Thailand is a diverse and colorful country that has everything for everyone. The backpacking lifestyle is popular here, but tourists who want to experience the island life or go on a cultural trip can also find plenty of attractions and activities in this Asian gem.
When it comes to popularity, Bangkok definitely holds the crown of being the top choice of vacationers visiting the country. The capital is known for its vibrant street life as well as its numerous cultural attractions that range from modern to traditional. It is also the most accessible to tourists, with flights landing directly on its airports from multiple cities around the world. Thanks to its accessibility, many vacationers choose it as the entryway to the country before jumping off to different parts of Thailand that are less touristy but are equally as beautiful.
Chiang Mai—also known as the Rose of the North—,on the other hand, is a city in the mountainous region of Thailand that is a popular drop-off point of many tourists who have visited the capital. Unlike Bangkok, which is known for its vibrant and lively lifestyle, the country’s second-largest city exudes a more peaceful vibe and charm. Many vacationers who want to experience the full Thailand experience choose to drop by for a visit here for a chance to marvel at its many attractions that are reminiscent of the country’s rich past.
There are three travel options that you can choose from if you are considering to follow the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route. Depending on your preferences, you can choose to go by plane, train, or bus. Here’s a detailed guide that will give you an idea of what to expect from each.
Many travelers choose to go to Chiang Mai by air out of convenience. Compared to catching a bus or a train, flying to the city only takes about an hour from Bangkok. The downside, of course, is that it is the most expensive option out of the three, with tickets setting you back at least 5,000 baht if you’re gunning for the more expensive (and last minute booked) flights.
The good news is that there are also many low-cost airlines that shuttle visitors to and fro between these two cities. Ticket price does vary depending on the season (expect more expensive flights during holidays like the Songkran/Thai New Year and Chinese New Year), but you can also score flights for as low as 1,000 baht if you book early or chance upon a promotion.
Low-cost airlines going to Chiang Mai like Air Asia, Nok Air, and Lion Air operate on Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport, while Thai Vietjet Air and Thai Smile Airways use Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand’s main airport. There are more than 50 flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai every week.
With almost half a day of travel time, it is almost impossible to believe that there are travelers who choose to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train. However, this mode of transportation is actually quite a popular option because it gives commuters the chance to marvel at the wonderful scenery between the two cities. The journey time can range from 12 to 15 hours, and you can choose to book different class tickets on the rides shuttling between Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok and Chiang Mai station.
Third class tickets are the most affordable, but they aren’t the most comfortable with their wooden seats and stuffy, overcrowded carriages. Second-class carriages which cost about 800 baht have better (and reclining) seats, but they also don’t come with air-conditioning. Those who don’t mind shelling out a little extra for the sake of comfort can go for the first-class sleeper seats which can cost around 2,000 baht.
Many tourists choose to book their tickets at night to make the almost half a day travel time more bearable. First-class rooms are the most expensive, but they do come with a bed that can sleep four people at most. Bunks in second-class carriages, on the other hand, are more affordable, though they don’t offer as much privacy that the private (and lockable) rooms offer. When choosing bunk beds, it is best to go for the lower ones because they provide more space than the top bunks. They are, however, are a little bit more expensive than the latter.
Train tickets can be bought in Bangkok’s main train stations, but they can also be bought online or through travel agents. Make sure to book as early as you can because seats also get filled up pretty quickly! There are about six trains going to and fro Bangkok and Chiang Mai every day.
Another affordable option to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is through the bus. Travel time is actually a lot shorter than using trains, with Chiang Mai-bound buses taking only about nine to 12 hours before reaching the city. Depending on the type of bus you book, you can expect to pay between 450 to 860 baht.
Second class public buses are, obviously, cheaper than the VIP ones but you have to be prepared for some level of discomfort during the ride. Many buses in this category promise to have air-conditioning, for example, but you can’t expect all of them to work. VIP buses are the smarter way to go if you want a more comfortable travel experience because they have more reliable air-conditioning as well as better seats and their own toilets.
If you don’t want to get a public bus, you can also grab a ride from private tour companies that run their own shuttles. Unlike government buses that you can grab on the Mo Chit terminal (Bangkok’s Northern Bus Station), these private buses can usually pick up passengers in different parts of the city. Since they are private, however, many perceive them to be less reliable than the ones run by the government.
When choosing your mode of travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, always go back to your preferences first before making adjustments according to your budget. This will make it easier for you to compromise in case your demands for comfort doesn’t quite fit your allowance. Traveling by air is best if you’re willing to pay in exchange for lesser hassles, but going through the train or bus is not so bad if you’re in for a little adventure on the road.