How To Get To Chiang Mai – Plane, Train and Bus
If you take out the option of driving yourself or walking (totally plausible), you are left with the three options to get to Chiang Mai.
In this post I will cover;
- How to get to Chiang Mai by plane.
- How to get to Chiang Mai by train.
- How to get to Chiang Mai by bus.
There are pros and cons to each. Although nearly everyone is comfortable with the process with catching a plane, some might be uncertain on using the train and bus in Thailand.
If you’re looking for a particular section of how to get to Chiang Mai then click the table of contents to navigate yourself straight to the relevant portions of the post.
This post is an excerpt of the Chiang Mai travel guide, that has been expanded upon. For more information about Chiang Mai, see the travel guide. For information about the best temples in Chiang Mai click here.
Let’s start with the easiest to explain …
BOOK YOUR TICKET TO CHIANG MAI HERE
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There are 9 bells. The bells is Pluto.
(Shot with the Sony A7R III using the Sony 16-35mm f/4).
How to Get to Chiang Mai by Plane
Probably won’t happen to you.
Chiang Mai has quite a busy airport with international direct flights from some of the following locations;
- South Korea
Other endless flight options are available with transfers in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore. Those being the major airports of the Southeast Asia region, and likely transfer points.
Getting to Chiang Mai by plane is easy if you are already in Thailand. A flight from the south of Thailand in an area like Ao Nang will only take 2 hours direct.
Although it is impossible to list the countless ways of getting to Chiang Mai by plane, I will use Ao Nang as an example because it is very common for people exploring the southern regions of Thailand to want to get to the north as quickly as possible.
Krabi – Chiang Mai
$50 US, $72 AUD, £37.50 . €44.50.
Keep in mind that this is an example price, things can be slightly cheaper, or more expensive depending on the time of year and how much baggage you book for yourself.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Plane Pros;
- The fastest way to travel.
- Everybody is comfortable with the process of buying plane tickets and getting to the airport.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Plane Cons;
- Can be more expensive when you start adding baggage on top of ticket prices.
- You might want to see more of the country, in which case this doesn’t help.
That sums up how to get to Chiang Mai by plane, there are endless options available to you, especially from within Southeast Asia.
It is a very common thing to do for those who want to see the south of Thailand’s beautiful islands, jaw-dropping beaches or stunning national parks, but then want to come to the north for a change of pace without using an entire day to travel.
To learn how to get into Chiang Mai Old City after having landed at Chiang Mai airport, then click here.
How to Get to Chiang Mai by Bus
I guess it could happen to anyone …
To answer how to get to Chiang Mai by bus, I will explain 2 separate routes;
- Bangkok – Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai
Going from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus is by far the more common option of the 2. The reason I say this is because most people who come to Chiang Rai, have come from Chiang Mai already by bus, and therefore know how to catch the bus.
However, there could be those who decide to fly to Chiang Rai, which eliminates the need to take the bus in both directions by cutting out a bus trip.
You can get from the south of Thailand to the north by bus, but these will come through Bangkok anyway, and the total journey would be over 24 hours long and can be more expensive than a flight.
So with that in mind, we will only look into the 2 ways of how to get to Chiang Mai by bus.
How to Get to Chiang Mai From Bangkok by Bus
There are a number of companies that run the route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, every single day of the year. One of the better and more reputable companies is Sombat Tours.
We will use Sombat Tours as the example here, but know that there are more than 5 different companies running similar services. Some better than others.
Daytime vs Nighttime
You have two different basic options regarding when you want to leave. There are day buses, and night buses. The night buses are far more popular.
The night buses have the advantage of saving you the cost of accommodation for one night, because you simply sleep on the bus, but the day time buses let you see the countryside.
Class of Bus
Buses are not all the same, much like airplane tickets they have different classes with different benefits and offerings available. As an example, we will look at the differences between Sombat Tours classes.
As you can see, there is even a free buffet meal included with the higher class tickets at the rest stop that will happen during the trip. See the below schedule for the difference in prices and departure times.
How do You Buy the Tickets?
Buying the tickets is simple, there are two basic methods;
- Buy online.
- Buy at the bus station.
To buy online you can go directly through the bus provider’s website (Sombat Tours has one but not all do), this will possibly require some copy and pasting to Google Translate, but it shouldn’t be too hard.
The other option is to use a booking agent such as 12go or busonlineticket to get the ticket.
Alternatively you can buy at the bus station directly. Beware that during the high season, the most popular buses will sell out, so it can be risky to just rock up to the bus terminal and try buy tickets for that same day.
To avoid this issue, you can still buy in person by visiting the bus terminal before your departure date and securing your ticket.
Buying directly is cheaper than using 12go and busonlineticket by between ฿100-150.
This doesn’t mean that buying online is no good. Weigh up the cost and time for you to get to the bus terminal just to purchase the ticket a few days before you need to get the bus. Then decide if it is worth it.
If the bus company you use does have a website, then you can pay base rate, as well as have the advantages of booking from the comfort of your hostel.
Where Does the Bus Leave From?
This depends entirely on the company that you decide to go with.
See this map for an example of where a few of the companies are located in relation to the main terminal. A lot of the other companies just run business from the main terminal.
Be sure to know exactly where you need to go before the day of departure.
Catching the Bus
You will need to arrive at the bus station about 30 minutes before your bus is set to leave. The large bus terminal will generally sell food, snacks, meals, drinks etc.
If you plan on eating a meal at the bus terminal then come even earlier, or if it is your first time and you are nervous then come early to get everything sorted with heaps of time to spare.
The buses leave from different bays, or terminals, these will be shown on your ticket. If not, there are information booths around that you can go to and they will guide you to where you need to be.
If you bought your ticket online, make sure you have a printed copy of the ticket for the bus drivers.
That’s essentially it, you get on the bus, keep your valuable with you, check your clothes underneath. There will be a rest stop during the trip.
You should have booked a ticket on a bus with a toilet, be loaded up on food and snacks, then relax and enjoy.
The bus journey will take 9 hours and 30 minutes to 11 hours for an express service without any stops.
To find out how to get into Chiang Mai Old City from the Chiang Mai bus terminal that they will drop you off at, then click here. I have separated the two posts due to their length.
How to Get to Chiang Mai From Chiang Rai by Bus
Ok, let’s start with some good news. This one is as simple as it gets.
Chiang Rai is a much smaller city than Bangkok. From any central location within Chiang Rai you can simply walk or ride a scooter to the bus terminal to purchase a ticket.
You can also buy through travel agents, whose commission is very low, about ฿20. So if you are walking past an agent then you can book through them for very cheap.
The easy-ness continues though! Instead of there being heaps of options and variables, there is just the one option, and that is the Greenbus line.
At the bus terminal, go line up at the Greenbus counters, then choose your style of ticket and departure time from the options shown below. There are only 3 classes of bus available.
Don’t bank on the listed duration times as being accurate. I have taken the X-Class bus twice and it is 4 hours in each direction, not 3 and a half. Still this photo gives you all the important details.
I recommend X-Class over A-Class for only ฿40 extra. But for such a relatively short journey, could never see the point of buying VIP-Class tickets.
I’ll show you an example of the legroom available to you in X-Class.
I was able to fit my entire Shimoda Action X50 at my feet with all of my camera gear, this way I knew where all my valuables were at all times.
That sums up how to get to Chiang Mai from Chiang Rai. You could more often than not buy this ticket on the day of departure, but with the bus terminal so close I wouldn’t risk it. Just pop in and buy a ticket a few days in advance.
To find out how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the bus terminal in Chiang Mai where you will be dropped off, then click here. I have separated the two posts due to their length.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Bus Pros;
- Cheapest option.
- Quicker than the train.
- It’s an experience.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Bus Cons;
- The least comfortable option.
- Slower than flying.
How to Get to Chiang Mai by Train
Holy shit we’re all going to die!!
Taking the train is a common method for people who are landing in Bangkok and have chosen not to fly up to Chaing Mai. We will only be looking at the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in this section.
Let’s start with some good news. There are no different providers that you need to worry about. The entire railway sytem is run by Thai Railways.
This simplifies the entire thing, you don’t need to worry about different options being better than others. You simply need to choose a train that suits your needs.
As with the buses, there are options for daytime and nighttime trains, with nighttime being far more popular.
What Trains Can I Take?
You have 5 trains per day that you can choose from.
They are sorted below by their departure time. Click to open the toggle and see how long the train will take and its expected arrival time into Chiang Mai.
14 hours 20 minutes.
13 hours 5 minutes.
13 hours 5 minutes.
14 hours 10 minutes.
These trains run every day, the same number train, the same departure time, the same everything.
Train #9 is the most popular train because it uses the updated carriages instead of the older style that the other 4 trains use. This is the train that is first to sell out.
How Much Does it Cost?
This depends on the style of travel, not the individual train. Each train has its separate classes of ticket within the one journey, unlike the buses where each journey is filled entirely of that class of ticket.
Some of the choices are;
- 1st class sleeper, with air-conditioning.
- 2nd class sleeper, with air-conditioning.
- 2nd class sleeper, with fans.
- 2nd class seats only, with air-conditioning.
- 2nd class seats only, with fans.
We will look at three of these options, ignoring the “fans only” options.
Sleeper – 1st Class
($47.50 US, $69.50 AUD, £36.25 , €43).
SLEEPER – 2ND CLASS
($25 US, $36.50 AUD, £19 , €22.50).
SEATS ONLY WITH AC
($21 US, $30.75 AUD, £16 , €19).
The range in prices is dependant on whether you are going to be the top bed or the lower bed. The lower beds are wider due to the shape of the train carriages.
The prices above are the prices that you will get at the station or by booking directly through the Thai Railways website.
If you need to book the tickets online then you will be charged ฿200-250 extra for the purchase. Which leads us onto the next point.
How do I buy the Tickets?
As with the bus tickets, you have two options here: online, or in person at the station.
If the Thai Railways website does not work for you then you can use either 12go or busonlineticket to purchase your tickets. But those last two will charge extra, with busonline being cheaper than 12go for trains in Thailand from what I have seen.
If you purchase online then make sure you get a printed version of your ticket before you head to the train station to get on the train. You will need it to board.
Buying in Person
This is the cheapest way to do it, with the downside being that you will need to make a separate journey to the train station to book the tickets.
That is where you need to weigh up the cost of going to and from the station and whether it works out better than copping the ฿200 fee that the online ticketers will charge.
Most people will go to Hua Lamphong train station, both to buy tickets as well as to board the train, but you can board the train from the airport’s train station as well.
Catching the Train
Get to the station with plenty of time to find the platform that you need and to buy snacks or a meal. Leave yourself with wiggle room.
There are food options on the train including a diner, but also carts that get pushed up and down the train. The diner will close at 22:00 and reopen at 05:00.
There really isn’t much else to it, you get on, then wait 11-14 hours, then you get off. Simples.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Train Pros;
- More comfortable than the bus.
- Meet travellers in the diner cart.
- Save on a night’s accommodation.
- The experience.
Getting to Chiang Mai by Train Cons;
- Not as quick as a plane.
- More expensive than the bus for the equivelant VIP services.
To see how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from Chiang Mai Railway station where you will get dropped off then click here.
This is how people will see you as you lie down for the night on the train. Ravishing!
(Shot with the Sony A7R III using the Sony 16-35mm f/4).
What’s the Best Way to Get to Chaing Mai?
There is no best way, there is just three different ways. The train is a happy medium, for those in a rush the plane is the way to go, the bus is the cheapest option.
Even those VIP buses don’t exactly skint on comfort, but at the end of the day it is going to be slightly less smooth than a train, albeit quicker.
Everyone has a different budget as well as a different time frame. Pick whatever piques your interest.
Allow me to summarise the three different methods with a snapshot look at the commonly chosen choice of each mode of transport.
Krabi – Chiang Mai
($50 US, $72 AUD, £37.50 . €44.50).
Bangkok – Chiang Mai
($29.50 US, $43 AUD, £22.50, €26.75).
Bangkok – Chiang Mai
($32.75 US, $48 AUD, £25 , €29.75).
Now you’re full bottle on how to get to Chiang Mai. Share the info, tell others how to get to Chiang Mai, charge them $3.50, send me $2.25 commission. Together we can make the world a better place!!
The Browne Town.
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