|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 options for traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from traditional modes of transportation to the most advanced and convenient ones.
How to Get Around Northern Thailand: A Traveler’s Guide
Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, is nestled in a basin of woodlands and mountains in northern Thailand. This charming city is adorned with ancient wats and chedis, some of which date back to the 13th century. Forest monasteries are tucked away in the hills, while colourful markets burst with locally made OTOP products and delicious Northern Thai cuisine, including the unforgettable khao soi.
The locals are welcoming and friendly, and the city offers endless choices to create unforgettable experiences, whether you are visiting for just two days or a month-long trip. Chiang Mai has plenty to offer, including temples, museums, galleries, and waterfalls, as well as quaint coffee shops, epic clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene that caters to both party-goers and music enthusiasts.back to menu ↑
Navigating Your Way to Chiang Mai: A Complete Transportation Guide
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 ↑
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Bus: Route and Time
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 simple, affordable, and comfortable way to make the journey. Buses bound for Chiang Mai depart from the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit), with many companies (such as Bangkok Busline, Siam FirstNew Viriya, etc.) offering departures throughout the day. Most buses leave after 8 PM 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 wise to book in advance. The cost of the bus ticket varies depending on the level of comfort, but even the cheapest buses (from 500 THB) provide enough comfort for a good night’s sleep. If you can afford to pay extra, VIP coaches with 24 seats (from 800 THB) provide even more space for your legs and elbows.
If you are concerned about navigating the enormous Mochit Bus Terminal, don’t worry. There are plenty of staff available to help passengers find their way. You will be greeted right at the entrance and directed to the appropriate platform.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 by overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a classic Thailand experience that should not be missed. However, tickets for lower berths sell out quickly, so it’s advisable to book well in advance. The journey takes roughly 12 hours, which is longer than the bus journey, but significantly more comfortable. The first and second-class compartments are well-equipped for comfort, with seats that fold out into bunk beds. There are both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers, so make sure to check when booking. For a more luxurious experience, opt for the 1st class single sleeper, which costs over 2000 THB per person but offers complete privacy. There are also 2nd class fan seats (about 600-650 THB), but these are only recommended if no other options are available, as for an additional 100 THB, you can get a fan sleeper, and for an additional 200 THB, you can travel with AC.
You may also choose to travel by day, as the route is filled with breathtaking scenery, taking you through mountainous regions and sprawling countryside that often seem untouched by civilization when viewed from the windows of the moving train.
Tip: Food vendors constantly patrol the carriages, so 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 ↑
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 ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by plane
You might want to consider flying between Bangkok and Chiang Mai instead of spending the entire night traveling overland, given that several low-cost carriers are offering tickets for as little as THB1000 and can transport you to your destination in just 1½ hours.
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 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 one of the four busiest airports in the country, operating 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 close to the city center, just around two kilometers away, which makes flying to Chiang Mai a practical option. You won’t need to spend much time or money getting to your hotel from the airport.
It’s worth noting that many hotels in the city offer free transfers from the airport, but it’s important to arrange this in advance. Otherwise, you can take a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to get to the city center. Due to the short distance, the cost of the ride may seem a bit high, but it’s still relatively inexpensive (around THB150).
Travel tip: Chiang Mai Airport is also used as a hub by Kan Air, a domestic airline that serves some of the most breathtaking destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. Consider flying to these towns as the roads from Chiang Mai can be quite winding, and not all travelers may be able to handle the journey.
To get around Chiang Mai, most of the attractions are located within the Old City walls. Bicycles are a convenient and widely available option, with rental services offered by many guesthouses. However, it’s essential to check the brakes beforehand as the quality of the bikes can vary. Expect to pay between THB50 to THB100 for a basic bike with a fixed gear.
Renting a motorcycle, scooter, or car is an excellent way to explore the city and its surroundings, with rental shops available throughout the area. Renting a vehicle provides the freedom to explore at your own pace, but be prepared to leave your passport as a security deposit. Take extra caution when riding a motorcycle or scooter to Doi Suthep, as the winding road and stunning views can be challenging for inexperienced riders.
Songtaews are large trucks with benches in the back, with red and white ones available for trips within the city (fare ranges from THB20-40 per ride), while yellow ones can take you to neighboring Northern provinces. They are typically the cheapest transportation option but may require negotiation.
Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songtaews, and while they provide a unique experience, they may not be the best option for every trip due to their cost, noise, pollution, and safety record. Taxis are also widely available, but unlike in Bangkok, none of them use meters, so it’s essential to negotiate the price before the ride.back to menu ↑
Where to stay
In recent years, accommodation prices in Chiang Mai have increased, and it is challenging 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 walls of the Old City is convenient for being in the midst of the action and close to many attractions, other excellent options are available.
Consider looking for pleasant budget accommodations just east of the Old City in Thanon Tha Phae, close to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Thanon Nimmanhaemin, with all its bars and restaurants, is also easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. Lodgings outside the city are perfect for city veterans or those seeking a relaxed countryside feel and are an excellent choice if you have your own vehicle.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 ↑
How to navigate Chiang Mai’s roads and traffic
For those traveling by car, there are two routes to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. The quicker and shorter route involves going to Nakhon Sawan, then turning left onto highway number 1 before entering the city. You’ll pass through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang. If you’re a fan of pizza, make a stop at the Riverside restaurant in Lampang. However, it’s best to avoid 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 of this route is approximately 700 kilometers.
The second route is slightly longer but offers smaller roads through dense forests. Head up to Nakhon Sawan, then take highway 117 to Phitsanulok. Continue on highway 11, and you’ll reach Lampang and then Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, you have two options. If you turn right towards Phetchaboon, you’ll reach the “Switzerland of Thailand,” a beautiful area with relaxing resorts. In Phetchaboon, you can visit Khao Koh, a mountain that has a spot where your car will slowly roll up the hill. If you turn left, you can visit the city of Sukhothai and its well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins by renting a bicycle at the park entrance.
If you choose to travel by bus, it will take about 10 hours, while the train will take around 14 hours. Traveling overnight can save you the cost of one night’s accommodation. While there are many airlines that fly to Chiang Mai, taking a car offers a beautiful trip that you’ll miss if you fly. However, flying back is recommended, especially if you’re heading to the islands in the south.back to menu ↑
Outdoor activities in and around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city with countless attractions that will keep you busy for months. While your guidebook will point you towards popular tourist spots, we want to highlight some hidden gems that are worth exploring. But before we delve into those, there are three things you absolutely must do in Chiang Mai: try Khao Soi, a delicious rice noodle dish with various ingredients; visit Boo Sang, where vibrant paper umbrellas are handcrafted; and make your way to Wat Doi Suthep, the temple on the mountain. Visit on a weekday for fewer crowds and stunning photos of the golden chedi. If you take a red songtaew taxi, keep in mind that the fare down the mountain is higher than the ascent.
Khao Soi is a soup-like specialty made with thin, yellow curry and rice noodles, similar to Massaman style. It is typically served with deep-fried crispy noodles and boiled egg noodles, along with shallots, banana, lime, and pickled cabbage on the side. Skip the oil-fried ground chilies if you can’t handle the extreme spiciness, and enjoy the dish with chicken, beef, or the vegetarian version. Coconut milk is added to soften the flavor and reduce spiciness.
Boo Sang is a charming village near San Pathong that has been producing paper umbrellas/parasols for over 200 years. Witness the fascinating process of how they make Sa paper from the bark of the mulberry tree at the umbrella factory on the right side of the junction. You can also get your mobile phone cover or clothes painted with beautiful motifs. If you have your own bag, t-shirt or shorts, bring them along to make them unique. Baan Tawai, located near Hang Dong, is another village that sells souvenirs and wooden furniture, but we prefer Boo Sang for its charm and atmosphere.
Wororot Market, styled in the Chinese tradition, is located 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. until midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) on Wualai Road is a popular destination. The night bazaar is open every day from the early afternoon until nightfall. You can find a variety of items there, but be prepared to negotiate prices.
Don’t expect to find authentic Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans. As many shops sell similar items, you can ask for a price and then move on to the next shop. If you’re looking for the best exchange rates in town, visit the Chinese Money Changer shop located about 50 meters from Tha Phae road on the right side of the night bazaar street. 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 take some fantastic and amusing pictures.
For animal lovers and those who want to make a positive impact, Care For Dogs in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong District or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng are great options. Although the park can be pricey, seeing elephants living happily without chains or fences is worth it. You can even swim in the river with the elephants in the afternoon and brush their backs with a broom. The park offers day trips or volunteer opportunities that are unforgettable. Further down the same road behind the park, there are shops that offer white-water and bamboo rafting. Bamboo rafting is relaxed, while white-water rafting is more exciting. It is not very white unless there has been heavy rainfall in the mountains.
If you enjoy swimming, try searching for “Grand Canyon Chiang Mai” on Google. This hidden gem in the north has clear water and is almost deserted during weekdays when the sun is out. Be careful not to jump from the walls into the water, and a new coffee shop can be found at the entrance.
If you can drive a scooter or rent a car, the CM-Hang Dong-Samoeng-Mae Rim-CM loop is a great option. There is little traffic on weekdays, and you will pass stunning viewpoints, discover a hidden cave (although it may be difficult to find), and encounter a large and lovely coffee shop 20 km before Samoeng. Strawberry fields can be found in Samoeng, and there are plenty of activities like bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV and buggy rentals, go-carting, paintball, and 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. Remember to always wear a helmet, drive carefully, and never drink alcohol and drive!back to menu ↑
Traditional desserts in Chiang Mai: A sweet experience
Chiang Mai is a foodie’s paradise with an abundance of restaurants and eateries to choose from. Here are some of our top picks for delicious and unique dining experiences:
Taste from Heaven is a must-visit for vegetarians and vegans. This restaurant inside the old city offers fantastic cooking classes and delectable meat-free dishes.
The Dukes is a popular spot for huge portions of mouth-watering pizza and spare ribs. There are two branches – one on the other side of the river and the other at the night bazaar road.
For the most beautiful food presentation, head to Mix Bar and Restaurant located at the end of Nimman Hemmin Soi 1.
Start your day with the best breakfast in town at Smoothie Blues. This small shop located at the corner of Soi 6 serves up delicious smoothie bowls and other breakfast dishes.
For a unique twist on Japanese food, check out Sumo Sushi in the small soi between Nimman Hemmin Soi 11 and 13. A few meters away is the beer factory with a huge selection of imported beers and a bit further down the street to Soi 9 is a Japanese Yakiniku Grill.
Yummy Pizza on Canal Road is worth the trip outside the city for its delicious food and occasional live music. Plus, the owner can give you insider tips on Muay Thai boxing.
For a stunning dining experience, visit Khao-Mao Khao-Fang on Road 3044. This former ‘Rainforest Restaurant’ offers breathtaking views of the lake and waterfall, and a range of mouth-watering dishes.
A Cultural Journey Through Chiang Mai’s Temples
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 ↑
Souvenir Shopping in Chiang Mai: Unique Gifts to Bring Home
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.