What’s the best way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai and Bangkok couldn’t be more different. One is Thailand’s largest city, but the other is fifth on the list. Bangkok serves as the country’s business center, while Chiang Mai is known for its culture. And considering that the two cities are 700 kilometers apart, that’s no surprise.

That distance can make going from Bangkok to Chiang Mai feel like exploring a new country. It also means that trekking and motorbiking are out of the question! So kick off your hiking boots and put the backpack down. You’ll be settling in for a bus, plane, or train ride. Transportation in Thailand comes in many forms, so it’s important to do (a little) research beforehand.

All three are great ways to venture up north. You can’t go wrong as long as you actually make it to Chiang Mai. But which option is best depends on how much time (and money) you can invest in the adventure. Is sacrificing comfort worth saving some baht? Can getting there faster actually be cheaper? Read on to find those answers and more!

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Bus

Bus rides are a key component of any Southeast Asia backpacking adventure. You’ll spend hours cramped against a hazy window. Muscles you didn’t know existed will cramp. And that’s only half the fun!

In reality, the bus isn’t nearly as bad as people make it seem. Sure, it takes a lot longer than a flight. It’s also less comfortable than a train. When busing from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, you can expect anywhere from a nine to twelve hour journey. How long your trip takes is entirely dependent on the company you travel with, the type of bus, and the schedules that season. If you happen to be traveling during high season (November through April), you’ll have a lot more options.

Whether you pass the time binging Netflix or sleeping, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the bus. As a result, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. When traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, you’ll have several bus options:

  1. Second Class Buses
  2. First Class Buses
  3. VIP/Sleeper Buses

As a rule of thumb, the higher classes offer more comfort and decreased travel time. They also seat fewer people, meaning a more relaxed ride. In first class, you can expect more leg room, and you can lie down fully on a sleeper bus. Meanwhile, second class offers only traditional seating.

If you’re traveling with a private bus company, aircon is a given. However, some of the government-run buses leaving from Bangkok do not have working air-conditioning, and as a result are much less comfortable.

You can purchase bus tickets directly from most hostels, and also on the street from a variety of vendors. Ticket prices will vary, which means it can be good to window shop before making a decision.

At the end of the day, taking a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a great idea for budget travelers. It’s not as comfortable or fast as other options, but it’s often the cheapest the option. If you leave at nighttime, you can also save on accomodation for one night.

Just don’t forget to check the prices of planes and trains. While buses are typically the cheapest option, sometimes you can find a flight for just a few dollars more!

Bus Tips and Tricks:

  • Tickets in touristy areas like Khao San Road are more expensive
  • Book your ticket with your hostel for a sense of security
  • Keep valuables in a small “carry-on” bag—not under the bus
  • Book at least one day in advance

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Plane

If you’re budget-minded, planes are probably last on your list. However, they can be an amazing option. Flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is faster, more comfortable, and not as expensive as it sounds. In fact, some lucky backpackers find flights that aren’t too much more expensive than a bus or train.

The flight from Don Mueang (DMK) or Suvarnabhumi (BKK) Airport the Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) takes just over an hour. It’s a standard domestic flight, and you can expect the same level of comfort as any other plane.

Using sites such as SkyScanner, 12go.asia, and Kayak can help you find the cheapest flights. Make sure to put your phone on incognito mode and to search prices in Thai Baht. Many Thai Airlines also run regular specials, so be sure to check out their direct websites.

When choosing a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the biggest factors are departure airport and airline. Air Asia, Thai Lion Air, and Nok Air fly from DMK to CNX daily. Bangkok Airways solely flies from BKK, while Thai Airways flies out of both DMK and BKK.

When you arrive in Chiang Mai, you’re just a ten minute drive from the old town. As you exit the airport, you’ll see taxis everywhere. While some have a fixed price, we recommend using a metered taxi. With up to five backpackers, an entire taxi to your hostel should be around 150 baht.

If you’re particularly budget-minded, you can also take Public Bus Number 4. However, that will leave you to navigate both the bus system and walking to your hostel. We personally recommend taking a taxi for convenience sake.

Flight Tips and Tricks:

  • Check the fine print—many budget airlines have baggage restrictions
  • Arrive to the airport at least an hour in advance of your departure
  • Have the address of your Chiang Mai Hostel written down

Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train

Even though it’s the slowest way to get to Chiang Mai, many travelers (and locals) choose to take the train. It offers lower prices than a flight but more comfort than a bus. You also get the added benefit of seeing the countryside, having access to fresh air, and a good night’s sleep. Depending on the specific train, you can anticipate the trip taking anywhere from twelve to fifteen hours.

Even though the train takes significantly longer, many leave later in the day. That means you spend the night in a fold-out bed, and reach Chiang Mai in the morning. Sleeping for roughly eight hours of the trip means it doesn’t feel nearly as long!

Be sure to book well in advance. The trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are taken by both locals and tourists, meaning they fill up quick. If a cross-country train is on your bucket list, you don’t want poor planning to make it impossible.

You have two options when booking a train ticket. You can travel in either first class or second class. While the first class tickets can be significantly more expensive, you get a private cabin and and sink. If you opt for second class, you’ll have your own bed in a dorm-like set up. If you care about having aircon, be aware that not every second class ticket includes it.

The train station in Chiang Mai is only a few kilometers away from the center. If you hail a taxi, you can get to the old town in about ten minutes. The same rules from above apply—opt for a metered taxi over a set price, and expect to pay around 150 baht.

Train Tips and Tricks:

  • Spend lots of time looking out the window and wake up early for sunrise
  • Never book third-class—it can mean standing room only
  • Stock up on snacks beforehand, because train food is expensive
  • Take the night train to pass the time and save on accomodation

The Scorecard

Most Comfortable: Trains, by far, are the most comfortable option for traveling between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. You have large, comfortable seats and a chance to lay down. You also have access to a proper bathroom, food, and fresh air. A flight is a not-so-close second.

Lowest Cost: Buses will almost always be the cheapest option. That’s why so many backpackers opt for a ten hour bus ride over a one hour flight! If you have all the time in the world (and can sleep through anything) this is a budget-backpacker’s dream.

Shortest Time: Flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes the least amount of time. If you’re on a tight schedule or looking to spend less time traveling, flights are perfect. You can leave your hostel in Bangkok at breakfast and arrive to your Chiang Mai hostel by lunch.

Best Experience: This is a complete toss-up between taking a bus and taking a train. The train offers more scenic views, a cultural experience, and a slower pace. However, sitting for hours on a bus is an experience everyone should have while in Asia. Regardless of your choice, you’ll get to bound with countless other travelers (and wish you booked a flight)!

No matter how you want to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we’ve got you covered. Book with us and ease your mind – we can answer all your questions face to face. Cheers! 🙂