|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
Nestled amidst woodlands and mountains in the northern basin lies Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna kingdom, a city with an infinite charm. The city is adorned with gorgeous ancient wats and chedis, some dating back to the 13th century. Forest monasteries can be found hidden in the mountains and hills.
The vibrant markets are bursting with OTOP products, and the Northern Thai cuisine is a flavor explosion, particularly the unforgettable khao soi. The locals are friendly and welcoming, and the city offers endless choices to have unforgettable experiences, whether you are just on a short 2-day visit or a month-long trip. Chiang Mai has plenty to offer, from temples, museums, galleries, and waterfalls, to quaint coffee shops, epic clothing malls, and a unique nightlife scene for party-goers and music enthusiasts alike.back to menu ↑
Getting to Chiang Mai by Plane, Train, or Bus: Which One to Choose?
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 ↑
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 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 ↑
The Scenic Route: Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by overnight train is a classic Thailand experience. It is recommended to book well in advance, as tickets sell quickly, especially for lower berths. The journey takes about 12 hours, which is longer than the bus journey, but it’s 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 are claustrophobic). There are both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers, so be sure to check when you book. For those who wish to travel like royalty, the 1st class single sleeper is an option, which costs over 2000 THB per person but offers complete privacy. There are also 2nd class fan seats (about 600-650 THB), which should only be considered if there are no other options left, as for an extra 100 THB, you can get a fan sleeper, and for 200 THB more, you can travel with AC.
Alternatively, you may choose to travel by day as the route is filled with natural beauty, taking you through mountainous regions and sprawling countryside that often seem untouched by civilization when viewed from the windows of the moving train.
Tip: There are food vendors constantly patrolling the carriages, so snacks and refreshments are never in short supply, but it is illegal to sell any alcoholic beverages on the train.back to menu ↑
How to Navigate Your Private Taxi Trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Travelers have the option to leave for Chiang Mai directly from their 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 can be rented for THB 13,200 and takes about 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. Additionally, the scenery is great, making for a scenic journey.back to menu ↑
How to Travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Plane
Considering that several low-cost carriers offer tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for as little as THB1000 and transport you to your destination in just 1½ hours, it might be worthwhile to fly between the two cities instead of spending the entire night traveling overland.
Thai Lion Air, which is affiliated with Lion Air based in Indonesia, offers up to 10 round-trip flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai daily. Prices for airfare start at THB1000 and vary based on the date and time of day you choose to fly. The busiest periods tend to sell out well in advance, but even a few days prior to your desired travel date, there are usually deals available for under THB2000. Each ticket includes 15 kg of checked baggage and 7 kg of cabin baggage at no extra cost. The first flight departs from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport at 8:55 am, with the last flight departing at 9:50 pm, and eight additional flight options 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 is one of the busiest airports in Thailand, serving as a major gateway to Northern Thailand with daily domestic and international flights to and from destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Seoul. The airport is conveniently located just two kilometers from the city center, making flying to Chiang Mai an affordable and time-saving option for travelers.
It’s important to note that many hotels in the city offer free transfers from the airport, but it’s necessary to arrange this service in advance. If you don’t have a hotel transfer, you can catch a taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk to get to the city center. The cost of the ride may seem a bit expensive considering the distance, but it’s still relatively inexpensive (around THB150).
Pro tip: Chiang Mai Airport is also a hub for Kan Air, a domestic airline that provides flights to some of the most stunning destinations in northern Thailand, including Pai and Mae Hong Son. If you’re not up for a seriously winding road trip from Chiang Mai to these towns, it’s worth considering flying to them instead.
To get around Chiang Mai, most of the city’s attractions are located within the Old City walls. Bicycles are a popular way to get around and can be rented from almost any guesthouse for THB50 to THB100 per day. However, it’s important to check the bike’s brakes before setting off, as the quality can vary.
Renting a scooter, motorcycle, or car is another great option to explore the city and the surrounding areas. There are many shops that rent out these vehicles, but be prepared to leave your passport as a security deposit. However, inexperienced riders should take extra caution while riding a motorcycle or scooter to Doi Suthep, the city’s picturesque peak, due to the winding road and breathtaking views.
Songtaews, large trucks with benches in the back, are a cheap way to get around the city for THB20-40 per ride. The red and white ones are ideal for trips within the city, while the yellow ones can take you to neighboring northern provinces. Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songthaews and not always the most reliable option due to noise, pollution, safety concerns, and higher prices. If you decide to use a tuk-tuk, negotiate the price beforehand.
Taxis are widely available in Chiang Mai, but they don’t use meters like those in Bangkok. Negotiate the price before starting the ride.back to menu ↑
Where to stay
Over the years, accommodation prices in Chiang Mai have increased, making it difficult to find a decent option for THB300. A more realistic budget for a guesthouse room within the walls of the Old City is around THB1000. While staying within the walls of the Old City offers the convenience of being close to many attractions, there are other viable options available.
For example, there are pleasant budget accommodations located just east of the Old City in Thanon Tha Phae, near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Thanon Nimmanhaemin, which is known for its bars and restaurants, is easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. Lodgings outside the city are ideal for those looking for a relaxed countryside feel or city veterans who have their own transportation.back to menu ↑
While in Chiang Mai, it’s worth exploring some unique activities to spice up your visit. You may likely visit several temples, go hiking and trekking, or even try white-water rafting or rock climbing. However, you can add some extra flavor to your stay by enrolling in a massage class and learning the basics of Thai massage, volunteering at one of the elephant camps (beginning with Elephant Nature Park), observing the production of colorful Chiang Mai parasols, and taking a stroll down Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evening when it becomes a hub of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is renowned for its colorful festivals. If possible, schedule your trip to participate in some of these festivals. During the first weekend of February, the Flower Festival is held, and the city transforms into a gorgeous blooming garden. Songkran falls on April 12-14, with revelers dousing each other (and passersby) with water along the city moat. Loi Krathong, one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals, is known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float in the night skies over the city, creating an unforgettable sight.back to menu ↑
How to navigate Chiang Mai’s roads and traffic
If you have a car, there are two routes to take to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. The quicker and shorter route involves going to Nakhon Sawan, turning left before entering the city, and taking highway number 1. This route will take you through Khamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang. If you are a fan of pizza, stop in Lampang and visit the Riverside restaurant. However, it’s better to avoid the elephant park between Lampang and Chiang Mai if you want to interact with elephants in a more ethical manner. After covering a total distance of approximately 700 kilometers, you will arrive in Chiang Mai.
The second route is slightly longer but offers smaller roads that take you through vast forests. Drive up to Nakhon Sawan, then take highway 117 to Phitsanulok. Continue on highway 11, passing through Lampang and eventually reaching Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, you have two options. If you turn right towards Phetchaboon, you will pass through the “Switzerland of Thailand,” a picturesque area with many relaxing resorts. In Phetchaboon, you can visit Khao Koh, a mountain where your car will slowly roll uphill at one particular spot. Turn off the engine and enjoy the unique experience. If you turn left, you can visit Sukhothai, a city renowned for its historical park. Rent a bicycle at the park entrance and explore the well-preserved 700-year-old temple ruins.
If you decide to take the bus, it will take approximately 10 hours, while the train will take about 14 hours. Taking an overnight bus or train can help save the cost of one night’s hotel stay. While many airlines fly to Chiang Mai, you would miss out on a beautiful road trip if you opt for air travel. We recommend taking the plane back, particularly if you’re heading south towards the islands.back to menu ↑
Exploring Chiang Mai’s surrounding countryside
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 that has been producing paper umbrellas and painting them for over 200 years. It’s a fascinating process, and at the umbrella factory on the right side of the junction, you can witness every step of the production. The Sa paper used is made from the bark of the mulberry tree. They also paint beautiful designs on mobile phone covers and clothes. If you have a bag, t-shirt, or shorts you want to make unique, bring them along so you don’t have to buy something there. The village of Baan Tawai near Hang Dong is similar to Boo Sang, with many souvenirs and wooden furniture. It’s cheaper than the night bazaar in the city, but we prefer Boo Sang.
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 from 7 p.m. until midnight. On Saturdays, the walking street market (called Thanon Khon Doen) is on Wualai Road. The night bazaar opens every day in the early afternoon and closes at night, selling various items that require negotiation on price.
Don’t expect original Louis Vuitton handbags or Versace jeans. Many shops sell the same things, so you can ask for a price and then check other stores. There’s a Chinese Money Changer shop about 50 meters from Tha Phae road, which 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 large hotel on the left side, you’ll find the 3D street art museum “Art in Paradise.” Bring your camera to capture the 300+ paintings on the ground, walls, and ceiling, and snap some amazing and funny pictures.
If you’re an animal lover looking for a meaningful experience, consider visiting Care For Dogs in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong District or the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng. While the latter can be expensive, it’s worth it to see elephants free from chains or hooks, and even go swimming with them in the river. Day trips and volunteer opportunities are available. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the white-water and bamboo rafting options available further down the same road.
For a hidden gem swimming spot, search for “Grand Canyon Chiang Mai” – a clear and clean water spot with a new coffee shop nearby. If you have a scooter or car, consider taking the scenic loop from Chiang Mai to Hang Dong, Samoeng, Mae Rim, and back. Along the way, you’ll see stunning viewpoints, discover a hidden cave, pass strawberry fields, and find plenty of activities such as bungee jumping, shooting ranges, and ATV rentals near Mae Rim. Remember to drive safely and responsibly.back to menu ↑
Must-try dishes in Chiang Mai: From Khao Soi to Sai Oua
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 ↑
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 ↑
Experience Authentic Thai Shopping at Chiang Mai’s Local Markets
On the superhighway lies Central Festival, a large new shopping mall, while Robinson Airport Plaza is also a great option that’s easier to reach. Maya tends to be crowded with university students. If you’re staying in the city for a while, it’s better to rent a place than stay in hotels or guesthouses. You can find air-conditioned studios for around 100 Euros per month, but condominiums in the city or Nimman Hemmin area are much more expensive. Renting a house in one of the housing estates is a better option as they come with security, pool, gym, and clubhouse facilities, and are cheaper than apartments.
We advise against supporting places like the Zoo and Night Safari, which charge double entrance fees for tourists. Most of the city is mapped on Google Street View, which allows you to explore some areas before your visit.
If you have time, consider visiting Chiang Rai, which has two stunning temples: Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, and Baan Dam, the black house. Both are worth a visit, but it takes a 4-hour car ride to get there. If you plan to stay overnight in Chiang Rai, the Le Meridien Hotel offers a wonderful Sunday brunch.