How to get to Chiang Mai? Bus, train, plane, car?

THéo COurant

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How to get to Chiang Mai? Bus, train, plane, car?

Chiang Mai is one of the great cities of Thailand. With its beautiful natural and cultural heritage, it is considered the capital of northern Thailand. Every year, it attracts many tourists. Practical information on all the transport.

It is easy to reach the capital of Northern Thailand. The traveller can choose the plane or the car or the train or the bus. The traveller can choose the speed of the plane, the romance of the train or the economy of the night bus.
In any case, Chiang Mai has a solid infrastructure. It has :

  • an international airport,
  • a railway station,
  • two bus stations.

Presentation of the different means of transport to get to Chiang Mai with their advantages and disadvantages.


Getting to Chiang Mai by plane

Taking a plane to Chiang Mai has many advantages: speed and time saving… and above all no fatigue. The price of the plane is very competitive. Several low cost companies (Air Asia, Nok Air, etc.) offer daily flights with regular promotions.
Taking the plane is now not very complicated. Neither is getting to the airport. From Bangkok, more than 80% of flights leave from Dong Mueang airport which is now very easy to access (bus, MRT, train, taxis, etc.). Chiang Mai International Airport is very convenient. There are several ways to get to the city centre (see below).
The negative side of choosing this mode of transport is obviously the ecological cost. Flying is still a big producer of CO2 which increases the carbon footprint of all travellers.

Chiang Mai International Airport

Located 6km southwest of the city, Chiang Mai International Airport used to handle over 2 million visitors per year (before Covid). It consists of one terminal for domestic flights and one terminal for international flights.

  • Domestic flights are mainly to/from Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, etc.
  • International flights are mainly to Singapore, Taiwan, Laos (Luang Prabang) and Myanmar (Mandalay, Yangon).

The main airlines operating from Chiang Mai International Airport are:

  • Thai Airways,
  • Singapore Airlines,
  • Bangkok Airways,
  • AirAsia,
  • Nok Air.

At the airport, there are:

  • currency exchange offices,
  • ATMs for cash withdrawal,
  • everything for catering: cafes, fast food, etc.
  • Car rental agencies,
  • grocery and souvenir shops,
  • a small duty-free shop in the international zone.

To get to or from Chiang Mai Airport:

Chiang Mai Airport is not far from the city centre. There are several means of transportation:

  • Outside the airport: you can either take a songthaew or a tuk-tuk. The songthaew is the cheapest way. The tuk-tuk requires the most negotiation.
  • Taxis go to the city centre (160 baht to the city centre, 100 baht back to the airport).
  • Renting a car (the most autonomous way),
  • Order a car with a driver via the Grab or Bolt application.
  • Public buses: two lines serve the airport. The B2 line goes directly to the terminal bus and the R3 line (06:00 to 23:30) goes to old Chiang Mai.

Tip: To take the public bus in Chiang Mai quietly, just download the CM Transit app on your mobile.

Getting to Chiang Mai by train

Chiang Mai Station is the terminus of the Northern Line from Bangkok. This line is the best maintained line in the network. It is also on this line that you can take advantage of the new redesigned carriages. They are especially adapted to the new demands of the passengers (electric plugs, much more comfortable benches, more comfortable beds and cabins, etc.).

Taking the train at night is a great experience. Beyond the time saved (no room to rent), it allows to live a moment apart from the journey. You leave Bangkok in the early evening and arrive in the early morning in the north of the country. This is probably the most pleasant way to travel of all the options. It’s also one of the most environmentally friendly.
The three classes offered offer a wide range of prices. From reclining seats to cabins, the options are numerous and overall very affordable.

Warning: the Bangkok - Chiang Mai train journey is a classic. It is a very popular route. It is strongly recommended to book several days in advance, especially for night trains (upper or second berths).

To get to the station:

  • tuk-tuk or songthaew. You will have to negotiate hard. They don’t give up.
  • Grab or Bolt. Just get out of the station. The drivers will pick you up at the seven/eleven. This is the most convenient plan, especially after a night on the train.
  • Taxi. Convenient but you have to find one.
  • Walking for the more athletic. The city centre is roughly 2-3 km away.

Getting to Chiang Mai by bus

The bus is undoubtedly one of the most economical means of transport. The services offered are of good quality. The VIP night buses are really comfortable. The seat is wide and reclining. It’s a good option for those who do not want to spend too much money and save time. It’s also the fallback solution when the train is full.

Tip: Buses in Thailand are known to have strong air-conditioning : “It’s so cold! It’s the North Pole!”. It’s therefore recommended to dress warmly and to bring a good pair of socks!

Bus stations in Chiang Mai

There are two bus stations in Chiang Mai, one in the north, Bus terminal 1 - Chang Phuak, which serves all the small towns near Chiang Mai. These are mostly songthaew (yellow). A larger one to the east of Chiang Mai, the Bus Terminal 2 - Arcade serves the larger towns in the country.

To get to and from bus stations in Chiang Mai:

  • tuk-tuk or songthaew. You will have to negotiate hard. They don’t give up as always.
  • Call a car via Grab or Bolt.
  • The little blue buses a bit outside the bus station.
  • Taxis. Always the same, you have to find them.
  • Motorbike taxis: as long as you are not too busy

Timetables and prices

Getting to Chiang Mai by car

Going to Chiang Mai by car or van is possible and not so complicated!
There are two possibilities, either with driver or without.

Car with driver
There are two possibilities for travellers:

  • Hail a taxi and wait for the advertised price.
  • Order a car with a driver via the Grab or Bolt applications or 12GO Asia.

Car without driver
Car rental is often necessary to get away from the main tourist routes. The advantage of a car is that you can stop whenever and wherever you want. However, the journey is long and also requires a considerable physical effort. The car therefore offers a feeling of freedom, but demands a lot: discomfort and fatigue can be a big disadvantage. In addition, there are the dangers of Thai roads.


More about Chiang Mai