|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.
How to get to Northern Thailand
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 ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai: The Best Ways to Travel
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 ↑
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 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 ↑
How to Navigate Your Train Trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Traveling by overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a classic Thai experience. However, tickets do sell out quickly, especially for lower berths, so it’s important to book well in advance. The journey takes roughly 12 hours, slightly longer than the bus journey, but is significantly more comfortable. The first and second class compartments are well equipped with seats that fold out into bunk beds (avoid the top bunk if you’re claustrophobic). There are both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers, so be sure to check when booking. For a luxurious experience, consider purchasing a 1st class single sleeper, which costs over 2000 THB per person but provides maximum privacy. Alternatively, there are also 2nd class fan seats (about 600-650 THB) to consider, but for an extra 100 THB, you can upgrade to a fan sleeper. Adding 200 THB more will allow you to travel with an AC.
Traveling by day is also an option, as the route takes you through mountainous regions and sprawling countryside that often seems untouched by civilization when viewed from the train’s windows.
A tip for the journey: food vendors constantly patrol the carriages, so snacks and refreshments are never in short supply. However, it’s important to note that selling alcoholic beverages on the train is illegal.back to menu ↑
The Pros and Cons of Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Private Taxi
Leaving for Chiang Mai directly from your hotel at any time of the day is a convenient option, especially for those traveling in a group of friends. A 9-seater Toyota Commuter can be hired for THB 13,200, taking 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. Moreover, the scenery along the route is breathtaking, making the journey even more enjoyable.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take a Flight to Chiang Mai
If you want to avoid spending the entire night traveling overland, it might be worth considering flying between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Several low-cost carriers offer tickets for as low as THB1000, and the flight takes only 1.5 hours to reach your destination.
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 is located at Don Mueang International Airport in the north of Bangkok. To reach the airport, you can take the airport shuttle buses A1 or A2. A1 departs from Morchit bus terminal, while A2 starts at Victory Monument, stopping at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations (THB30). Morchit BTS station is also served by A1. The travel time can range from 60 to 80 minutes depending on traffic. Alternatively, there are commuter trains available between Hua Lamphong train station and Don Mueang airport, which take approximately 50 minutes and operate from 4:20 am until 10:25 pm. The trains are a reliable option for transportation.
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.
When it comes to getting around Chiang Mai, the majority of the city’s attractions are located within the walls of the Old City. Bicycles are the easiest and most affordable way to explore the area and can be rented from most guesthouses for a cost of THB50 to THB100 per day. However, it’s important to check the bike’s brakes before setting off, as the quality of rental bikes can be hit or miss.
Renting a scooter or motorcycle (or even a car) is also a popular option, with rental shops available throughout the city. This gives you the freedom to explore and discover Chiang Mai at your own pace. Be prepared to leave your passport as a security deposit, but it’s usually returned without any issues.
If you’re planning on riding a motorcycle or scooter to Doi Suthep, the city’s picturesque peak, be extra cautious as the winding roads and stunning views can be challenging for inexperienced riders.
Songthaews, which are large trucks with benches in the back, are the cheapest mode of transportation for trips within the city (priced between THB20-40 per ride), while the yellow ones can take you to neighboring Northern provinces. Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songthaews, so it’s recommended to only use them if you’re seeking a unique experience. Taxis are also readily available, but they do not use meters, so be sure to negotiate the fare before getting in.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 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 ↑
Where to stay during a road trip to Chiang Mai
If you’re traveling to Chiang Mai by car, there are two main routes to choose from. The first, faster and shorter route is to head to Nakhon Sawan and turn left before entering the city to take highway number 1. You’ll pass through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang, where you can stop at the Riverside restaurant for pizza. However, we recommend skipping the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai as there are better places to interact with elephants. After covering a total distance of about 700 kilometers, you’ll arrive in Chiang Mai.
The second route is slightly longer but offers smaller roads through large forests. After reaching Nakhon Sawan, take highway 117 to Phitsanulok, then continue on highway 11 to Lampang and finally Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, you can choose to turn right towards Phetchaboon to visit the “Switzerland of Thailand,” a lovely area with very relaxing resorts. Alternatively, turn left to visit Sukhothai, where you can explore the well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins by renting a bicycle at the park entrance. Don’t miss the Khao Koh mountain, where your car will slowly roll up the hill if you turn towards Phetchaboon.
While traveling by bus takes about 10 hours and the train takes around 14 hours, you’ll save the cost of a night’s hotel stay. While there are many airlines that fly to Chiang Mai, you’ll miss the beautiful scenery along the way. We recommend flying back, especially if you’re headed south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Outdoor activities in and around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city with an abundance of attractions, so much so that even a stay of several months might not be enough to see everything. While there are plenty of common things to do in Chiang Mai, we’ll focus on sharing some lesser-known gems. However, let’s start with the basics. Locals often recommend three must-do things in Chiang Mai: sampling Khao Soi, a delicious rice noodle dish with many ingredients; visiting the colorful handmade umbrella village of Boo Sang; and checking out the stunning Wat Doi Suthep temple on the mountain. Weekdays are less crowded at the temple, and if the sun is shining, it’s the perfect place to snap some stunning photos of the golden chedi. Keep in mind that the fare for a red songtaew taxi is typically more expensive on the way down than the way up.
Khao Soi is a soup-like dish made from rice noodles in a thin yellow curry similar to the Massaman style. It’s typically served with deep-fried crispy noodles and boiled egg noodles, along with shallots, banana, lime, and pickled cabbage on the side. If you’re not a fan of extreme spiciness, avoid the oil-fried ground chilies. Coconut milk is used to tone down the heat and add creaminess. Khao Soi is often served with chicken or beef, but there’s also a vegetarian version available.
Boo Sang, a village near San Pathong, has been producing and painting paper umbrellas and parasols for over 200 years. The process is fascinating, and you can witness every step of production at the umbrella factory on the right side near the junction. Sa paper is made from the bark of the mulberry tree, and you can even have wonderful motifs painted on your mobile phone cover or clothes. If you have a bag, t-shirt, or shorts that you want to make unique, bring them with you and avoid buying something there. Baan Tawai, a village near Hang Dong, is similar to Boo Sang and offers loads of souvenirs and wooden furniture at cheaper prices than the night bazaar in the city, but we prefer Boo Sang.
The Chinese-style Wororot Market is near the Narawat Bridge over the River Ping. On Sundays, a big street market is held inside the old city from 7 p.m. until midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) takes place on Wualai Road. The night bazaar opens every day in the early afternoon and closes at night, selling a variety of items, but prices are negotiable. Don’t expect Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans to be genuine.
Many shops sell the same items, so you can ask for a price and then check 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, which usually offers the best exchange rates in town. If you walk to 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, 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 take some amazing or funny photos.
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 ↑
Fusion food in Chiang Mai: A blend of flavors
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 apart from Wat Doi Suthep, which is situated on the mountain. Inside the old city, there is Wat Phra Sing, and near Chiang Mai University, there is Wat U-Mong, which features caves and a large fish pond. Another lovely temple is Wat Doi Kham, located close to the night safari, which not many tourists are aware of. On a clear day, this temple provides a stunning view of the city.back to menu ↑
Experience Authentic Thai Shopping at Chiang Mai’s Local Markets
Central Festival is a massive new shopping mall situated along the superhighway. Robinson Airport Plaza is also a great option and easily accessible. However, Maya tends to be crowded with students from the nearby university.
If you plan on staying in the city for an extended period, it is recommended that you rent a place instead of opting for hotels or guest houses. You can find air-conditioned studios available for monthly rent at around 100 Euros, but condominiums located in the city or Nimman Hemmin area can be much more expensive. Renting a house in one of the housing estates is a better option as they are cheaper to rent and come with additional facilities such as security, pool, gym, and clubhouse.
Please be aware that the Zoo and the Night Safari are charging double entrance fees to tourists. We advise against supporting such behavior and suggest avoiding such places.
Most areas in the city are mapped on Google Streetview, enabling you to explore the city virtually.
If you have the time, you might also want to consider visiting Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai has two beautiful temples, Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, and Baan Dam, known as the Black House. Both are worth a visit, but it takes around four hours by car to get there. If you plan on staying for one night in Chiang Rai, the Le Meridien Hotel offers a fantastic Sunday brunch.