Traveling between Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a common route for most backpackers in Thailand. The north of Thailand is completely different from the rest of the country and is a ‘must do’ when exploring this beautiful place.
Being the capital of Thailand, Bangkok is the main departure point for traveling to Chiang Mai, catering to many international flights. It is the epicenter of travel within this country and is a hub for traveling around. No matter if you are transiting in Bangkok for a couple of days, backpacking towards the islands or temple hopping. A must do is making the overnight journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, it is a right of passage into backpacking Southeast Aia.
Though, getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai can take quite a lot of time unless you are willing to fork out money for a flight; something which us backpackers often can’t afford. There’s also the popular overnight train journey and an overnight bus between these two cities. Though these options can take a long time. So let’s break these down these different transport types to figure out what is best for you.
How To Get From Bangkok To Chiang Mai: All Transport Options Explained
- Fly Bangkok To Chiang Mai
- Train From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
- Bus From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
- Private Taxi From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
Fly From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
So, taking a flight is probably the easiest and quickest option when traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. There are plenty of daily flights departing from both Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Though unfortunately both these airports are quite far away from the popular backpacker hang out of Khao San Road, and when adding the cost to get to the airport, plus the cost for the flight itself, this can become a very expensive option. Saying that, if you are short on time flying between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is your best option.
Don Mueang Airport
You will first need to get from the city to Don Mueang Airport which is approximately 30 kilometers from backpackers paradise of Khao San Road. Luckily this is easy enough by taking the bus. Alternatively, you can also get a taxi or even use the Grab mobile app. I recommend checking RometoRio for the latest public transport schedules.
Don Mueang Airport is generally known as the budget airport in Bangkok. Therefore, as expected the budget airlines fly from here. This is perfect if you are traveling with minimal luggage and don’t mind a no-frills service. Air Asia, Thai Lion Air, and Nok Air are the main airline carriers which depart from Don Mueang Airport. Flights can be found starting at around $50.00. Also, Thai Lion Air make as many as 10 return flights each day between Bangkok and Chiang Mai alone!
Check the latest prices over on Skyscanner!
You will first need to get from where you are staying in Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi Airport. This again is approximately 30 kilometers from Khao San Road, though in a different direction. It’s easy enough to get either a taxi, the rail link or a grab car to the airport from Khao San Road to Suvarnabhumi Airport. I recommend checking RometoRio for the latest public transport schedules.
The well equipped Suvarnabhumi Airport is frankly the nicer out of the two. The national carrier Thai Airways, as well as Bangkok Air, which fly from here to Chiang Mai daily. It costs considerably more to fly from Suvarnabhumi Airport as the airlines here are a lot nicer by including snacks and baggage.
Prices for flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai departing Suvarnabhumi Airport start at around $100.00. Check the latest prices over on Skyscanner!
Chiang Mai International Airport
Once you arrive at the main gateway to beautiful Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai International Airport, you will need to get to your accommodation in the city center which is just 2 kilometers away.
Many accommodation providers in the city include a free hotel transfer. It is best to email them prior to confirm your collection. Alternatively, it is extremely easy to get a tuk-tuk from the airport to the center for about $4.80 / 150 baht. If you are happy enough to take a tuk-tuk there is no need to prebook. Once you step foot outside of the airport you will see plenty lined up waiting for passengers.
Train From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
It seems like taking the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a right of passage when backpacking South East Asia. This notorious route will take somewhere between 13-14 hours, though they have been upgrading the services and getting new trains for this route (at the moment this seems to just be trains 9 & 10).
The trains depart from Hua Lamphong Station which is 4 kilometers from the backpacker paradise of Khao San Road. The easiest option here is to haggle for a quick tuk-tuk ride which shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars. Though, if you want to save the effort just download the Grab App for your phone and book a driver through that. Oftentimes using Grab can be a cheaper and easier option.
You will want to book your train tickets in advance, especially if you are booking first class. This is an extremely popular route and often times can be sold out. I recommend using 12.Go Asia to book your ticket for a hassle-free and trustworthy experience. You can even check out the certain train reviews before deciding which to book!
The main options for the overnight train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai consist of either a first class ticket or a second class ticket. The difference being, first class sharing a two berth cabin (so you will be which a stranger if traveling alone) and the second class which is rows of bunks along the train carriage with privacy curtains. The later of the two is definitely the most popular for budget travelers. Also be aware that even though the top bunk is cheaper, it also means less space, which will be a problem if you’re tall. For the second class there is the option of an air-conditioned carriage or a fan carriage. Prices start from $25.00 when booked through 12.Go Asia,
Once in Chiang Mai, the railway station is on Charoen Mueang Road, just across the river. It is cheap enough to hire a songthaew or tuk-tuk here which will take you to your accommodation.
My Experience Taking The Overnight Train To Chiang Mai
On my most recent trip to Thailand, I got a little out of my comfort zone and decided to try the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We booked a second class air-conditioned ticket which is an excellent option for travelers on a budget.
Arriving at the station our train came exactly on time. It is a little squishy walking down the pathway with our luggage. Though, soon enough we find our spot on the right-hand side of the train. My partner has the upper berth and I have the lower. The beds are not set up yet as it is still quite early in the night. Instead, we both sit on the lower berth which is currently made into two seats which face each other with a table in the middle.
We have an easy dinner of snacks from 7/11 while we watch lights zip past our window and the bustle each time the train stops in the stations. Soon enough we notice the train attendant making their way down the carriage converting the seats into beds. We head to the toilet to brush our teeth and get ready to bed. Surprisingly the bathroom is extremely clean, even after a few hours into the journey (it is still good in the morning). It is obvious the train attendants work hard. There is always toilet paper and soap available and the ground is even fairly dry (a rarity in public transport bathrooms on this side of the world).
I do not mind the rocking of the train as I fall asleep. Though I am someone who likes to sleep in complete darkness, so having the hallway lights on the whole night does not make for a peaceful sleep. There is a curtain which provides a lot of privacy, but it is not thick enough to block out the light. My partner on the top bunk also says it was quite hot up there with the curtain shut.
We actually arrived in Chiang Mai one hour earlier than planned. This does not often happen I have read and it is more common to be delayed. Nevertheless, it was not the best alarm clock being woken up by the carriage attendant wanting to make up your bed back into a chair. I would definitely do this journey again. Though, if I were to want a decent night sleep I would book in a private first class cabin.
Bus From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
Another comfortable option is to take the bus when traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. There are essentially two different bus options, either the government bus or the ‘VIP’ or deluxe bus. Tickets will range from $15.00 -$25.00 / 500 – 800 baht depending on the type of bus booked and the travel agency it is booked through.
The government bus is the cheaper option, though will make stops in every township for passengers. It will also take longer with at least 12 hours for the journey.
The so-called ‘VIP’ buses are a more comfortable direct journey with a couple of food/toilet breaks along the way. They may provide snacks and water for the journey, as well as being more spacious. Just be aware of the fake ‘VIP’ bus tickets sold on Khao San Road by many travel agencies. Book through a reliable website such as 12.Go Asia where you can check reviews and find out what is included.
These buses often depart from the Mo Chit Bus Terminal, otherwise known as the Northern Terminal. To get here from Khao San Road it is best to use a taxi which should cost around $8.00, though be aware that oftentimes traffic in Bangkok can be horrible. If you are wanting to get a more exact estimate on the fare or cannot be bother haggling with the driver I recommend using the Grab mobile app.
When you arrive in Chiang Mai at the Arcade Bus Station there will be plenty of public songthaews waiting near terminal 3. The fare should be 20 baht per person, though as a foreigner you will likely be charged more. For example, I managed to barter them down to 50 baht for the journey to my hostel.
Important tip: Be careful with your luggage on night buses all over South East Asia. It is a area notorious with theft where the bus assistant climbs into the luggage area during the night and goes through all the bags. Just make sure to make all important items such as cash, electronics, passports etc in your carry on bag. Also it always help using a padlock just as a deterrent in such situation.
My Experience Taking The Bus To Chiang Mai
I booked my bus ticket through 12.Go Asia and it was easy enough to collect the ticket from the bus station an hour before the bus was set to depart. I had been searching the web and found this ticket about a week prior for $16.75 / 558 baht. This did mean a little bit of a wait around. Though I hung with a couple of friends who were catching a different bus to kill time.
At the departure time, a friendly attendant greets me as I put my main bag underneath the bus. I have an aisle seat on the second story, next to a local Thai gentleman. The chairs are fairly roomy and there is plenty of extra space so I do not feel like I am being squished into a stranger. The seats recline quite a lot which made for a comfortable sleeping position. Luckily for me, there was not any noisy music playing or television showing local movies. This is a common occurrence on buses in Asia.
The bus stops a couple of times during the night for a toilet break and a middle of the night ‘dinner’ break. Though there is a toilet on board and we were given a drink and snacks at the beginning of the journey. I think for the price the bus is excellent value for money, especially considering all the little extras.
Taxi From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
If you are looking for a bit of freedom and have some cash to burn a private car or taxi might be the option for you. This allows you to leave your hotel at any time of the day and arrive whenever you desire. You will even be able to stop wherever you would like to appreciate the gorgeous scenery. There are plenty of gas stations and convenience stores along the way with clean toilets.
The journey between Bangkok and Chiang Mai generally takes about 9 hours. A 9 seater Toyota Commuter taxi will cost about $400.00 to hire with a driver. If you want something smaller, a 4 seater will set you back around $300.00. If you are traveling in a group this could be the perfect option and a unique way of traveling between these two cities.
What Is The Best Way To Travel?
There are plenty of good and easy options to travel to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. No matter if you are in Bangkok on a honeymoon, backpacking towards the beaches in Khao Sam Roi Yot or simply sightseeing. A must do is making the overnight journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Whether you prefer the bus, train, plane or perhaps the convenience of having a private taxi. Depending on your budget, time and preferences you will now be able to decide the best choice for you. Though, whatever you choose, remember to bring snacks!
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