The only direct link for travelling between Bangkok and Mae Sai is provided by buses leaving from Morchit bus terminal in Bangkok. It is the cheapest and probably the most convenient option – expect to pay in the region of THB700. Flying via Chiang Rai and taking a bus to Mae Sai can save your time but won’t cost less than THB1200 at best.
Distance between Bangkok and Mae Sai
The overland distance is 855 km with Route 1 being the most direct option to get to Mae Sai.
Transport from Bangkok to Mae Sai
Direct bus transport is limited to a handful of morning and evening departures and the bus journey takes about 13 hours. A combination flight+bus trip via Chiang Rai can last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, while taking a train to Chiang Mai and a bus to Mae Sai in the longest option.
Bus from Bangkok to Mae Sai
Buses depart from the northern bus terminal in Bangkok, Morchit. It can be easily reached by taxi, via BTS (Morchit station) or MRT (Chatuchak park station) – then walk 2.5 km to the terminal or take a public bus lines 3, 28, 77, etc.
Sawadee Tour offer a VIP bus service to Mae Sai with 2 buses departing each day at 7.30am and 9.40pm. Tickets for this service cost THB1,000. Sombat Tour also serves this route with their VIP bus costing THB700 and departing at 5.25pm and 6.45pm. Siam First have one evening departure at 7pm for the same price.
Note You will also find tour operators – particularly in the Koh San Road area – offering bus packages to Mae Sai. These services can be a little hit and miss or simply the service offered by Sawasdee Tour or Sombat Tour sold at a higher price.
Flight and bus from Bangkok to Mae Sai
By far the best option when traveling from Bangkok to Mae Sai is flying to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai and then taking a bus to Mae Sai. As Mae Sai is a very small border town there is no airport there. The closest airports can be found in the larger cities of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Flying to Chiang Rai in preferable as it involves the shortest bus journey, so consider this option if you are short of time.
Via Chiang Rai
The flying time from Bangkok to Chiang Rai is 1 hour 30 minutes. There are numerous daily flights connecting the capital with Chiang Rai. Most flights depart from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport (DMK) though there are a couple of departures from Suvarnabhumi, too, including Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways and Royal Thai Airways – these options are normally cost more. Air Asia, Nok and Lion Air which often have the best deals all fly from DMK. Advance tickets can be purchased for as little as THB895.
When you arrive in Chiang Rai, you will need to take a short taxi ride from the airport to the central bus station. A taxi from the airport will cost about THB150.
Buses to Mae Sai depart from Chiang Rai bus station on an hourly bases between 6.00am and 6.00pm. The journey lasts 90 minutes and tickets cost between THB40 for a seat in a basic local bus with no AC, only fans. You will also find a minivan service costing THB250.
Note Please note that the border between Thailand and Myanmar closes at 6.00pm. If you want to get to the other side of border on the same day you arrive to Mae Sai, take a morning flight from Bangkok and arrive in Chiang Rai before 2.00pm.
Via Chiang Mai
If Chiang Mai is on your visit-list, you can travel to Mae Sai from there, though it will involve a longer bus journey as the distance between Chiang Mai and Mae Sai is around 260 km, while it is only 60 km from Chiang Rai. Buses cover this route in approximately 5–6 hours and you will find luxury VIP buses here.
Travelling via Chiang Mai makes sense only if you plan to visit the city itself or if you by some reason cannot find air tickets to Chiang Rai. With a greater number of flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai you have more flexibility. Again most flights depart from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport and advance tickets can be purchased for as little as THB775. Bangkok Airways and Royal Thai Airways also offer services from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). The flight time to Chiang Mai is approximately 1 hour.
In Chiang Mai you will need to take a taxi from the airport to the Arcade Bus Station, east of the city. A taxi should cost around THB250.
With a variety of departures from Arcade Bus Station throughout the day, your best option is Green Bus. They offer VIP services that can be booked in advance or bought on the spot. Note that all these buses do pass via Chiang Rai, too, but it can be hard to get a seat from Chiang Rai with Green Bus as they are often full, especially during the high season.
Green Bus offers a variety of services from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station to Mae Sai. There are 5 VIP buses departing each day between 6am and 9am and then roughly every hour after 12pm till 5pm. Tickets for this service cost THB400. The journey time for all services is approximately 5 hours and 15 minutes.
Train and bus from Bangkok to Mae Sai
You can also travel to Chiang Mai by train. It is the northernmost train station in the Thai rail network accepting daily trains from Bangkok. The train journey takes approximately 12 to 15-hours and the price of the tickets varies depending on the class of the carriage with a second class AC sleeper starting at THB800 and a first class sleeper –at THB1,250.
You will find the train station a very short taxi ride from the bus station. There are also public songthaews connecting the two. From the Arcade Bus Terminal take a bus to Mae Sai as described above.
Travelling via Chiang Mai by train does not actually make much sense: it takes longer that a direct Bangkok–Mae Sai bus and costs approximately the same as flight+bus option. The only advantage here is that you can take a night train and sleep all night through in your comfy berth.
Onward travel from Mae Sai
After arriving to Mae Sai most travellers head immediately to the border with Myanmar and hop over to the Burmese town of Tachileik.
Note When crossing the border it is important to be aware of a number of facts. First, the border closes at 6.00pm. If you find yourself stuck in Mae Sai, there are a number of accommodation options in town. The cost of a basic room starts at THB200 though slightly more upscale rooms are also available at THB500 and up.
Second, to cross the border to Myanmar you will need a valid visa arranged in advance. The visa costs USD50 and is easily obtained online via the Myanmar immigration website. The process is very simple and takes between 2 to 3 days. Another option is to apply for your visa in the Myanmar consulate in Bangkok. The cost and processing times are the same.
Onward travel from Tachileik is limited. The only destination you can reach overland from Tachileik is Keng Tung. If you want to travel to Yangon or any other part of the country then you will need to fly as a certain section of the country remains closed to foreign travellers. The three major airlines in Myanmar are Myanmar National Airlines, Golden Myanmar Airlines and Mann Yadanarpo Airlines. All of them fly from Tachileik to Yangon or Mandalay, either directly or via Heho.