|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.
How to Get Around Northern Thailand: A Traveler’s Guide
Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, is a city of limitless charm, nestled in a northern basin of woodlands and mountains. The city is adorned with breathtaking ancient wats and chedis, some dating back to the 13th century. Forest monasteries are tucked away in the mountains and hills, while colorful markets overflow with OTOP products and unforgettable Northern Thai cuisine, including the iconic khao soi.
The locals are welcoming and friendly, and the city offers endless possibilities for unforgettable experiences, whether you’re 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, trendy clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene that caters to party-goers and music enthusiasts alike.back to menu ↑
Tips for Traveling to Chiang Mai: Getting There and Getting Around
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 Ultimate Guide to Taking the Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai How to Travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by overnight train is a classic Thailand experience. Tickets sell quickly, especially for lower berths, so it’s important to book well in advance. The journey takes approximately twelve hours, which is slightly longer than the bus journey, but is significantly more comfortable. The first and second-class compartments are well equipped for comfort, with seats that fold out into bunk beds. If you’re claustrophobic, it’s best to avoid the top bunk. There are both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers, so be sure to check when booking. For a luxurious experience, the 1st class single sleeper is available, which costs over 2000 THB per person but provides complete privacy.
There are also 2nd class fan seats available for around 600-650 THB, but they should only be considered as a last resort. For an extra 100 THB, you can get a fan sleeper, and for an additional 200 THB, you can travel with AC.
Traveling by day is also an option, as the route is filled with beauty, taking you through mountainous regions and sprawling countryside that often seem untouched by civilization when viewed from the train’s windows.
Tip: Food vendors constantly patrol the carriages, so snacks and refreshments are readily available, but it’s illegal to sell any alcoholic beverages on the train.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take a Private Taxi to Chiang Mai
Travelers can leave for Chiang Mai directly from their hotel at any time of the day by taking a private taxi. This option is particularly useful 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. Furthermore, the scenery is beautiful and adds to the overall experience.back to menu ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by plane
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 operates from Don Mueang International Airport in the northern part of Bangkok. To reach the airport, you can take the airport shuttle buses, either route A1 from Morchit bus terminal or route A2 from the Victory Monument. Route A2 also stops at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations, and the fare is THB30. The travel time may vary depending on the traffic, typically taking between 60 to 80 minutes. 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 to 10:25 pm. Taking the train is a reliable option.
Chiang Mai International Airport is a major entry point to Northern Thailand and is among the four busiest airports in the country. The airport operates daily domestic and international flights to and from destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and more. Being located just two kilometers from the city center, flying into Chiang Mai is a convenient option that doesn’t require much time or money to get to your hotel.
It’s worth noting that many hotels in the city offer free airport transfers, but you’ll need to arrange this in advance. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to reach the city center. Although the fare may seem a bit high given the short distance, it’s still quite affordable at around THB150.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai Airport serves as a hub for Kan Air, a domestic airline that offers flights to some of the most breathtaking destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. If you’re not up for a long and winding road trip from Chiang Mai, flying to these towns is definitely worth considering.
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, 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 a great idea to mix things up and try something different. You’ll undoubtedly visit plenty of temples and do some hiking or trekking, and you may even try white-water rafting or rock climbing. However, you can add some excitement to your stay by enrolling in a massage class and learning the basics of Thai massage, volunteering at an elephant camp (start by asking at Elephant Nature Park), watching the production of the bright and colorful Chiang Mai parasols, and strolling along Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evenings, when it becomes the epicenter of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is renowned for its colorful festivals. If possible, try to schedule your visit to coincide with some of these events. The Flower Festival is held during the first weekend of February, transforming the city into a blooming garden. Songkran, which falls on April 12-14, is a wet and wild event, with revelers drenching each other (and unsuspecting passersby) along the city moat. Loi Krathong, one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals, is known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, and thousands of illuminated lanterns float in the night sky, creating an unforgettable sight.back to menu ↑
Hidden gems to discover on a Chiang Mai road trip
For those with a car, there are two routes to reach Chiang Mai from Bangkok. The shorter and faster route is to drive to Nakhon Sawan and turn left before entering the city onto Highway 1. This route passes through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang. If you enjoy pizza, make sure to stop at the Riverside restaurant in Lampang. Avoid visiting the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai for elephant rides as there are better options to interact with elephants. This route covers a total distance of approximately 700 kilometers.
The second route is slightly longer but offers scenic drives through vast forests. From Bangkok, drive to Nakhon Sawan and take Highway 117 to Phitsanulok. Continue on Highway 11 until you reach Lampang and then Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, there are two alternatives to explore. Turning right towards Phetchaboon leads to the “Switzerland of Thailand,” a beautiful area with relaxing resorts. At Khao Koh, your car will slowly roll up the hill in neutral gear, a unique experience. Turning left leads to the city of Sukhothai, with its well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins. Rent a bicycle at the park entrance and explore the area.
Traveling by bus takes about 10 hours, while the train takes around 14 hours. Overnight travel saves the cost of a hotel room. Although many airlines fly to Chiang Mai, driving offers a beautiful trip. We recommend flying back, especially when heading south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Discovering the cultural side of Chiang Mai
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 village near San Pathong where they have been making paper umbrellas and parasols for over 200 years. You can witness the interesting production process at the umbrella factory on the right side of the junction. The Sa paper is made from mulberry tree bark and they also paint beautiful designs on mobile phone covers, clothes, bags, t-shirts, and shorts. If you have something you want to make unique, bring it along instead of buying something there. The village of Baan Tawai near Hang Dong is similar to Boo Sang with loads of souvenirs and wooden furniture, but we prefer Boo Sang for its charm and character.
The Wororot Market, styled after Chinese markets, is located near the Narawat Bridge over the River Ping. On Sundays, there’s a big street market inside the old city from 7 p.m. until midnight, while Saturdays offer the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) on Wualai Road. The night bazaar opens every day in the early afternoon and closes at night, selling a variety of goods, but be prepared to negotiate prices. Don’t expect original Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans.
Many shops sell similar items, so shop around and compare prices. The Chinese Money Changer shop about 50 meters from Tha Phae Road on the right side of the night bazaar street 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 large hotel on the left side, you will 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 fun and unique pictures.
If you are an animal lover, don’t miss these activities in Chiang Mai
- Care for Dogs in Chiang Mai: Visit this shelter in Hang Dong District and make a difference in the lives of dogs. You can also adopt a furry friend.
- Elephant Nature Park: Spend a day or more at this sanctuary in Mae Taeng and get close to elephants without harming them. Swim with them and brush their backs.
- White-water and bamboo rafting: Head to the shops near the Elephant Nature Park and try these activities.
Other activities to consider in Chiang Mai
- Grand Canyon Chiang Mai: Swim in crystal-clear waters and relax at this hidden gem. Don’t forget to visit the coffee shop at the entrance.
- Samoeng Loop: Rent a car or scooter and explore this scenic route that takes about three hours to complete. You will pass by stunning viewpoints, strawberry fields, and many other activities. Remember to wear a helmet and drive safely.
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Chiang Mai food markets: A vibrant display of local produce and delicacies
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.
Chiang Mai’s Golden Temples: A Feast for the Eyes
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 ↑
Experience Authentic Thai Shopping at Chiang Mai’s Local Markets
Central Festival, a vast new shopping complex situated on the superhighway, is a notable landmark. In contrast, Robinson Airport Plaza is also pleasant and easily accessible. However, Maya tends to be overcrowded with pupils from the adjacent university.
If you intend to stay longer in the city, it’s better to rent a place instead of staying in hotels or guesthouses. You can find air-conditioned studios for about 100 Euros per month, but condos located inside the city or Nimman Hemmin district are significantly more expensive. Renting a house in one of the gated communities that usually provide security, pool, gym, and clubhouse, is a more economical choice as houses are cheaper to rent than apartments.
Note that the Zoo and Night Safari are imposing double entrance fees on tourists, and it’s not recommended to support such practices. Hence, it’s better to avoid such places.
Most of the city is mapped on Google Streetview, enabling you to explore some areas from your PC.
If you have the time, you might also consider visiting Chiang Rai, a city that has two exquisite temples – the white temple, Wat Rong Khun, and the black house, Baan Dam. Both are worth visiting, but it takes a four-hour car ride to reach there. If you plan to stay overnight in Chiang Rai, the Le Meridien Hotel offers a fantastic Sunday brunch.