As a gateway to northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is easily accessible by air, rail and bus. Several domestic and international airlines have direct flights to Chiang Mai International Airport, including low-cost carriers, such as Nok Air, Air Asia and One-to-Go. Travelling by train is also convenient, with a range of options from overnight sleeper trains to express trains, which depart from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station around the clock. The slowest but also the cheapest, buses can be an ideal transport mode for the more adventurous soul, as the quality of your journey lays pretty much in the hands – and whim – of the unpredictable driver.
Chiang Mai Airport
Chiang Mai International Airport (CMX) is host to a large number of international and domestic flights daily. Connections include flights from Singapore, Taiwan, Laos and Myanmar. The most common route to Chiang Mai, however, remains through Bangkok. There are numerous daily flights from the capital to Chiang Mai on a variety of airlines. Air Asia and One-Two-Go have begun running a number of budget flights. Tickets for these flights should be booked online at least three weeks in advance.
Chiang Mai Airport is a well-run modern facility as befits the second most important city in Thailand. It has a simple layout, with two conjoined terminal buildings, each dedicated to international or domestic arrivals/departures. The arrival halls and check-in counters of both buildings are found on the first level, while the second floor is designated for all departures.
There are several money changing counters and ATM machines in both terminals, on the ground floor.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train
Travel by rail is a popular option with budget travelers and is a nice way to enjoy the lush greenery of the Thai countryside. Trains run directly between Bangkok’s Hua Lumpong Train Station and Chiang Mai. The journey takes about 12 hours but evening trains feature comfortable bunks with or without air-con.
Expect to pay between 600-1,000 baht for a train ticket depending on the level of comfort you want. First Class includes a private, air-conditioned compartment with its own bathroom, while Second Class consists of fold-out upper and lower bunks. Lower level bunks are slightly larger and more comfortable to sleep in. There is a food service car located toward the back of each train but the fare is sometimes less than stellar.
Train tickets can be purchased from most travel agencies and all train stations. Additionally, train tickets can be booked by contacting the Bangkok Advanced Booking Office (Tel: +66 (02) 225-0300 ext. 5200-3). For more information on travel to Chiang Mai by rail contact the State Railway of Thailand (Tel: +66 (02) 220 4334).
Travelling to Chiang Mai by Bus or Car
Busses run roughly every hour from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, departing from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Station and arriving at Chiang Mai’s Eastern (main) Bus Terminal. The first departure of the day is at 05:30 and the last is at 22:00. The journey takes about 10 hours to complete and there are a variety of busses available, with the VIP busses being the by far the most comfortable.
Air conditioned busses are readily available but bundle up as the Thais like their air-con freezing cold. Also be prepared to endure noisy films (in Thai) all night long.
Another option is to rent a car in Bangkok and drive yourself to Chiang Mai. The scenery is lovely and there are plenty of interesting stops along the way, including former Thailand capitals Ayutthaya and Sukothai. From Tak or Pitsanalok onwards you find yourself amidst misty mountains that provide some stunning views. There are numerous car rental companies in Bangkok and a wide variety of makes and models available. Most rental companies will also provide some sort of insurance. Although driving in Bangkok can be trying, once you’re outside the city the roads from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are well marked.
Be aware, however, that driving in Thailand can be hazardous. In Thailand people drive on the left hand side of the road and, while there are traffic regulations, many Thai regard them as suggestions rather than actual rules. If you find yourself in a fender bender then you can pretty much expect to be held accountable, whether it was your fault or not. Additionally, an international driving license is required to have full insurance coverage
Travelling Around Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Airport is located a short distance from the city center and Songthaew and tuk-tuks are readily available to provide taxi services outside the terminal building. Expect to pay 100 baht for a taxi to most destinations in the city, while the return trip to the airport costs about 50 baht. Many hotels will arrange free transfer to and from the airport. Check with your hotel to see if they provide such a service.