If there’s one thing Southeast Asia is somewhat lacking, it’s public transportation over long distance.
While you can take a train across an entire country in a matter of hours in places like Italy or Japan, some of the public transit options in SEA are not as good.
With that being said, let’s discuss all your options from getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Option 1: Flying
This is probably the easiest way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. There are a lot of flights between the cities. Take a guess how many.
57 a day, on average.
Yeah, I think you’ll be able to find one at a fair price with those kind of numbers!
Now, a lot of people these days have an aversion to flying because of “how long it takes”. Many people factor in the following to their travel plans:
- An hour to get to the airport
- Being at the airport an hour earlier
- The flight time itself
- Half an hour to get luggage/leave the airport
- Another hour to get to your final destination outside of the second airport
Total: 3.5 hours + flight time
Just remember those numbers if you’re one of those people. Also, before I move on to buses and trains, I should share the prices of the flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (these are subject to change, but just check them out anyway):
Option 2: The Bus
First off, it’s worth noting that the Bangkok bus station that houses the buses to CM is located somewhat out of the city. In most cases you’ll have to take a bus to that bus station, or a cab.
Factor that into your journey (it’s 7 or so odd miles away from the “center” of Bangkok”). See for yourself:
The buses themselves are modern and comfortable, although certainly don’t think that means “luxurious”. The ride itself will take about 9.5 to 10 hours from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Keep in mind though, roads in SEA are fickle. You could hit some crazy traffic at some point which could easily add an hour or more on to your bus ride. Nothing is perfect.
As a final note, in most cases the bus ride will cost you about $15-20, USD.
Option 3: Train
The train is even slower than the bus, clocking in at a grand pace of 13 or so hours. Yikes.
The good news is that there is a sleeper train, which can at least save you the hotel costs for a night. And sure, the scenery is nice – look at the photo above.
Just don’t look at the tracks it’s running on. You’ll understand why it takes 13 hours to get there.
Daytime trains, or ones without a sleeper bed, will probably cost you around $20-30. Sleeper tickets will run you around $40-50.
The fella who runs Seat 61 has a great guide on train travel within Thailand. Here’s a link with everything he knows about Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Furthermore, it’s definitely worth bookmarking his site as a comprehensive Wikipedia to using train or bus transit around Asia, and anywhere over the world.
Personally, I mostly fly around Asia myself, but when I’ve spent time in Europe, Seat 61 was a winner. It helped me get everywhere. Make sure to bookmark it, it has tons of great info.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai: Conclusion
As much as I’m a fan of taking a train or bus when it’s feasible, the numbers don’t lie.
- Flying: 4.5 hours – this includes all the pre/post time factored in.
- Bus: 10 hours – plus the time to get to the bus station, which will probably be another hour.
- Train: 13 hours – plus likely overnight.
Flying is just too cheap to pass up considering it gets you there in half the time. Sure, it can be a hassle. But most of you reading this site are single guys. It’s just you, it’s not like your lugging a wife and five kids behind you and on to a small flight.
To sum up this post, I’d take the plane every single time. Even if your flight was delayed you could buy another one for $28 if you needed to get their quickly.
It’s funny though, because it really all comes down to time. If the bus or train could get me there in, say, 7 or 8 hours – I’d take those, hands-down. The couple of hours lost in transit would be worth it to forego the airport hassle, and to enjoy the scenery.
As of now though, there’s no high-speed ground options. So to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, my choice is clear.
Through the air.
What’s been your experience navigating between BKK and CM? Sound off in the comments below.