Getting from Chiang Mai to Bangkok overland is easy and straightforward. There are direct trains linking the terminus of the northern line of the state railway of Thailand with Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok. Numerous buses connecting the northern capital with major provincial centers around the country depart throughout the day from the Arcade Bus Station. If you travel by car, exit Chiang Mai via Route 11 and switch to Route 1 at Lampang. Depending on the means of transport you choose, the whole journey lasts anywhere between 9 and 14 hours.
From Chiang Mai to Bangkok by bus
Buses between Chiang Mai and Bangkok are frequent. The route is served by a number of companies, so you have a wide choice of the operators and type of buses. Buses take about 10 hours to reach the capital making several stops en route at large gas stations with a number of forecourt operators including 7/Eleven or Jiffy convenience stores, Amazon coffee shops and the like. There are toilets on board and at the gas stations, too.
Buses from Chiang Mai to Bangkok depart form the Arcade Bus Station which is located east from the Old City, some three km away. You can get there by tuk-tuk or songthaew. There is a in-city bus station in Chiang Mai, too, which is connected with the larger Arcade Bus Station by songthaews.
In Bangkok, buses arrive to the Northern Bus Terminal, Morchit. Note that it is located at the outskirts of the city, and if you arrive late in the evening – e.g. with New Viriyayanyon Tour 7am–5pm bus at THB643 or Bangkok Busline 10.30am–8.30pm bus at THB551 – make sure you have your accommodation booked as it is not a good idea to cruise around in the dark in a hope to find a good place to sleep.
There are a lot of night buses departing from Chiang Mai between 6pm and 8pm, all arriving to Bangkok between 4.30am and 6am. These include Bangkok Busline at 6.35pm (arrives at 4.35am), 7.15pm (5.40am), 8pm (6.25am) and 8pm (6.00am) at THB551, THB643, THB857 and THB551 correspondingly and a 7.30pm (5.55am) Lignite Tour bus which cost THB643. The most expensive are VIP24 buses which have 3 seats in a row instead of usual four and thus provide you with more space. The cheapest ones are standard express buses which are also ok, but may feel a bit too cramped for a Western traveller. VIP buses offer a good balance between the price you pay and the level of comfort you get.
From Chiang Mai to Bangkok by train
The northern railway line, which connects Chiang Mai to Bangkok, is the busiest one of the whole Thai railway network. Trains leave throughout the day providing you with a wide choice of options to get from the northern capital of Chiang Mai to Bangkok. The railway journey from Chiang Mai to Bangkok takes from eleven to 14 hours and may be as smooth as silk or a real nightmare – depending on which ticket you book. So before booking a particular train double-check which kind of seats you are about to buy.
Note: Please note that even with the first class sleeper you will not get a brand-new coach, but it will nonetheless be clean and quite comfortable, and the service is normally very good, even though the staff do not speak English at all or speak minimal English.
The best way to travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is with a night first or second class sleeper. Berths in Thai trains are wide and each of them in equipped with curtains which pull together and provide you with enough privacy for you long journey. The two most convenient departures are train #14 at 5pm and train #2 at 6pm. #14 arrives to the Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok at 6.15am and has a second class AC sleeper at THB1081 and a first class single sleeper which is the most luxurious way of a railway travel in Thailand. Tickets cost THB2253 and which is a great investment taking into consideration the duration of the trip.
Train #2 is the most popular choice to travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It has normal second class AC sleepers and women-only second class AC sleepers at the same price of THB1081 and a first class AC sleeper double occupancy at THB1073. It reaches Hua Lamphong by 6.50am.
There is one more sleeper, #52, which leaves Chiang Mai at 3.30pm and arrives to the capital at 5.25am. The schedule is a bit inconvenient, but a lower price for a second class AC sleeper somehow compensates (THB1021).
Tip: If you wish to have more space, book a lower berth in a sleeper as it is nearly half wider than the upper one. If you are travelling with a baby, the lower berth is your best choice.
Two morning trains, #102 at 6.30am and #8 at 8.50am, offer seats only. #102 is the slowest (the trip from Chiang Mai to Bangkok lasts nearly 15 hours!) and the cheapest one (THB591) from the bunch, but it has only fan coaches and we do not recommend taking it if you have other options available.
Train #8 is the fastest train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok and covers the whole distance in 10½ hours. It has second class AC seats only and can be considered, too, especially because it gives you a great chance to admire the country-side scenery by daylight – well, and do some people-watching of your fellow passengers.
Tip: As a rule, there is a dining carriage in the train, but to make thing ever easier for passengers – oh yes, you are in Thailand! – food vendors patrol the carriages, so snacks and refreshments are never in short supply. Note though, that it is illegal to sell any alcoholic beverages on the train.
From Chiang Mai to Bangkok by plane
Astonishingly low airfare from Chiang Mai to Bangkok offered by several budget airlines has already made many of the most ardent buffs of buses and trains to set eyes on air travel. Cutting travel time from Chiang Mai to Bangkok from 12 hours to 1½ hour, low cost carriers do a really great job.
One of the latest additions to the low cost carries scene in Thailand, an associate of the Indonesia-based Lion Air company, Thai Lion Air makes 10 daily flights between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Tickets cost from THB1000 to THB2000 per person and include 15 kg of checked-in luggage and 7 kg of cabin luggage. You can depart from Chiang Mai as early as 6.50am to reach Bangkok by 8.20am. The last flight from Chiang Mai is scheduled at 10pm sharp.
Chiang Mai International Airport is located only a couple of kilometers southwest of the old city and is easily reachable by tuk-tuks, songthaews and taxis. The fare from many locations in the city to the airport is even lower than the fare from the airport to the city and is usually about THB100. One of the four busiest airports of the country, Chiang Mai Airport has ATMs, post office, medical service, restaurants and all other services a traveler may fancy.
In Bangkok Lion Air is based in Don Mueang International Airport to the north of the capital. It is connected with the city by airport shuttle buses (routes A1 and A2). A1 terminates at Morchit bus terminal calling en route to Morchit BTS. A2 heads to Morchit BTS first and then proceeds to Saphan Kwai BTS, Ari BTS, Sanam Pao BTS and finally reaches the Victory Monument (THB30). Travel time depends on traffic and is from 60 to 80 minutes. There are commuter trains between Don Mueang airport and Hua Lamphong train station, too. Trains take about 50 minutes to get from the railway station to the airport and are always a secure bet. Operating time is from 3.10am till 10.15pm.
Are you sure you have seen enough of the North?
A three-hour drive from Chiang Mai to Pai is not for faint-hearted – or those with a weak stomach. But if you survive 762 turns from Chiang Mai to Pai (yes, you have read it right – seven hundred sixty two), you will be rewarded with an incomparable quiet beauty of the Pai Valley and a laid-back vibe of once lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere village which even today, with hundreds of tourists cruising its streets daily, still preserves that old-school, comfy air of a small secret paradise. Book your journey from Chiang Mai to Pai with Prem Pracha VIP24 bus for THB195. They have buses every hour from 6.30am till 5.30pm. There are minibuses plying the same route, but in a big bus you are less likely to suffer from nausea.
Prem Pracha also operates one bus a day from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, which is further northwest from Pai. Mae Hong Son is a chilled-out destination and a great place to admire less visited waterfalls, pumper yourself in local mineral mud spas or get acquainted with tribal culture. Prem Pracha bus departs from Chiang Mai at 9pm and reaches Mae Hong Son at 2.15am; tickets cost THB378.