Chiang Mai and Bangkok are two of the most tourist-popular cities in Thailand, one for its mountainous landscape and temples and the other for its street food and nightlife. Both are non-negotiable stops on the famous Banana Pancake Trail that leads backpackers through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Bangkok is the perfect place to begin a journey to the sunshiny Thai islands or to fly from its airport—the 17th busiest in the world—to another Asian country. Although many people choose to fly to this capital city from the northern hub of Chiang Mai, you can save some money by taking a train or a bus.
|Bus||10 hours||from $10||Minding a budget|
|Plane||1 hour, 22 minutes||from $36||Arriving on a time crunch|
|Train||11 to 14 hours||from $17||Ground transportation that's more comfortable than the bus|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Chiang Mai to Bangkok?
In Thailand, there are buses, and then there are tourist buses. The locals reserve the worst buses for backpackers, but the good news is that you'll most likely be on a bus full of travelers, just like you. These double-decker buses are the cheapest way to get to Bangkok, but don't expect comfort or leg room to be a priority. Depending on the agency and who you book with, you might be able to find bus tickets for as little as $10. Otherwise, you probably won't pay more than $15.
Despite the price difference, most buses are the same. They're outfitted with three rows of small bunk beds (sometimes two people to a bed, so it's best to travel with a friend) and a tiny toilet that most wouldn't use unless it were an actual emergency. Although uncomfortable, these sleeper buses will save you money on accommodation for the night. They typically depart from Chiang Mai around 6:30 p.m. (the price of a bus ticket usually includes pickup at your accommodation) and arrive on Khao San Road in Bangkok at 7 a.m.
The journey is about 10 hours long and drivers tend only to stop once or twice throughout the night, so maximize on toilet breaks and bring your own snacks in case you get hungry. Be especially cautious of theft on the bus while you're sleeping—whether by fellow travelers or locals. If you feel like splurging on something slightly more comfortable, opt for a deluxe bus (starting around $20) instead. All tickets can be booked through your hotel or hostel. Don't lose the physical ticket because nothing is done electronically.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Chiang Mai to Bangkok?
If saving time is your priority, a flight might be your best bet. A direct flight takes only an hour and 22 minutes (a fraction of the time it takes to travel by bus!) and can cost as little as $36, according to Skyscanner. There are a whopping 16 airlines that travel this route—with the most popular being Thai AirAsia—and between them, they offer 463 flights per week.
The Chiang Mai International Airport is located four miles southwest of Tapae Gate. Getting to the airport takes around 25 minutes by tuk tuk. Most flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok arrive at Don Muang Airport rather than the newer, larger Suvarnabhumi Airport, so plan accordingly.
How Long Is the Train Ride?
The train ride takes longer than the bus—11 to 14 hours compared to 10 hours—but the advantage is that you won't have to endure the heinous roads that buses often drive on, often warranting middle-of-the-night breakdowns and the like. As with the bus, these trains travel overnight, so you won't have to spend money on accommodation.
The cost of riding the train depends on which class you prefer to be in. There are four seat options, with the most expensive being the first-class, air-conditioned sleeper. First-class tickets mean sharing a two-person berth and sink (with a stranger if you happen to be traveling alone). Many budget travelers opt instead for the second-class, air-conditioned sleeper, which consist of rows of bunks with privacy curtains. The top bunks are a little cheaper than the lower, but they're a bit like sleeping in the overhead compartment on a plane. Tall people won't be able to stretch out.
The cheapest option is to sit in a seat, rather than a bed, which is less than ideal for 11 hours. You can save even more by sitting in the section that doesn't have air conditioning. Tickets range from $17 to $58 depending on your seat. You'll always pay slightly less if you book at the station rather than online or via your accommodation, but it's risky because the trains fill up so fast.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to Bangkok?
The best time to travel to Bangkok from Chiang Mai is during the dry season, November to April. In the summertime, the entire country is typically plagued with heavy rains (nay, monsoons) that can make ground transportation uncomfortable—if not scary—not to mention hinder any chances of exploring temples and night markets once you arrive. Summertime is also when the country is most crowded, so buses, trains, and planes will be at their fullest.
It would be wise to book well in advance if you plan to travel during or immediately after big festivals such as Songkran or Loi Krathong. You'll even need to take the phase of the moon into account if you plan to visit the islands (home of the infamous Full Moon Party) from Bangkok.
Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?
The train from Don Muang Airport takes 50 minutes to get to Hua Lamphong, near the center of town. It costs as little as $1 for a third-class seat or as much as $28 for first-class, air-conditioned. In any case, the train is operated by the State Railway of Thailand and arrives at the airport every 30 minutes. Another option is to take the public bus, which costs $2 maximum. It departs from the airport every 20 minutes and takes just under an hour to get to Wat Ratchanatdaram, a temple at the intersection of Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road.
What Is There to Do in Bangkok?
Bangkok is the second most-visited city in Asia, behind Hong Kong. This sprawling metropolis has everything from floating markets to palaces, from red light districts to green spaces. Much of Khao San Road—the hub of Bangkok's hotels, hostels, and bars—caters to a Western crowd. University students will stay up clubbing, eating street food, and karaokeing all night. For a taste of the local culture, though, make sure to visit the Grand Palace, the longtime residence of Thai royalty, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which has been called the most sacred temple in Thailand. Get your souvenirs and trinkets from the Chatuchak Weekend Market and, if you have time, head just outside the city to the Amphawa Floating Market to see how the locals used to shop back in the day.