|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 characteristics 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 options for traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from traditional means of transportation to advanced and most convenient methods.
The Best Ways to Travel to Northern Thailand
Nestled amidst woodlands and mountains in the northern basin lies Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, a city with an infinite charm. The city is adorned with gorgeous ancient wats and chedis, some dating back to the 13th century. Forest monasteries can be found hidden in the mountains and hills.
The vibrant markets are bursting with OTOP products, and the Northern Thai cuisine is a flavor explosion, particularly the unforgettable khao soi. The locals are friendly and welcoming, and the city offers endless choices to have unforgettable experiences, whether you are just on a short 2-day visit or a month-long trip. Chiang Mai has plenty to offer, from temples, museums, galleries, and waterfalls, to quaint coffee shops, epic clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene for party-goers and music enthusiasts alike.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai Transportation: Everything You Need to Know
Traveling overland to Chiang Mai is a breeze with numerous buses linking the northern capital to major provincial centers in the country. From the capital, Route #1 Bangkok-Chiang Rai will take you as far as Lampang, where you’ll need to switch to Route 11 Lampang-Chiang Mai, which will take you all the way to your destination. Alternatively, the northern line of Thailand’s state railway is a 751 km long stretch from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Depending on your choice of transportation, the journey can last anywhere between 9 to 14 hours.back to menu ↑
Tips for a Comfortable Bus Journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Traveling by bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is an easy, affordable, and comfortable option for your journey. Buses bound for Chiang Mai originate from the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit), with many companies, such as Bangkok Busline, Siam FirstNew Viriya, and more, serving the route with departures throughout the day, giving you plenty of options to choose from. 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. Prices vary based on the level of comfort of the bus. If you can afford to pay extra baht, opt for VIP coaches with 24 seats, which provide 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.
It’s worth noting that the Mochit Bus Terminal is enormous, but there are plenty of staff available to help passengers navigate their way. Upon arrival, you will be greeted at the entrance and directed to the correct platform, providing you with peace of mind throughout your journey.
Traveling by bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a convenient, affordable, and comfortable option to sustain you through the long journey. Buses bound for Chiang Mai depart from the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit), with many companies such as Bangkok Busline and Siam FirstNew Viriya serving the route and offering departures 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’s wise to book in advance.
Prices vary depending on the level of comfort, with VIP coaches offering 24 seats (from 800 THB) providing enough space for your legs and elbows. However, even the cheapest buses from Bangkok (from 500 THB) are comfortable enough to sleep through the whole journey. At the enormous Mochit Bus Terminal, there is a lot of staff available to help passengers find their way, and you will be directed to the right platform upon arrival.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take the Train to Chiang Mai
Traveling overnight by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a quintessential Thai experience. Tickets for lower berths sell out quickly, so it’s best to book well in advance. The journey takes roughly twelve hours, slightly longer than by bus, but significantly more comfortable. The first and second class compartments are well equipped with seats that fold out into bunk beds, although top bunks can feel claustrophobic. Both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers are available, so check when booking. For a luxurious journey, consider purchasing a 1st class single sleeper for over 2000 THB per person, offering complete privacy. 2nd class fan seats (about 600-650 THB) are an option only if no other choices remain, as an additional 100 THB offers a fan sleeper, or add 200 THB to travel with AC.
Alternatively, traveling during the day is also an option, as the route offers beautiful views of mountainous regions and sprawling countryside, seemingly untouched by civilization, from the train windows.
Tip: Food vendors patrol the carriages with snacks and refreshments, but it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on the train.back to menu ↑
Private Taxi from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: Is it Worth It?
Travel directly from your hotel to Chiang Mai at any time of the day with the convenience of a private transfer. This option can be particularly beneficial for those traveling in a group of friends. A 9-seater Toyota Commuter is available at a cost of THB 13,200 and takes approximately 9 hours to travel between the two capitals. The roads are generally smooth, with gas stations that have clean toilets and convenience stores along the way. Additionally, the scenery is breathtaking and adds to the overall experience of the journey.back to menu ↑
The Pros and Cons of Taking a Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
If you’re looking to travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it might be worth considering flying instead of taking an overnight overland journey. With many budget airlines selling tickets for as little as THB1000, you can reach your destination in just an hour and a half.
Thai Lion Air, a subsidiary of Lion Air based in Indonesia, offers up to 10 round-trip flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai each day. Depending on the date and time of your preferred flight, airfares start from THB1000 and can go up. Popular travel periods tend to sell out quickly, but even a few days before your intended travel date, you can still find deals for under THB2000. The ticket price includes 15 kg of checked luggage and 7 kg of cabin luggage. Flights depart from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport as early as 8:55 am and as late as 9:50 pm, with eight other options available throughout the day.
Lion Air’s base in Bangkok is located at Don Mueang International Airport, which is situated to the north of the city center. To reach the airport, you can take the airport shuttle buses A1 or A2. A1 departs from Morchit bus terminal, while A2 begins its route at the Victory Monument, stopping at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations before arriving at the airport (fare is THB30). Morchit BTS station is also served by the A1 route. The travel time can vary depending on traffic and usually takes between 60 to 80 minutes. Commuter trains also operate between Hua Lamphong train station and Don Mueang airport, and this is generally a reliable option. The train journey takes approximately 50 minutes, and trains run from 4:20 am until 10:25 pm.
Chiang Mai International Airport serves as a major gateway to Northern Thailand and is one of the busiest airports in the country, offering daily domestic and international flights to and from destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and more. The airport is conveniently located just two kilometers from the city center, making flying to Chiang Mai a practical option, as you won’t need to spend much time or money getting to your hotel.
Many hotels in the city offer free airport transfers, but it’s important to arrange this in advance. If you haven’t pre-booked transportation, you can take a taxi, a songthaew, or a tuk-tuk to get to the city center. The cost of the ride may seem a bit high considering the distance, but it is still relatively inexpensive (around THB150).
Pro tip: Chiang Mai Airport is also a hub for Kan Air, a domestic airline that offers service to some of the most spectacular destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. If you’re not up for a challenging drive on winding roads from Chiang Mai to these towns, it’s worth considering flying there instead.
To get around Chiang Mai, most of the city’s attractions can be found within the walls of the Old City. Renting a bicycle is a popular and easy option and can be arranged at most guesthouses for around THB50 to THB100 per day. However, check the brakes first as some bikes may be in less than ideal condition.
Renting a scooter, motorcycle, or car is another excellent way to explore the city, and rental shops are widely available. This option provides greater flexibility and freedom to explore Chiang Mai and its surroundings. Note that you will need to leave your passport as a security deposit, but it’s usually returned without issue when you return the vehicle.
When traveling by songtaews, which are large trucks with benches in the back, the red and white ones are suitable for trips within the city, while the yellow ones can take you to nearby Northern provinces. They are generally the cheapest way to get around, but some negotiation may be required.
Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songtaews and not always the most viable option due to their prices, noise, pollution, and safety record. However, they can be a fun experience if you’re looking for something new.
Taxis are abundant, but unlike in Bangkok, they don’t use meters, so it’s important to negotiate the fare before the ride.back to menu ↑
Where to stay
In recent years, the cost of accommodation in Chiang Mai has increased, and it’s become difficult to find a decent option for THB300. A more realistic figure for a budget room in a guesthouse within the walls is around THB1000. While staying within the Old City offers convenience and proximity to many attractions, there are other good options available.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider looking for affordable accommodation just east of the Old City in Thanon Tha Phae, near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Thanon Nimmanhaemin, with its numerous bars and restaurants, is also easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. For those with their own transportation, lodging outside the city center is a great choice, offering a more relaxed countryside feel and catering to the needs of city veterans.back to menu ↑
While in Chiang Mai, it’s worth exploring some unique activities to spice up your visit. You may likely visit several temples, go hiking and trekking, or even try white-water rafting or rock climbing. However, you can add some extra flavor to your stay by enrolling in a massage class and learning the basics of Thai massage, volunteering at one of the elephant camps (beginning with Elephant Nature Park), observing the production of colorful Chiang Mai parasols, and taking a stroll down Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evening when it becomes a hub of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is renowned for its colorful festivals. If possible, schedule your trip to participate in some of these festivals. During the first weekend of February, the Flower Festival is held, and the city transforms into a gorgeous blooming garden. Songkran falls on April 12-14, with revelers dousing each other (and passersby) with water along the city moat. Loi Krathong, one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals, is known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float in the night skies over the city, creating an unforgettable sight.back to menu ↑
What to expect when driving to Chiang Mai
For those driving to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, there are two routes to choose from. The quicker and shorter route takes you through Nakhon Sawan and then onto highway number 1. You’ll pass through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang, where you can stop at the Riverside restaurant for pizza. However, we advise against visiting the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai for elephant riding, as there are better places to interact with these majestic animals. The total distance is about 700 kilometers.
The second route is slightly longer but offers smaller roads through big forests. You’ll drive up to Nakhon Sawan and take the highway to Phitsanulok (117), then continue on highway 11 until you reach Lampang and then Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, you have two more options: turn right towards Phetchaboon and visit the “Switzerland of Thailand,” an area with relaxing resorts, or turn left and visit the historical park in Sukhothai to explore the 700-year-old temple ruins.
If you decide to take the bus, it will take about 10 hours, while the train will take around 14 hours. Traveling overnight can save you the cost of a hotel room. While there are many airlines that fly to Chiang Mai, driving allows you to enjoy the scenery and take your time. We recommend taking a plane for the return journey, especially if you plan to travel down south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Getting to know Chiang Mai’s hill tribe cultures
Chiang Mai is a city filled with so many attractions that it would be difficult to see everything, even with several months of exploration. In this guide, we aim to highlight some of the lesser-known things to do in the city. However, let’s start with the must-do activities that people commonly recommend: eating Khao Soi, visiting the handmade umbrella village of Bo Sang, and exploring the mountain temple, Wat Doi Suthep. We suggest visiting the temple on a weekday to avoid crowds, and if you take a red songtaew taxi, keep in mind that the fare for the return trip is usually higher.
Khao Soi is a must-try dish in Chiang Mai, consisting of rice noodles in a thin yellow curry similar to Massaman style. It is a soup-like dish mixed with crispy and boiled egg noodles, with shallots, banana, lime, and pickled cabbage served on the side. Be cautious with the oil-fried ground chilies if you don’t tolerate extreme spiciness. Coconut milk is used to soften the taste and reduce spiciness. You can order Khao Soi with chicken, beef, or even a vegetarian option.
Boo Sang is a village located near San Pathong, where they have been producing and painting paper umbrellas/parasols for over 200 years. It’s fascinating to watch the production process at the umbrella factory on the right side of the junction. They make Sa paper from the bark of the mulberry tree and also paint beautiful designs on items such as mobile phone covers and clothing. If you have a bag, t-shirt, or shorts that you want to make unique, bring them along and have them painted there. Another similar village is Baan Tawai near Hang Dong, which has loads of souvenirs and wooden furniture at cheaper prices than the night bazaar in the city. However, we prefer Boo Sang.
The Chinese-style Wororot Market is situated near the Narawat Bridge over the River Ping. On Sundays, a large street market takes place inside the old city from 7 p.m. until midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (known as Thanon Khon Doen) is held on Wualai Road. The night bazaar is open every day from early afternoon until night, offering a variety of items, but it’s important to negotiate prices. Don’t expect items like Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans to be genuine.
Many shops sell the same products, so it’s best to compare prices and bargain. There’s a Chinese Money Changer shop about 50 meters from Tha Phae road on the right side of the night bazaar street, which typically 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’ll find the 3D street art museum called ‘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.
For animal lovers and those who want to make a positive impact, there are two options to consider in Chiang Mai: Care For Dogs in Hang Dong District or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng. While the park may be a bit pricey, you’ll witness elephants living happily without chains, hooks, or fences. You can even swim in the river with them and brush their backs with a big broom. Day trips are available or you can volunteer for a more immersive experience. On the same road further down, there are white-water and bamboo rafting shops, but note that bamboo rafting can be slow and relaxed, while white-water rafting can be more challenging after heavy rainfalls.
For a hidden gem in the north, try searching for “Grand Canyon Chiang Mai” for clear and clean water with almost no crowds during the weekdays. However, be cautious not to jump from the walls into the water. A new coffee shop is available at the entrance.
If you have a scooter or rent a car, a recommended loop is CM-Hang Dong-Samoeng-Mae Rim-CM. During the three-hour drive on weekdays, you’ll pass beautiful viewpoints, discover a hidden cave (though it may be a bit difficult to find), visit a large coffee shop 20 km before Samoeng, and see strawberry fields in Samoeng. In Mae Rim, there are activities like bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV and buggy rentals, go-karts, paintball, and parks, restaurants, and more. You can also drive up the mountain and explore Wat Doi Suthep on your own. Always wear a helmet, drive carefully, and never drink alcohol and drive.back to menu ↑
Northern Thai cuisine: The unique flavors of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is renowned for its diverse culinary scene, with an abundance of pubs and restaurants catering to every palate. Here are some of our personal favorites:
- Taste from Heaven, located within the old city, is an excellent vegetarian restaurant and one of the best in the north. They offer cooking classes as well.
- The Dukes, situated on the opposite side of the river between Narawat and the old iron bridge, serves the largest pizza in town along with mouthwatering spare ribs.
- For stunningly presented dishes, head to Mix Bar and Restaurant at the end of Nimman Hemmin Soi 1.
- Smoothie Blues, on the corner of Soi 6 (opposite Tesco Express), is a small shop that serves the best breakfast in town. Be careful not to get addicted to their mango “smoothie blues.”
- Sumo Sushi, located in the small soi between Nimman Hemmin Soi 11 and 13, offers Japanese food with a Thai twist and is reasonably priced. The beer factory is just a few meters away and has a wide selection of imported beers. A Japanese Yakiniku Grill can also be found further down the street on Soi 9.
- Yummy Pizza on Canal Road is a must-visit spot for its delicious food and live music performances. The owner is a great source of information about Muay Thai boxing.
- Khao-Mao Khao-Fang, formerly known as the Rainforest Restaurant, is situated on Road 3044 and is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Chiang Mai. If you prefer a quieter environment, sit near the lake as the waterfall on the other side can be quite loud after a while. They also serve food inside the air-conditioned coffee shop.
A Guide to the Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai
In addition to Wat Doi Suthep located on the mountain, Chiang Mai boasts numerous other temples worth visiting. Within the old city, Wat Phra Sing is a notable temple, while Wat U-Mong, situated near Chiang Mai University, features fascinating caves and a large fish pond. Another hidden gem is Wat Doi Kham, which is located near the night safari and often overlooked by tourists. On a clear day, visitors to Wat Doi Kham can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city.back to menu ↑
The Ultimate Guide to Shopping in Chiang Mai: Where to Go and What to Buy
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.