Known as the Rose of the North, the city of Chiang Mai offers a very different experience to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. While it is Thailand’s fifth largest city it’s considerably smaller than Bangkok and has a far more relaxed and laid back atmosphere. Rich in history, and surrounded by mountains, Chiang Mai is scenic and culturally important, and we highly recommend a visit. You’ll need more than just a day to get to and explore Chiang Mai. It is 700 kilometres (435 miles) north of Bangkok and there are several options for travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, including the bus, train or flights.
Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
The large distance between these two cities tends to persuade many travellers to opt for a flight because it’s so fast in comparison to buses and trains. Expect a direct flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to take around 60 to 70 minutes, and even when you factor in the time it takes to get to and from the airport at either end this is still considerably faster than the trains or buses. The drawback, of course, of travelling by air is the cost, but if you can get a flight on one of Thailand’s low-fare airlines, even the cost doesn’t seem that bad.
Air fares do vary considerably, so spend a little time researching the different airlines and the best times to travel on flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Tickets will vary due to seasons, and you can get some great deals that will bring the cost down too. Expect the cheapest flights with promotions to cost around 1,000 baht on low cost airlines , all the way up to 5,000 baht and beyond for the most expensive flights. The prices varies greatly depending on public holidays like Songkran (Thai new year), Chinese New Year or high tourist season in general. Book your ticket as far in advance as possible for the best deals, and expect to pay a large premium if booking only a few days in advance.
You might also want to consider which airport in Bangkok the airlines use when choosing who to fly with.
Most airlines flying between Bangkok and Chiang Mai are low cost airlines operating from Don Muang International Airport. These airlines are Air Asia, Thai Lion Air and Nok Air. Air Asia have 12 flights daily to Chiang Mai, Lion Air has 11, Nok Air has 9 at this date (November 2016). In the last few years the traffic have increased greatly from Don Muang International Airport to Chiang Mai.
Thai Airways together with its low cost airline Thai Smile Airways operate their Bangkok flights to Chiang Mai from both Don Muang International Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport. So be a bit careful and check your tickets so that you arrive at the correct airport. At this date November 2016 Thai Smile has 4 daily flights from Don Muang Airport to Chiang Mai and 5 from Suvarnabhumi Aiport to Chiang Mai.
Lastly Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways are using Suvarnabhumi Aiport. In November 2016 Bangkok Airways has 6 daily flights to Chiang Mai and Thai Airways has 10 daily flights from Suvarnabhumi Aiport to Chiang Mai.
In Chiang Mai you’ll be arriving at Chiang Mai International Airport which is just a short 10 to 15 minute drive outside the city centre. You can get into the city by taxi – the legal taxis charge a fixed 150 baht fee for up to 5 passengers (so consider ride sharing with fellow passengers!), and that will take you anywhere in the city. Metered taxis are cheaper, and the public bus (bus number 4) is cheaper still. If you arrange your accommodation in advance you may be able to have your hotel or guesthouse come and pick you up from the airport for free, or for a low price.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai Trains
The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is surprisingly popular, despite the lengthy time it takes to get from one city to the other. What makes it so popular are the cheaper prices and the opportunity to experience some of Thailand’s wonderful scenery as you make your way to the north. Journey times are considerable, but if you take the view that the journey is very much part of the whole tourism experience then you should enjoy taking the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train. Depending on the number of stops that your train makes, it can take between 12 and 15 hours.
The advantage is that there are usually around 6 trains a day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and vice versa, so there will be a number of options to choose from. However, even with this high number of trains they are very popular and can be full, so advance booking is highly recommended.
You can get very cheap tickets on a train Bangkok to Chiang Mai, depending on which class of travel you choose. A 2nd class seat is a great option for backpackers and budget travellers as you can often find seats as cheap as 800 baht but without AC. Second class with AC tickets are a little more. For the full comfort experience, choose a first class sleeper which will set you back somewhere in the region of 2000 baht.
Chiang Mai train station is just a few kilometres outside the city centre, and the drive by taxi or car is only around 10 minutes. Tuk-tuks and songthaews are also an option.
Buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai your final option for public transportation is the bus. Like the train, buses have the advantage of being an affordable option, though the disadvantage of taking a long time. You’ll be looking at somewhere between 9 and 12 hours on the bus to Chiang Mai, and exact schedules and prices vary depending on which type of bus you opt for.
And there are a number of different options – public buses range from second class to VIP. There are usually around twelve second class buses each day and while they may be advertised as having air conditioning, don’t rely on it working. Second class buses will take about 10 to 11 hours and you can buy a ticket for around 450 baht. First class buses provide more of the creature comforts including air-con, that should be guaranteed to work. There are toilets, and the seats do recline a little. These will set you back about 100 baht more than second class. The VIP buses provide the best comfort and seats that recline more. There are two sizes of bus, and the price is somewhere between 650 and 860 baht.
You can catch the government run buses to Chiang Mai from Bangkok’s Northern and Northeastern bus terminal, called Moh Chit.
There are also a number of private tour companies that run regular buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. These can be more convenient than travelling up to Moh Chit to alight one of the government-run buses, as these private buses depart from various points around Bangkok. The price is comparable (between 400 and 500 baht) though private buses may not be as reliable as the public ones.
For convenience, many travellers are persuaded to buy tickets through travel agencies in the popular tourist areas of Bangkok. It may seem easier on the surface, but many travel agencies are renowned for upselling their tickets – promising reclining seats and air conditioning that works, when in reality they cannot guarantee these things. What looks like a cheaper ticket on the surface, may end up costing you more in extras so for peace of mind get your tickets through a private tour company or the government-run buses.
There are two bus terminals in Chiang Mai so be sure to get to the correct one for your return journey. The Arcade Bus Station, also known as New Terminal, handles buses that are travelling to and from destinations outside of Chiang Mai province.
So those are the three options for public transportation between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Like many other things, whether you choose flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the train, or the bus will come down to your personal budget and preferences. Take it fast or take it slow, the choice is yours!