banana, lime, and pickled cabbage on the side. If you can’t handle the extreme spiciness, skip the oil-fried ground chilies. Coconut milk is added to soften the flavor and reduce the spice level. You can typically order Khao Soi with chicken, beef, or a vegetarian version.
Boo Sang is a charming village located near San Pathong, where paper umbrellas/parasols have been produced and painted for over 200 years. It is fascinating to witness the production process, which can be observed at the umbrella factory on the right side of the junction. The paper used for the parasols is made from the bark of the mulberry tree. Additionally, they also offer painting services for mobile phone covers, clothes, bags, t-shirts, and shorts. If you have something unique you want to create, bring it along instead of buying something new there. Baan Tawai, a village near Hang Dong, is similar to Boo Sang, with numerous souvenirs and wooden furniture. Although it is cheaper than the night bazaar in the city, Boo Sang remains our favorite.
The Chinese-style Wororot Market is situated near the Narawat Bridge over the River Ping. On Sundays, there is a large street market inside the old city that operates from 7 p.m. to midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) is held on Wualai Road. The night bazaar opens every day in the early afternoon and closes at night, selling a diverse range of items, but haggling is necessary.
Don’t expect original Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans. Since many shops sell similar things, it’s best to inquire about prices and then compare them elsewhere. There is a Chinese money changer shop located about 50 meters from Tha Phae Road on the right side of the night bazaar street that usually has the best exchange rates in town. If you reach the end of the night bazaar, cross the junction at Phantip Plaza and continue for another 300 meters. Behind the big hotel on the left side, you will see the 3D street art museum ‘Art in Paradise’. Bring your camera and step into the 300+ paintings on the ground, walls, and ceiling to take some unique and amusing pictures.
If you’re an animal lover looking to make a positive impact, consider visiting Care For Dogs in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong District or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng. While the park may not be the cheapest option, it’s worth it to see elephants living happily without the use of hooks, chains, or fences. You may even have the opportunity to swim with the gentle giants in the river and brush their backs with a big broom. The park offers day trips or longer volunteering opportunities for a truly unforgettable experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the white-water and bamboo rafting available from shops further down the same road as the park. While bamboo rafting is a relaxing experience, white-water rafting offers a bit more of a thrill – just be aware that the water may not be very white unless there has been recent heavy rainfall in the mountains.
If swimming is more your style, consider looking up “Grand Canyon Chiang Mai” for a hidden gem in the north. The water is clear and clean, and there are usually very few people there on weekdays when the sun is shining. Be sure to exercise caution when swimming and avoid jumping from the walls into the water. There’s even a recently opened coffee shop at the entrance for a nice pick-me-up after your swim.
For those who can drive a scooter or are interested in renting a car, a loop from CM to Hang Dong, Samoeng, Mae Rim, and back to CM is highly recommended. The drive takes about three hours with little traffic on weekdays and offers stunning viewpoints, hidden caves (which may be a bit difficult to find), a large and pleasant coffee shop 20 km before Samoeng, strawberry fields in Samoeng, and many other activities like bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV and buggy rentals, go-karting, paint-ball, parks, and restaurants in the Mae Rim area. You can even venture up the mountain to explore Wat Doi Suthep on your own. Remember to always wear a helmet, drive carefully, and never drink alcohol and drive.back to menu ↑
Street food scene in Chiang Mai: A delicious adventure
Chiang Mai is renowned for its vibrant culinary scene, boasting numerous restaurants and pubs to suit all tastes. If you’re looking for some exceptional dining experiences, here are a few recommendations:
- Taste from Heaven is an excellent vegetarian restaurant located within the old city. They offer cooking classes too.
- The Dukes, situated on the other side of the river, is famous for serving the biggest pizza in town and fantastic spare ribs. Their portions are huge, so no need for a starter.
- The Mix Bar and Restaurant at the end of Nimman Hemmin Soi 1 is renowned for its beautiful food presentation and exceptional taste.
- Smoothie Blues, situated at the corner of Soi 6, offers the best breakfast in town. Their mango “smoothie blues” is a must-try.
- Sumo Sushi, located in the small soi between Nimman Hemmin Soi 11 and 13, offers Japanese food with a Thai twist at an affordable price. Nearby, the Beer Factory offers an extensive selection of imported beers, while a Japanese Yakiniku Grill on Soi 9 allows you to grill your own food at the table.
- Yummy Pizza on Canal Road, although a bit outside the city, is worth a visit for their delicious food and occasional live music. The owner is also an excellent contact for Muay Thai boxing.
- Khao-Mao Khao-Fang, formerly known as the Rainforest Restaurant, is situated on road 3044 and offers one of the most picturesque dining experiences in Chiang Mai. It’s best to sit near the lake to avoid the noise from the waterfall on the other side. The air-conditioned coffee shop also serves food.
Uncovering the Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Temples in Chiang Mai
There are numerous temples in Chiang Mai, in addition to Wat Doi Suthep which is situated on the mountain. Within the old city, you can find Wat Phra Sing, while near Chiang Mai University, there is Wat U-Mong which boasts caves and a vast fish pond. Another beautiful temple is Wat Doi Kham located near the night safari, which is often overlooked by tourists. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the city from this temple.back to menu ↑
The Best Places to Buy Thai Silk in Chiang Mai
Central Festival, a massive shopping mall located on the superhighway, is a prominent landmark. The Robinson Airport Plaza is also an attractive shopping destination and easier to access. Maya is a popular hangout spot for students from the nearby university.
For those planning an extended stay in the city, renting a place is preferable to staying in hotels or guesthouses. Air-conditioned studios are available for around 100 Euros per month, but condominiums in the city or Nimman Hemmin area are considerably more expensive. Renting a house in a housing estate with amenities such as security, a pool, gym, and clubhouse is more cost-effective than renting an apartment.
Tourists are being charged double entrance fees to visit the Zoo and the Night Safari, and it is not advisable to support such practices by visiting these places.
Most areas of the city are mapped on Google Streetview, providing a chance to explore some areas beforehand.
Chiang Rai is worth a visit if time permits, as it has two notable temples: the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the Black House (Baan Dam). However, it takes four hours by car to reach the destination. If you plan to stay overnight in Chiang Rai, consider the Le Meridien Hotel, which offers a delightful Sunday brunch.