|Flight Bangkok - Chiang Mai ฿ 778–7,379 1h 10m – 1h 20m|
|Train Bangkok - Chiang Mai ฿ 883–1,862 10h 17m – 14h 20m|
|Bus Bangkok - Chiang Mai 9h 30m – 13h|
|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 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 choices for traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, from traditional means of transportation to the most advanced and convenient ones.
How to get 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 ↑
Getting to Chiang Mai
Traveling overland to Chiang Mai is a breeze, thanks to the numerous buses connecting the northern capital with major provincial centers of the country. If you’re coming from Bangkok, Route #1 Bangkok-Chiang Rai takes 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. Alternatively, you can take the northern line of the state railway of Thailand, a 751km long stretch from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Depending on your choice of transportation, the entire journey can take anywhere between 9 and 14 hours.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take the Bus 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 for 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 providing daily 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 advisable to book in advance. Prices vary based on the level of comfort, with VIP coaches having 24 seats and costing around 800 THB, providing ample space for both legs and elbows. However, even the cheapest buses (from 500 THB) offer comfortable travel and are suitable for sleeping during the journey.
The Mochit Bus Terminal may seem daunting due to its size, but there is plenty of staff available to assist passengers in finding their way. Upon arrival, passengers will be directed to the correct platform, providing a sense of ease and comfort.back to menu ↑
Tips for a Comfortable Train Journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by overnight train is a classic Thai experience. Tickets, especially for lower berths, sell quickly, so it’s recommended to book well in advance. The journey takes approximately twelve hours, slightly longer than the bus journey, but is considerably more comfortable. The first and second-class compartments are well-equipped for comfort with seats that convert into bunk beds (avoid the top bunk if you’re claustrophobic). Both fan and air-conditioned 2nd class sleepers are available, so make sure to check when booking. For a luxurious experience, consider purchasing the 1st class single sleeper which costs over 2000 THB per person but offers complete privacy. There are also 2nd class fan seats (around 600-650 THB), but these should only be considered if there are no other options left, as for an extra 100 THB, you can get a fan sleeper, or add 200 THB and travel with air conditioning.
Alternatively, you may choose to travel by day as the route takes you through stunning mountainous regions and sprawling countryside, offering scenic views from the train’s windows.
Tip: Food vendors are constantly patrolling the carriages, ensuring that 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 ↑
The Pros and Cons of Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Private Taxi
You can leave for Chiang Mai directly from your hotel at any time of the day, which may be a good 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, and there are gas stations with clean toilets and convenience stores along the way. Plus, the scenery is stunning, making for a picturesque journey.back to menu ↑
Exploring Your Options: How to Take a Flight 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, an affiliate of Lion Air headquartered in Indonesia, offers up to 10 round-trip flights per day between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Depending on your travel date and time preference, airfare starts from THB1000 and can vary. While peak periods tend to sell out well in advance, there are usually deals under THB2000 available even a few days prior to your desired travel date. The ticket price already includes 15 kg of checked baggage and 7 kg of cabin baggage. With flights starting as early as 8:55 am from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport and the last one departing at 9:50 pm, there are eight other options to choose from in between.
Lion Air operates out of Don Mueang International Airport, located to the north of Bangkok. To reach the airport, you can use the airport shuttle buses A1 or A2. The A1 route starts from Morchit bus terminal, while the A2 route originates at the Victory Monument and stops at Sanam Pao, Ari, Saphan Kwai, and Morchit BTS stations (costs THB30). The Morchit BTS station is also serviced by the A1 route. Travel time can range from 60 to 80 minutes depending on traffic. Commuter trains also operate between Hua Lamphong train station and Don Mueang airport, which is a reliable option. The trains take approximately 50 minutes to travel between the two locations, with service operating 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 country’s four busiest airports, operating daily domestic and international flights to and from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and other destinations. The airport is conveniently located just about two kilometers from the city center, making flying to Chiang Mai a cost-effective and time-saving option. Many hotels in the city offer free airport transfers, but it’s essential to book them in advance. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to the city center. Although the fare may seem a bit high due to the distance, it is still relatively affordable (around THB150).
Pro tip: Kan Air, a domestic airline, uses Chiang Mai Airport as its hub and serves some of the most beautiful destinations in Northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. Consider taking a flight to these towns as the roads from Chiang Mai to Pai and from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son can be notoriously winding and difficult to navigate for some travelers.
To get around Chiang Mai, most of the city’s attractions are located within the walls of the Old City. Bicycles are the most convenient way to travel, and you can rent them from almost every guesthouse. Before embarking on your journey, check the brakes on the bike, as the city fleet may not be up to standard. The rental price for a standard bike with a fixed gear usually ranges from THB50 to THB100.
Renting a scooter, motorcycle, or car is an excellent way to get around, and there are plenty of shops scattered around the city that offer rentals. Renting a vehicle gives you the freedom to explore and enjoy your holiday. Be prepared to leave your passport as a security deposit, although you should have no trouble getting it back when you return the vehicle to the rental shop.
Tip: Take extra precautions while riding a motorcycle or scooter to Doi Suthep, the city’s picturesque peak. The winding road and breathtaking views can be dangerous for inexperienced riders.
Songthaews are big trucks with benches in the back. The red and white ones are good for trips within the city (fare ranges from THB20 to THB40 per ride), while the yellow ones can take you to the neighboring Northern provinces. Songthaews are usually the cheapest way to travel, but some negotiation may be necessary.
Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songthaews. If you’re looking for a new experience, chartering a tuk-tuk may be worth considering, but otherwise, stick to the songthaews. Tuk-tuks are not always the best option due to their high price, noise, pollution, and safety record.
Taxis are widely available throughout the city. If you’re accustomed to using metered taxis in Bangkok, you should be aware that none of the taxis in Chiang Mai use meters. Always negotiate the fare before starting 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 try something new to add a little excitement to your trip. Of course, you’ll likely visit plenty of temples, do some hiking, trekking, or even rock climbing. But why not mix it up? Consider enrolling in a massage class to learn the basics of traditional Thai massage, volunteering at one of the elephant camps (Elephant Nature Park is a great place to start), or watching how those beautiful Chiang Mai parasols are made. On Sunday evenings, take a stroll down Thanon Ratchadamnoen, which transforms into a bustling hub of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is renowned for its vibrant festivals. Try to plan your visit around one of them if possible. During the first weekend of February, the Flower Festival takes place, transforming the city into a magnificent blossoming garden. Songkran, which falls on April 12-14, is a wet and wild celebration, with revelers pouring water on each other (and passers-by) along the city moat. Loi Krathong, known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, is one of the most beautiful Thai festivals. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float through the night skies over the city, creating an unforgettable sight.back to menu ↑
The most scenic drives to Chiang Mai
For those with a car, there are two routes to take from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The shorter and quicker route involves going to Nakhon Sawan and turning left before entering the city onto highway number 1. You will pass through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang. If you are a fan of pizza, stop by the Riverside restaurant in Lampang. However, we recommend avoiding the elephant park between Lamphang and Chiang Mai for elephant riding, as there are better options for interacting with these majestic creatures. After a total distance of approximately 700 kilometers, you will arrive in Chiang Mai.
The second route is slightly longer but takes you through smaller roads that wind through vast forests. Drive up to Nakhon Sawan and take highway 117 to Phitsanulok. Continue on highway 11, and you will pass through Lampang and finally reach Chiang Mai. In Phisanulok, there are two additional alternatives. If you turn right towards Phetchaboon, you will come across the “Switzerland of Thailand,” a beautiful area with many relaxing resorts. In Phetchaboon, you can visit Khao Koh, the mountain that causes cars to slowly roll uphill. Turn left to visit the city of Sukhothai, where you can rent a bicycle and explore the well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins.
Taking a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes approximately 10 hours, while the train takes around 14 hours. Taking an overnight trip can save the cost of a hotel room. Although many airlines offer flights to Chiang Mai, we recommend driving to Chiang Mai and taking a plane back, especially if you are heading south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai’s best waterfalls and natural wonders
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, 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.
If you’re an animal lover and want to make a positive impact, consider visiting Care For Dogs in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong District or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng. While the park may not be the cheapest option, you’ll be able to see happy elephants without the use of hooks, chains, or fences. These gentle giants could easily run away, but they choose to stay. If you visit in the afternoon, you might even get the opportunity to swim with them in the river and brush their backs with a big broom. The park offers day trips or you can stay and volunteer for a while. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. A few shops further down the same small road, you can find white-water and bamboo rafting opportunities. Bamboo rafting is relaxed, while white-water rafting is more challenging but still enjoyable, especially after heavy rainfall.
For those who love swimming, check out the “Grand Canyon Chiang Mai,” a hidden gem in the north that not many people know about. The water is clear and clean, and there are hardly any people there during weekdays when the sun is out. However, be careful not to jump from the walls into the water. There’s a newly opened coffee shop at the entrance where you can relax and enjoy the views.
If you can drive a scooter or rent a car, take the loop from CM to Hang Dong, Samoeng, Mae Rim, and back to CM. The drive takes about 3 hours on weekdays when there is hardly any traffic. Along the way, you’ll see stunning viewpoints, a hidden cave (which is a bit tricky to find), a large and pleasant coffee shop 20 km before Samoeng, strawberry fields in Samoeng, and plenty of activities such as bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV and buggy rentals, go-carriage, paint-ball, and parks and restaurants near Mae Rim. With a scooter or car, you can also drive up the mountain and explore Wat Doi Suthep on your own. Please always wear a helmet, drive carefully, and do not drink and drive!back to menu ↑
Exploring Chiang Mai’s cuisine: A gastronomic journey
Chiang Mai boasts a plethora of dining options, with some claiming there are more pubs and restaurants than residents in the city. Here are a few noteworthy eateries we recommend:
Taste from Heaven, located inside the old city, is a vegetarian restaurant that many hail as the best in the north. The owner speaks excellent English and the restaurant also offers cooking classes.
The Dukes, on the other side of the river between Narawat bridge and the old iron bridge, serves up the biggest pizza in town along with fantastic spare ribs. The portions are huge and no starters are necessary. Another branch can be found on the night bazaar road next to McDonald’s.
Mix Bar and Restaurant, located at the end of Nimman Hemmin Soi 1, serves not only delicious food, but also boasts beautiful presentation.
For the best breakfast in town, head to Smoothie Blues, located on the corner of Soi 6 opposite Tesco Express. However, be warned that their mango “Smoothie Blues” may be addictive.
Japanese food Thai-style can be found at Sumo Sushi, located in the small soi between Nimman Hemmin Soi 11 and 13. It is reasonably priced and a few meters away from the beer factory, which offers a huge selection of imported beers. Further down the street towards Soi 9 is a Japanese Yakiniku Grill where diners can prepare their own food on the built-in table grill.
Yummy Pizza, located on Canal Road, may be a bit outside the city, but it is well worth the trip for its tasty food and occasional live music. The owner is also a great resource for all things related to Muay Thai boxing.
Finally, Khao-Mao Khao-Fang, formerly known as the Rainforest Restaurant, is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Chiang Mai, situated on road 3044. It’s recommended to sit near the lake for a tranquil dining experience, as the waterfall on the other side can be quite noisy after a while. The restaurant also offers food inside its air-conditioned coffee shop.back to menu ↑
Get Lost in the Serenity of Chiang Mai’s Temples
There are numerous temples located in Chiang Mai, apart from Wat Doi Suthep on the mountain. Within the old city, there is Wat Phra Sing, while Wat U-Mong, featuring caves and a sizable fish pond, is located near Chiang Mai University. Another beautiful temple, Wat Doi Kham, situated near the night safari, is relatively unknown to most tourists. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city from this location.back to menu ↑
Chiang Mai’s Flower Markets: A Colorful Shopping Experience
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.