In a nutshell, you have three options for getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: bus, train, or flight. Choosing the best mode of transport depends on your time-to-budget ratio and your tolerance for discomfort. There are roughly 400 miles to cover between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai only take a little over an hour, cutting down your travel time from a full day or night on a bus or train to a short plane ride. With dozens of daily flights between the two cities on low-cost airlines, it's usually the cheapest way to travel as well. However, the bus and train are comparable in price and even though the journey is much longer, you get to experience local train culture and the incredible landscapes in a way you don't get to on the plane.
|Train||13 hours||from $25||Enjoying the landscape|
|Bus||10 hours||from $16|
|Plane||1 hour, 15 minutes||from $15||Arriving quickly and cheaply|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Bangkok to Chiang Mai?
With up to 50 daily flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai on a variety of low-cost and standard airlines, flying is usually the cheapest method for getting there. One-way tickets start at around $15, even if you make your purchase just a few days before your travel date. Bangkok has two major airports, so make note of which airport your flight is departing from before you purchase. Most full-service airlines leave from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK), while the majority of the low-cost airlines—AirAsia, Thai Lion, Nok Air—leave from Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). Both airports are located about 30 minutes outside of the city center by taxi, although traffic can significantly impact the travel time. Only Suvarnabhumi has a convenient public transit option.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Bangkok to Chiang Mai?
Flying isn't only the cheapest way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, it's also by far the fastest. The total time in the air is a little over an hour, compared to spending all night or all day on a train or bus. Even once you take into account all of the time it takes to travel to and from the airport, check in for your flight, go through security, and wait at your gate, flying is still the quickest way to get from one city to the other.
How Long Is the Train Ride?
Even though the train takes significantly longer than flying and is usually more expensive, train travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai continues to be a favorite mode of transport for most travelers. Riding the train gives you a chance to connect with locals as well as other travelers, and if you take the sleeper train it also saves you a night of having to pay for accommodations.
Second-class sleeper trains are the most popular option and provide a small bunk with a privacy curtain, and you'll be sharing the entire car with other passengers (choose a first-class sleeper if you prefer a private room). Trains are certainly the best option for enjoying the scenery of the Thai countryside, and even the overnight train will give passengers stunning views of the mountains around Chiang Mai at sunrise.
Trains arrive at the Chiang Mai Railway Station on Charoen Mueang, just east of the Old City. Numerous drivers will be waiting outside to take you from the station to your hotel.
Although trains can be booked through travel agencies, many agents may try to talk you into the overnight tourist bus instead so that someone from the company doesn't have to go purchase your ticket at the station. Optionally, you could take a tuk-tuk or quick motorbike taxi to buy the ticket commission-free at the station yourself. Try to book your train ticket a few days in advance to have the most options. If you wait until the day of, you may not get the car class you prefer, especially if you're traveling during popular holiday times.
Attendants sell food and drinks at an inflated price on the train, so you'll be far happier if you take plenty of snacks and water with you. Drinking alcohol on trains is illegal in Thailand, so wait until you arrive in Chiang Mai to enjoy a cold Singha beer.
Is There a Bus That Goes From Bangkok to Chiang Mai?
Although buses may cover the distance slightly faster and with fewer stops than the train, it's less comfortable and costs only slightly less. There are two types of buses: the tourist buses and government buses. The tourist buses are cheapest and depart from Khao San Road, the infamous Bangkok heart of the backpacker Banana Pancake Trail. Most travelers opt for the overnight bus to save a night of accommodation and a day of trip time. You can buy tickets from vendors selling tickets right on the street, but you should shop around because prices fluctuate with every person you talk to. Someone will fetch you from your hostel or hotel when it's time to leave and bring you to the bus, and the bus drops off passengers in Chiang Mai at a designated hotel (you may feel pressured to stay at the hotel, but you have no obligation to do so).
The government buses are slightly more expensive, but in exchange, you get a much more comfortable ride with provided snacks, water, and a movie. While the tourist buses are usually filled with foreign backpackers, the government buses are more commonly used by Thai locals. These buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai leave from the northeast bus terminal (Mo Chit), which you can get to by taking the BTS Skytrain. Buses arrive at the Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai, where transportation will be waiting to take you to your hotel.
If you decide to use the bus, regardless of which type, make sure to keep all of your valuables with you. It's not uncommon for luggage stored under the bus to be opened and robbed.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to Chiang Mai?
The climate in Chiang Mai can be divided into three separate seasons.
- November to February: Right after the rainy season, these four months are usually considered the most ideal time to travel in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand. Temperatures are perfect for all kinds of outdoor activities, and the evenings cool down enough to require a light jacket. This is also one of the busiest times to visit Chiang Mai, and making last-minute reservations may be more difficult.
- March to May: The final months of the dry season are also the hottest, and daytime temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees F (38 C). Not only is it hot, but illegal burning of crops and fields across northern Thailand make the air dangerously smokey. If you suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems, the air quality during these months is important to consider.
- June to October: Summer and autumn are the rainy seasons in Chiang Mai, and monsoons are a part of daily life. Temperatures drop from the unbearably hot days of March through May, but it's much more humid. If you don't mind the rain and you're looking for a quieter vacation, this is usually the least busy time to visit Chiang Mai.
Also, if you're planning to travel during any holiday periods, such as Thai New Year in April or Loi Krathong in November, trains can book up weeks in advance. Check the calendar and plan ahead.
Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?
There is no public transportation from Chiang Mai Airport into the city center, but taxis and tuk-tuks are plentiful and the ride is short. You can get from the airport to the Old City in about 10 minutes, and the price should be about 160 Thai baht ($5). Many hotels also offer transportation from the airport for guests, so check with your accommodations before taking off.
What Is There to Do in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is the second most popular city to visit in Thailand after Bangkok, home to over 300 temples and used as a jumping-off point to explore the rest of Northern Thailand. Nestled in rolling hills, hiking and other nature excursions are some of the most popular activities for visitors to Chiang Mai, as are visiting the local (ethically run) elephant sanctuaries. The Old City is the historic center, and every evening it fills up with the huge Night Bazaar selling everything from local handmade goods to mouthwatering Thai dishes.