|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 unique cultural features of each locality. Getting from one city to the other is also very convenient, with many transportation options available for travelers. In this article, we will explore the various options for traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from traditional modes of transportation to the most advanced and convenient modes.
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling to Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, is nestled in a northern basin surrounded by woodlands and mountains, exuding an infinite charm that is hard to resist. The city is adorned with stunning ancient wats and chedis that date back to the 13th century, while forest monasteries are hidden in the mountains and hills. There are vibrant and colorful markets selling OTOP products, and the Northern Thai cuisine is bursting with unforgettable flavors, especially the renowned khao soi.
The locals are welcoming and friendly, and there are endless choices to create unforgettable experiences, whether you are visiting for just two days or a month-long trip. Chiang Mai offers plenty to explore, from temples, museums, galleries, and waterfalls to quaint coffee shops, epic clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene that caters to party-goers and music enthusiasts alike.back to menu ↑
How to Get Around Chiang Mai: Transportation Options and Tips
Traveling overland to Chiang Mai is hassle-free and convenient, with numerous buses connecting the northern capital to major provincial centers in the country. From the capital, Route #1 Bangkok-Chiang Rai takes you as far as Lampang, where you can switch to Route 11 Lampang-Chiang Mai, which leads you all the way to your destination. Alternatively, the northern line of the State Railway of Thailand is a 751 km long stretch from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Depending on your preferred mode of transportation, the journey can take anywhere from 9 to 14 hours.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 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 ↑
The Best Way to Travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by overnight train is a classic Thailand experience, but tickets sell quickly, especially for lower berths, so it’s best to book well in advance. The journey takes about 12 hours, which is longer than the bus journey, but it is significantly more comfortable. The first and second-class compartments are equipped with seats that fold out into bunk beds, with both fan and AC options available for the second-class sleepers. For a more luxurious experience, consider the first-class single sleeper, which offers more privacy but costs over 2000 THB per person. There are also second-class fan seats available for about 600-650 THB, but it’s recommended to choose a fan sleeper for an additional 100 THB or opt for AC for an additional 200 THB.
The train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai offers stunning views of mountainous regions and sprawling countryside, making a daytime journey a viable option for travelers who want to enjoy the scenery.
Note that food vendors frequently patrol the train carriages, so snacks and refreshments are readily available, but selling alcoholic beverages is illegal on the train.back to menu ↑
Bangkok to Chiang Mai Private Taxi: How to Book Your Ride
You can leave for Chiang Mai directly from your hotel at any time of the day, making it a convenient 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, with gas stations featuring clean restrooms and convenience stores along the way. Moreover, the scenery is breathtaking, making the journey a pleasant one.back to menu ↑
What to Expect When Taking a Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
If you’re looking to save time and money, flying between Bangkok and Chiang Mai may be your best bet. Low-cost carriers are offering tickets for as little as THB1000, and the flight takes only 1½ hours. This beats spending the entire night traveling overland.
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 Bangkok base is located at Don Mueang International Airport, which is situated to the north of the capital. You can reach the airport by using airport shuttle buses that operate two routes: A1 and A2. Route A1 starts from Morchit bus terminal, while A2 originates at Victory Monument and stops at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations (fare is THB30). Morchit BTS station is also served by the A1 route. The duration of the journey can vary depending on traffic, but it typically takes between 60 to 80 minutes. Additionally, there are commuter trains available between Hua Lamphong train station and Don Mueang airport. These trains are a reliable option and take approximately 50 minutes to travel between the railway station and the airport. The operating hours for the train service are from 4:20 am to 10:25 pm
Chiang Mai International Airport is 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 Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and other destinations. The airport is located just two kilometers from the city center, making flying to Chiang Mai a convenient option that won’t cost you much time or money to reach your hotel.
While many hotels in the city offer free airport transfers, it’s important to arrange this in advance. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to get to the city center. Although the cost of the ride may seem a bit high considering the distance, it’s still relatively inexpensive at around THB150.
A helpful tip: Chiang Mai Airport is also a hub for Kan Air, a domestic airline that offers service to some of the most amazing destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. If you’re not up for navigating the winding roads from Chiang Mai to these towns, it’s worth considering flying 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 accommodations in Chiang Mai has increased significantly, and it is now challenging to find a decent option for THB300. A more realistic budget figure for a guesthouse room within the Old City walls is around THB1000. While staying in the Old City provides the convenience of being close to many attractions, there are other great options available. Consider looking for budget-friendly accommodation in Thanon Tha Phae, located just east of the Old City and close to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.
Additionally, Thanon Nimmanhaemin, with its plethora of bars and restaurants, is easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. For those with their own transportation, lodgings outside of the city provide a more relaxed countryside feel and are an excellent option for experienced travelers or those looking for a more secluded experience.back to menu ↑
While in Chiang Mai, it’s worth trying something unique to add some excitement to your trip. While you’re sure to visit a fair share of temples and do some hiking, trekking, white-water rafting, or rock climbing, consider enrolling in a massage class to learn the basics of Thai massage. You can also volunteer at one of the elephant camps, such as the Elephant Nature Park, to support animal welfare efforts. Additionally, take a tour to see how the colorful Chiang Mai parasols are made or stroll down Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evenings to experience the local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is renowned for its vibrant festivals. If possible, schedule your visit to witness and participate in some of them. The Flower Festival is held during the first weekend of February, and the city transforms into a stunning blooming garden. Songkran, which takes place from April 12-14, is a water festival where revelers pour water on each other (and passers-by) along the city moat. Loi Krathong, known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, is one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float in the night skies over the city, creating an unforgettable sight.back to menu ↑
Pros and cons of driving vs. flying to Chiang Mai
There are two main routes for driving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The first and shorter route involves driving to Nakhon Sawan, turning left before the city, and taking highway number 1. You’ll pass through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang, where you can stop for pizza at the Riverside restaurant. However, it’s better to avoid the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai for riding elephants, as there are more ethical ways to interact with them. This route covers a total distance of about 700 kilometers.
The second route is slightly longer, but takes you through smaller roads surrounded by large forests. Drive up to Nakhon Sawan, take highway 117 to Phitsanulok, and continue on highway 11 to Lampang and Chiang Mai. Along the way, you can turn right towards Phetchaboon, known as the ‘Switzerland of Thailand,’ where you can relax at the resorts or visit Khao Koh mountain. Alternatively, turn left to visit the historical park in Sukhothai, where you can rent a bicycle and explore the well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins.
If you prefer to travel by bus, it will take about 10 hours, while the train takes around 14 hours. Overnight travel can save you the cost of one night in a hotel. While many airlines fly to Chiang Mai, taking a road trip is a beautiful experience, and we recommend flying back, especially if you’re headed south to the islands.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai’s best shopping destinations
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, a village near San Pathong, has been producing and painting paper umbrellas/parasols for over 200 years. It’s a fascinating process, and at the umbrella factory near the junction, you can observe every step of the production. The Sa paper is made from the mulberry tree’s bark, and they can even paint fantastic designs on your mobile phone case, clothes, or any item you bring. The village of Baan Tawai, near Hang Dong, is similar to Boo Sang, but it’s a great place to find souvenirs and wooden furniture at lower prices than the night bazaar in the city.
The Chinese-style Wororot Market is located near the Narawat Bridge over the River Ping. On Sundays, there is a large street market inside the old city, which starts at 7 p.m. and closes at midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) is held on Wualai Road. The night bazaar is open every day in the early afternoon and closes at night. You can find a variety of items there, but be prepared to negotiate prices. Don’t expect the Louis-Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans to be authentic.
Many shops sell the same things, so you can ask for a price and then move on to another shop. There is a Chinese Money Changer shop about 50 meters from Tha Phae Road on the right side of the night bazaar street that usually offers 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 ‘Art in Paradise.’ Bring your camera and step into the 300+ paintings on the ground, walls, and ceiling to capture some amazing or funny pictures.
For animal lovers who want to make a positive impact, visiting Care For Dogs in Chiang Mai (Hang Dong District) or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng is a great option. Although the park is a bit pricey, you will get to see elephants happily roaming without hooks, chains or fences. They choose to stay there despite having the freedom to run away. You can even swim in the river with these magnificent creatures and brush their backs with a broom. The park offers day trips or volunteering opportunities. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Further down the same road behind the park, some shops offer white-water and bamboo rafting. Although bamboo rafting is slow and leisurely, white-water rafting is a bit more thrilling. However, it is not really that white unless you go after heavy rainfalls in the mountains.
If you want to go swimming, search for ‘Grand Canyon Chiang Mai’ on Google. This hidden gem in the north is not very popular, which makes it an ideal spot for a serene swim. The water is clear and clean, and there aren’t many people there during weekdays. However, be cautious and avoid jumping from the walls into the water. There is a newly opened coffee shop at the entrance.
If you can drive a scooter or rent a car, the CM-Hang Dong-Samoeng-Mae Rim-CM loop is an excellent option. It takes around three hours, and there is usually no traffic on weekdays. You will encounter stunning viewpoints, a hidden cave (which can be tricky to find), a big coffee shop 20km before Samoeng, and strawberry fields in Samoeng. There are also plenty of activities such as bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV and buggy rentals, go-carriage, paint-ball, and some parks, restaurants, and more near Mae Rim. With a scooter or car, you can explore Wat Doi Suthep on your own by going up the mountain. But always remember to wear a helmet, drive carefully, and avoid drinking alcohol and driving.back to menu ↑
Best coffee shops in Chiang Mai: For caffeine lovers
Chiang Mai is home to countless pubs and restaurants, and we have some special recommendations for you to try.
Taste from Heaven, a vegetarian restaurant located inside the old city, is known to be the best vegetarian restaurant in the north. The owner speaks English well, and they offer excellent cooking classes too.
For the biggest pizza and fantastic spare ribs, head over to The Dukes. Their portions are huge, and you won’t need a starter. They have two locations, one between Narawat Bridge and the old iron bridge and the other on the night bazaar road next to McD.
If you’re looking for the most beautiful food presentation, check out Mix Bar and Restaurant located at the end of Nimman Hemmin Soi 1.
For the best breakfast in town, go to Smoothie Blues, a small shop located at the corner of Soi 6 (opposite Tesco Express). However, watch out for their mango “Smoothie Blues” – it’s highly addictive.
Sumo Sushi, located in the small soi between Nimman Hemmin Soi 11 and 13, offers Japanese food Thai-style and is quite affordable. Just a few meters away is the Beer Factory, which has a vast selection of imported beers, and down the street on Soi 9 is a Japanese Yakiniku Grill where you get to cook your food on a built-in grill at your table.
Yummy Pizza on Canal Road is a must-visit for tasty food and live music. Although it’s a bit outside of town, it’s worth the trip. The owner of the restaurant is also your go-to person for all things Muay Thai boxing.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a beautiful dining experience, visit Khao-Mao Khao-Fang, formerly known as the Rainforest Restaurant, on Road 3044. It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants in Chiang Mai, and sitting near the lake is highly recommended to avoid the noise of the waterfall on the other side. They also serve food inside their air-conditioned coffee shop.back to menu ↑
Uncovering the Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Temples in Chiang Mai
There are numerous temples in Chiang Mai, including Wat Phra Sing located within the old city and Wat U-Mong with its caves and a vast fish pond near Chiang Mai University. Additionally, there is Wat Doi Kham situated near the night safari, which is often overlooked by tourists. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city from this temple. Beside Wat Doi Suthep, which is located on the mountain, these other temples are worth exploring.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai’s Antique Shops and Flea Markets: Treasure Hunting in the City
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.