How Do I Get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

You know that old adage, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”?

It definitely has some logical and logistical flaws.

If you only have 10 precious days of leave from work, surely you don’t want to waste all that time just getting to your holiday destination, do you? You want to hit the spot and then journey around the destination.  Well, that is one possibility and it’s my personal favourite.

So ‘journeying’ on your own terms is essential and it needs well informed decision making on your part.

From the bustling hustle of Bangkok, a trip up country sounds like an ideal adventure. And indeed it is!

When considering a trip to the “Rose of the North”, Chiang Mai, Thailand, there are a few options around travel.

Chiang Mai is only 700 kilometres from Bangkok, so catching a plane will only cost you very little time. Yet, a train or a bus are both alternative and viable options, depending on what your terms of travel are.

The three considerations in organising a mode of travel are: time, cost and comfort. So, let’s explore the options in way to really meet your needs.

Take Flight

Why? This is an option for people who are not on a minimalist budget and want to get to their destination quickly.

How Long? Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes just a little over an hour.

How Much? The trip from Bangkok can cost as little as $60 economy in low season on a budget airline. This price can double if you are flying during high season and are travelling via a major airline. Even so, this is still an affordable mode of transport for most budgets.

Comfort Level? Comfort is hardly a factor on such a short trip!

Interesting Fact: One of the most convenient features of flying to Chiang Mai International Airport is that it is literally five minutes from the old city. So, once you do land, you’re almost immediately ready to explore the old city or organise tours and adventures.

Further Travel: There are airport taxis just outside the arrivals section of the airport that will get you in or close to the Old City for just $6.20 (150 Thai Baht).

TRAVEL BONUS: It’s lovely to see Chiang Mai from the air. The city is larger than expected as there is a speckled urban sprawl. The iconic Ping River can be seen winding around the landscape of banana trees and rice farms which gives a glimpse of the past when this river was integral to the Silk Road. The mountain range is also important as it’s considered sacred to the local people and a famous temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, can be seen whilst descending.

Take the Train

Why? Many expats, tourists and locals take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and visa versa. This option is for people who have the time, enjoy trains and like to see the landscape. It is also a perfect option for people who simply cannot sleep on a bus.

How Long? 11 to 15 hours travel, depending upon whether the trains are on time. There are six trains that leave from Bangkok to Chiang Mai each day and visa versa.

How Much? $20-$50 depending on whether you choose a first-class or second-class sleeper, although day trips are also available. First class provides you with a private cabin and second class shifts the seat into a bed with a curtain. Most expats tend to enjoy the second class better than the first class because the trains are new and fresh.

Comfort Level? Some trains are air conditioned and some are not. Expat Pat Corey says, “You have to travel in second class to get the best experience. Avoid the aircon because it is set at arctic temperatures.” However, you may prefer the cool if you bring some warm clothing.

Australian traveller, Paul Morris really enjoyed the day train and all its sights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

“The first few hours to Uttaradit winds through the hills and mountains that are covered with jungle and rainforest. Glimpses of villages can be seen with the small crops growing on the side of the hills,” he says. “Lopburi is home to a Monkey Temple and that is quite a sight. The ancient temple is covered in hundreds of monkeys.”

Interesting Fact: There is support offered for people with disabilities if you notify whilst booking your ticket.

Hot Tip: Book as early as possible if you want to ensure you have great seats.

So, if you like it slow and you enjoy some scenery, the train just may suit your needs.

On The Buses

Why? This option is for the super budget conscious traveller.

How Long? 10-12 hours depending on traffic and number of stops.

How Much? Second Class will cost approximately $18.75 (but this means no air conditioning). The VIP bus ticket will cost anywhere between $27 and $33.

Comfort Level? The most comfortable option would be the VIP bus as this includes reclining seats, some even come with massagers and air conditioning. The overnight VIP bus may also include a power point to run a laptop, a snack and a blanket.

Interesting Fact: The bus station at the Chiang Mai end is 10 minutes from the old city. When you alight from the bus, you will find tuk-tuks and red trucks (songthaews) to the Old City. This should cost between $2 to $5. The red trucks will always be cheaper than a tuk-tuk.

No matter which way you choose to travel, exploring Northern Thailand is a wonderful, lazy green contrast to the high rise and energy of Bangkok.

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