Is it Hard to Get to Chiang Mai Old City From the Airport?

 

Getting from Chiang Mai Airport to Old City is dead easy. It might seem baffling with the amount of information about to be provided, but it isn’t at all.

So you planned your trip to Chiang Mai by plane (possibly with the help of my ‘how to get to Chiang Mai’ guide, possibly with a lesser quality guide, it doesn’t matter).

Now you’re wondering how do I get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport?

That is the best place to stay after all, it is the most central and home to some of the best temples in Thailand.

Luckily there are about 7 different ways to complete the trip, but we’ll take walking off the table and talk about the 6 motorised options.

This will be quite a detailed guide on how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport, so use the table of contents above to skip the portion that doesn’t relate to you. Or keep reading for fun ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Perhaps you are not arriving by plane? I have also written guides for those other two modes of transport that can bring you to Chiang Mai;

 

Is the Airport Far From Chiang Mai Old City?

 

Not at all, in fact it is quite close, but probably too far to walk for most people with all their bags and given the hot climate of Thailand.

 

As you can see the airport is an equal distance away from the Old City centre as the bus terminals are and pretty similar again to the train station. It is approximately 3.5 kilometres in a straight line.

The journey will only take between 10 and 15 minutes if you choose a direct mode of transport such as: taxi, tuk tuk or Grab.

The trip will take anywhere from 15-45 minutes for the indirect modes of transport: buses and songthaews.

*Disclaimer

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🎶 Sweepin’ my way down town, faces pass and I’m homebound. 🎶

(Shot on the Sony A7R III using the Sony 16-35mm f/4).

The Different Modes of Transport Available to You

 

Firstly, for those who are unsure, we will give a brief explanation of the different types of vehicles and modes of transport that will be waiting for you at the airport.

These modes of transport will be common across all three of the arrival points into Chiang Mai, so these are also going to be found at the bus terminals and the train station.

Step 1 in learning how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport is to look for the following options!

(Excuse my rudimentary Photoshop skills. I just didn’t have the time for proper finesse).

Songthaew

Toot-toot-chugga-chugga big red car, we’ll travel near and we’ll travel far!

 

The Songthaew is a very common sight in Thailand for those tourists who have at least one good eye. The name comes from the Thai words for “Two” (song) and “Bank/Row” (thaew), due to the 2 bench seats in the back.

A songthaew has two benches the length of the back section and can hold up to 8 people in the back, as well as some on the standing platform at the rear.

If you are already in Chiang Mai Old City then you can catch these anywhere within Old City for as little as ฿20-40. The base fare is ฿20 for short journeys, just jump in the back and pay as you get out.

Hail down songthaews on the side of the road that is travelling in the direction that you wish to go.

They will pick up people as they go, so don’t be alarmed if there are people in the back already. Resist the urge to spit on them and throw them onto the street. Be friendly.

Because of the fact it is shared transport, it is dirt cheap. Unfortunately it also means it can be a lot slower, as it will be dropping off people who are going to different places.

 

SONGHTAEW PROS;

  • Cheapest option of all (excluding the municipality bus).
  • Direct drop off to your destination.
  • Abundant and easy to find.
  • From my personal experience they didn’t try rip me off, but be careful.
  • An experience you might want to try in Thailand.

SONGTHAEW CONS;

  • Drop-off can be slow if there are a lot of people in there.
  • If there aren’t many people and you are going a long way then it isn’t as cheap.
  • Open to the air, pollution and noise of the city.
  • Wooden bench seats aren’t as comfortable as a taxi.
  • If you’re carrying a lot of bags (like I do with my camera gear) it may be a tight squeeze with others carrying bags.

 

Tuk Tuk

The name so nice, you say it twice!

 

The Tuk Tuk is a powerful beast. Don’t get in one unless you’re willing to feel the wrath of the mighty 10 horsepower engine!

The name “Tuk Tuk” is an onomatopoeia. The name was derived from the sound the engine made in its earliest variations. The term actually started in Thailand but is now widespread.

To me they are still a novelty.

Tuk Tuks are direct modes of transport, they will take you where you need to go and allow you to remain connected to the street and the surroundings.

Prices vary, but it should be a bit cheaper than a taxi. Unlike the Songhtaew above, there is no set price for a tuk tuk, but you shouldn’t be paying any more than ฿30-50 for short journeys.

 

TUK TUK PROS;

  • Novelty factor.
  • Fits down small alleyways.
  • More direct than the songthaew, because you are the only passenger.
  • You could smoke, if that’s your style.
  • Cheaper than a taxi for the same trip.

TUK TUK CONS;

  • Open to the heat, pollution, rain, and noise of the city streets.
  • No faster than a taxi.
  • Can be more expensive than a songthaew.
  • Some of them have stupidly loud music playing. It is shit.
  • Can’t be shared between a larger group of friends.
  • Not much room for those with a lot of bags.
  • Usually have to barter the price, but some drivers are up front straight away if they know you’ve been in Thailand for a while.

 

Taxi / Grab

 

I have combined these into the same category because they are the same mode of transport, just a different way of paying for and organising the ride. Grab is cheaper than a taxi though.

Grab is the Southeast Asian ride-sharing app of choice, one of the essential apps for travellers to have. But don’t link your credit card to the app!

The beauty of Grab is that you can pay cash, so if a driver is running late, you cancel without being charged, and it is easier to split fares between friends.

Another benefit is that you can punch in your destination and be given the price up front, which you can then show to a taxi driver, so that you don’t get ripped off.

Taxis and Grabs will normally be a bit more expensive than the other options, but that doesn’t mean they are bad value for money.

 

TAXI / GRAB PROS;

TAXI / GRAB CONS;

  • More expensive.
  • May include a wait time for your ride to arrive.

 

Bus

RTC “Blue Bus”

Municipality Buses

Onto the most confusing of the options, as it is in many countries, the bus system. It is however also the cheapest option you will find, equal to that of a shared songthaew.

Firstly we’ll explain one important thing: There are 2 different types of buses that will be talked about in this post!

I have split them up, with example images above, in the hope that it will make it easier to follow along once we start discussing different routes.

 

RTC Blue Bus

This is the large, full sized bus that you see on the left. They are called blue buses, you guessed it, because of their colours. From here on out they will be called the “blue bus”, this is of no reference to the route of the bus, just its physical colour.

This bus costs ฿30 per ride, no matter the distance or route.

There are 5 different routes, only 2 of which are relevant in learning how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport. The routes and schedules will be shown in the detailed section below.

 

Municipality Bus

These are minibuses (and for one route also minivans). They are half sized, holding about 20 people, and are coloured white.*

*The exception to this being route #10 which has dedicated pink buses

These buses cost ฿15 for adults, for the entire length of the route.

There are 4 different routes, only 2 of which are relevant for this post, and they will be shown in their respective sections below.

For a full map of the 4 different municipality buses then see the section below that details how to catch these buses.

 

BUS PROS;

  • Cheapest option available.
  • Environmentally friendlier option.
  • Air-conditioned and comfortable.

BUS CONS;

  • Indirect mode of transport.
  • Is not door to door, so you may have a walk to your hostel.
  • Slower than the other modes of transport.
  • You may have to wait 20-30 minutes if you have just missed the last bus before the next arrives.
  • Might not be as much room for large bags if the bus is filling up.
  • People will yell “BUS WANKERS!” at you. Which can damage self-esteem,

 

How to Get to Chiang Mai Old City From the Airport

 

Knowing how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport is important because this is the most common way that people arrive into Chiang Mai (click here to see how to get to Chiang Mai).

There are a lot of tourist attractions in the south of Thailand: beautiful national parks, amazing beaches and stunning islands to relax on. Then the density of tourist attraction peters out as you head north.

Although I recommend people apply for the extended 60 day visa before coming to Thailand, there are more people who just go with the 30 day visa on arrival that is offered by Thailand and are therefore stretched thin for time.

So it is easier for a lot of people to jump straight to the north with a simple flight.

Chaing Mai Airport to Old City in a Taxi

 

As you walk out of the arrival doors into the main airport area (after having collected your bags), then look to your left and you will see exactly this!

 

If you don’t see exactly this, including the guy standing there staring at you, then you have failed miserably. Turn around, hang your head in shame and get back on the plane.

Anyway, moving forward. There are two options here for you to take a taxi;

  1. Chiang Mai Airport Taxi.
  2. Taxi Meter.

Go with number 1. They charge a flat rate of ฿150 to get to Old City or nearby.

Taxi meter will charge a cheaper rate at first, but add ฿50 booking fee on top, which defeats the purpose. In saying that though, the price difference will only be ฿10-30 at most.

We have already discussed the reasons why you may prefer the taxi, so the choice is yours.

 

What about Grab?

You can get Grab if you want, but be warned that Grab is NOT cheaper from the airport than a taxi. A Grab from the airport will cost you ฿190 into the centre of Old City.

Grab is cheaper in general, but for you to get a cheap price you will need to walk about a kilometre or so from the airport and get picked up, perhaps try from Chiang Mai Plaza. From there it is ฿90.

I am a massive lover of Grab but I personally find it easier to use the taxi in this instance. Rather than walk with my bags and have to wait to be picked up, just to try save ฿80

Grab cost from the airport to Old City centre.

Grab costs from Central Plaza Shops near the airport.

Chiang Mai Airport to Old City in a Songthaew

 

This one is as easy as it gets.

Assuming your bags will fit, walk out the front of the airport arrivals hall and look for the red car. Hopefully there are other people also going into Old City, which is quite common.

If the ride is shared, then it will only cost you ฿40/person.

If you are the only one going, then I suggest just taking a taxi, although you might still get a songthaew for less than ฿150, it won’t be by much less and the taxi is more comfortable.

Chiang Mai Airport to Old City in a Tuk Tuk

 

The tuk tuk is probably a last resort, or the domain of those seeking novelty factor.

A tuk tuk can be found out the front, the drivers will be sure to get your attention. They will try to charge ฿150, but you can tell them that you would take a taxi for that price (which shouldn’t be a lie).

From there, try get a price you’re happy with, like ฿100 or thereabouts. I personally can’t stand Tuk Tuks, but you do you.

Chiang Mai Airport to Old City by Bus

 

This is for the real bargain hunters!

Remember that there are two separate bus systems in operation here, so we will talk about them separately here, starting with the larger and easier to find of the two.

 

RTC “Blue Bus”

PRICE:
฿30

BUST STOP LOCATION:
Outside arrival halls (you will find it, don’t ask taxi drivers because they won’t want to help you find it).

Walk out the arrivals hall and walk north (with the traffic flow), up to where the taxis are parked. It is so easy to find that I found it on Google Street View within 20 seconds.

The bus stop, with the airport about 60m away. The stop is to the north of the airport.

So now you know where it is, all you need to do is go up there and get the right bus.

CATCHING THE RIGHT BUS

The RTC bus has 5 different routes, only two that service the airport. The two routes are the same route in opposite directions;

  • R3 Red – Clockwise.
  • R3 Yellow – Counterclockwise.

 

 

As you can see, you may be better off with the R3 Red if your accommodation is on the western end of Chiang Mai Old City, or R3 Yellow if your accommodation is on the eastern side.

Both routes will get you where you need to go because they are loops. But depending on where you are staying one might take 40 minutes to get there, the other only 20 minutes.

To see the bus route look on the front windshield before hopping on. It will display the R3 sign as well as the colour of the route.

Municipality Bus

 

Let me start off by saying, this is the least recommended method of all the methods. There is essentially no room for large luggage, the scheduling is liable to change without notice, and they can be hard to spot at the airport.

PRICE:
฿15
or
฿20 for the pink bus route #10.

BUS STOP LOCATION:
The bus stop is outside along the main ring road, where the RTC blue bus is basically, otherwise you can attempt to wave one down on the road but they’re not supposed to stop there.

CATCHING THE RIGHT BUS:
To get into Chiang Mai Old City from the airport with these minibuses you will have 2 different options, routes B2 and #10.

The company that runs route #10 is actually a different company called Khwan Wiang Transport, who actually do use minivans as well on their routes.

Here are the 4 routes for those who are curious about where the buses go, with the bus stops in BOLD being either in Chiang Mai Old City, or being an important drop off point ie: airport, bus terminal and railway station.

B1
  1. Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade).
  2. Tung Hotel Road.
  3. Chiang Mai Railway Station.
  4. Charoen Mueang Road.
  5. Sanpakoi Market.
  6. Nawarat Bridge.
  7. Tha Phae Gate.
  8. Klang Vieng Junction.
  9. Chiang Mai Police Station.
  10. Phra Sing Temple.
  11. Wattanothaipayap School.
  12. Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital (Suan Dok Hospital).
  13. Chiangmai Neurological Hospital.
  14. Ton Payom Market.
  15. Chiang Mai University Side.
  16. Gate Intersection.
  17. Chiang Mai Phucome Hotel.
  18. Chiang Mai University’s front gate area.
  19. Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna.
  20. Chiang Mai Zoo.
B3
  1. Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade).
  2. Central Festival Chiang Mai.
  3. Thepanya Hospital.
  4. Tesco Lotus Khamtieng.
  5. Muang Chiang Mai Stadium.
  6. Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1 (Chang Phuak Bus Terminal).
  7. Chiang Mai Rajabhat University.
  8. Khuang Singh Junction.
  9. Chiang Mai International Convention and Exhibition Center.
  10. 700th Anniversary Stadium.
  11. Chiang Mai Government Center.
B2
  1. Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade).
  2. Kaew Nawarat Road.
  3. Dara Witthayalai School.
  4. McCormick Hospital.
  5. The Prince Royal’s College.
  6. Nakorn Ping Bridge.
  7. Warorot market (Kad Luang).
  8. Chiang Mai Religion Practice Center Junction.
  9. Tha Phae Gate.
  10. Yupparaj Wittayalai school.
  11. Chiangmai Vocational College.
  12. Chiang Mai Technical College.
  13. Phra Singh temple.
  14. Northern School for The Blind.
  15. Fort of Ku-Hueang.
  16. Buak Haad Park.
  17. Chiang Mai Gate.
  18. Wua Lai Road.
  19. Airport Junction.
  20. CentralPlaza Chiang Mai Airport.
  21. Chiang Mai International Airport.
#10
  1. Baan Khwan Wiang.
  2. Central Plaza Chiang Mai.
  3. Chiang Mai airport.
  4. Suan Dok Gate.
  5. Manee Nopparat Road.
  6. Chang Puak Gate.
  7. Phra Pok Klow Road.
  8. Three Kings Monument.
  9. Ratvithi Road.
  10. Chiang Moi Road.
  11. Warorot Market.
  12. Upakut Temple.
  13. Chang Klan Road.
  14. Montfort College.
  15. Sacred Heart College.
  16. Regina Coeli College.
  17. Sridornchai Road.
  18. Chiang Mai Gate Market.
  19. Wualai Road.
  20. Central Plaza.
  21. Chiang Mai Airport.
  22. Chiang Mai-Hod Road.
  23. Baan Khwan Wiang.

As you can see with route #10, it loops at the airport twice. This means it could be on its way in or out of Old City. Ask the driver to be sure, or settle in for the detour.

I need to reiterate though, there is no room for luggage on these buses and the schedule listed below is not always reliable. I am only writing about it so that all options are covered and you can try make your own decision.

**Khwan Wiang Pink Buse service runs from 06:00 – 19:00 every 20 minutes**

A map of the 4 Municipality Bus Routes

 

See this map below for an idea of where the buses go. I made this myself, based on the bus stops, but the routes may not be entirely accurate, with the exception of route #10 which is based off an exact route map from their website.

The colours chosen for this map have no correlation with the buses themselves, except the pink buses for route #10. So don’t mistake these as official route colours.

This is at best only 90% accurate, with the bus stops being correct but the roads used possibly not representative of real life turns taken by the bus drivers.

You can toggle on and off the bus routes that you don’t want to see by clicking in the top right corner of the map and unchecking the boxes that you don’t need to see.

Conclusion

 

So now you know how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport, in every conceivable way. Share with friends, enemies, your dog and your creepy crawly.

At the end of the day, you will be inundated with options and none of them are incorrect. The buses are there and good to know about, but really unlikely that you’ll need them.

Recommended Mode of Transport

 

My recommendation is to do what I did: I took a taxi for ฿150.

It was direct to my hostel, had heaps of room for my bags, there was no wait time, there was air-conditioning and I was too tired to deal with annoying tuk tuk drivers.

My second recommendation would be for a shared songthaew, if you are looking for reduced costs. They should fill up quite quickly and although you might not be the first one dropped off, it shouldn’t be too big a detour before you get to your hostel.

 

Why I Don’t Recommend the Other Modes of Transport

 

GRAB:
The Grab will not be cheaper than a taxi if you are in the airport vicinity. It isn’t worth walking 300m to save about ฿50, and then also having to wait to be picked up.

If you have also just landed in Thailand, then you would have to mess about buying and activating the SIM card as weoo.

TUK TUK:
These things give me the shits, the drivers are annoying, they don’t give a fair price straight up, and they have no advantages over just getting a taxi.

I guess this might be different for those who are in Thailand for the first time, but for me the novelty is long gone, if it ever existed.

BLUE BUS:
I love the idea of the bus and by all means catch it if is there. I like to promote public transport, it is cheap. But I wouldn’t go wait outside for the bus, then sit on it as it stopped at every stop along the way.

On top of this you will have a walk to your hostel from the closest bus stop which could still be quite a distance. I think this bus is great after you have dumped your bags, but not off the plane.

MUNICIPALITY BUS:
Your bags won’t fit on this. Only people with 1 small backpack that will fit on your lap can take this, but there are more downsides.

These buses are inconsistent in their scheduling. The times change without notice, and there have been reports of people waiting a long time before one appeared. It is not worth it.

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