|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 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.
The Best Ways to Travel to Northern Thailand
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 ↑
How to Get to Chiang Mai: A Step-by-Step Guide
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 ↑
The Pros and Cons of 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 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 ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train
Traveling overnight by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a quintessential Thai experience. Tickets for lower berths sell out quickly, so it’s best to book well in advance. The journey takes roughly twelve hours, slightly longer than by bus, but significantly more comfortable. The first and second class compartments are well equipped with seats that fold out into bunk beds, although top bunks can feel claustrophobic. Both fan and AC 2nd class sleepers are available, so check when booking. For a luxurious journey, consider purchasing a 1st class single sleeper for over 2000 THB per person, offering complete privacy. 2nd class fan seats (about 600-650 THB) are an option only if no other choices remain, as an additional 100 THB offers a fan sleeper, or add 200 THB to travel with AC.
Alternatively, traveling during the day is also an option, as the route offers beautiful views of mountainous regions and sprawling countryside, seemingly untouched by civilization, from the train windows.
Tip: Food vendors patrol the carriages with snacks and refreshments, but it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on the train.back to menu ↑
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by private taxi
Traveling directly from your hotel to Chiang Mai at any time of the day can be a great option, particularly 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 restrooms and convenience stores along the way. Additionally, the scenery is stunning, providing a delightful backdrop for the journey.back to menu ↑
How to Plan Your Flight Trip from Bangkok 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, 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 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 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 city’s attractions can be found within the walls of the Old City. Renting a bicycle is a popular and easy option and can be arranged at most guesthouses for around THB50 to THB100 per day. However, check the brakes first as some bikes may be in less than ideal condition.
Renting a scooter, motorcycle, or car is another excellent way to explore the city, and rental shops are widely available. This option provides greater flexibility and freedom to explore Chiang Mai and its surroundings. Note that you will need to leave your passport as a security deposit, but it’s usually returned without issue when you return the vehicle.
When traveling by songtaews, which are large trucks with benches in the back, the red and white ones are suitable for trips within the city, while the yellow ones can take you to nearby Northern provinces. They are generally the cheapest way to get around, but some negotiation may be required.
Tuk-tuks are more expensive than songtaews and not always the most viable option due to their prices, noise, pollution, and safety record. However, they can be a fun experience if you’re looking for something new.
Taxis are abundant, but unlike in Bangkok, they don’t use meters, so it’s important to negotiate the fare before the ride.back to menu ↑
Where to stay
Over the past few years, the cost of accommodations in Chiang Mai has increased, making it almost impossible to find a decent option for THB300. Nowadays, a budget room in a guesthouse within the walls of the Old City typically costs around THB1000. However, there are other good options available as well.
For instance, you can search for pleasant budget accommodations located just east of the Old City in Thanon Tha Phae, near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Thanon Nimmanhaemin, with its bars and restaurants, is also easily accessible from the western part of the Old City. If you have your own transportation, lodgings located outside the city may be a good choice for city veterans or those seeking a more relaxed countryside feel.back to menu ↑
While visiting Chiang Mai, it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You will undoubtedly visit plenty of temples, go hiking or trekking, and perhaps even try white-water rafting or rock climbing. However, consider adding some zest to your stay by enrolling in a massage class to learn the basics of Thai massage. Volunteering at one of the elephant camps, such as Elephant Nature Park, is also a fantastic opportunity. Additionally, seeing how the colorful Chiang Mai parasols are made and strolling down Thanon Ratchadamnoen on Sunday evening, when it transforms into the epicenter of local commerce, culture, cuisine, and people-watching, are other unique experiences to consider.
Pro tip: Chiang Mai is famous for its vibrant festivals, and it’s worth planning your trip to participate in some of them. The Flower Festival, held during the first weekend of February, transforms the city into a blossoming garden. Songkran, which takes place on April 12-14, is a wet and wild water festival where revelers splash water on each other (and passersby) along the city moat. Loi Krathong, one of the most stunning Thai festivals, is known as Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Thousands of illuminated lanterns float into the night sky over the city, creating an unforgettable scene.back to menu ↑
Getting to Chiang Mai by car
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 ↑
Tips for a perfect day trip in 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, 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 ↑
Chiang Mai food markets: A vibrant display of local produce and delicacies
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.
Discover the Ancient Beauty of Chiang Mai 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 ↑
Chiang Mai Shopping Spree: Best Deals and Discounts You Can’t Miss
On the superhighway, you’ll find the massive Central Festival shopping mall, while Robinson Airport Plaza is another good option that’s more accessible. Maya is usually teeming with university students.
For a longer stay in the city, it’s advisable to rent a place instead of a hotel or guesthouse. Air-conditioned studios can be rented for around 100 Euros per month, but condominiums in the city or Nimman Hemmin area are much more expensive. Renting a house in a housing estate with amenities like security, pool, gym, and clubhouse is a better option since they’re cheaper than apartments.
Be aware that the Zoo and Night Safari are charging double entrance fees to tourists, and it’s recommended not to support such behavior by avoiding such places.
Most of the city is mapped on Google Streetview, so you can explore some areas beforehand.
If you have time, consider visiting Chiang Rai, which is about 4 hours away by car. Chiang Rai boasts two exquisite temples, Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) and Baan Dam (the Black House), both worth visiting. If you stay overnight, the Le Meridien Hotel in CR has a fantastic Sunday brunch.