Located in the north of the country, Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar. Known as a city of cultural diversity Mandalay is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers. It is a perfect destination to experience the real taste of Myanmar. With frequent and numerous transportation options to all other parts of the country Mandalay is fantastic place to begin your Myanmar adventure. Thanks to direct flights the journey between Chiang Mai and Mandalay can take as little as few hours.
It is also possible to travel from Chiang Mai to Mandalay overland though due to restrictions for foreigners on overland journey in certain parts of Myanmar it can take anywhere from two or three days upward. You’ll have to change at least three buses and most probably need to spend one or two nights in guesthouses along the way.
Flights from Chiang Mai to Mandalay
There are both direct and connecting flights for travelling between Chiang Mai and Mandalay.
A direct flight is obviously a quicker option and indeed there is daily direct service between the two, but it is operated by Bangkok Airways, a boutique Thai airline meaning that airfare is far from being cheap. It departs from Chiang Mai at 4.15pm and arrives to Mandalay at 5.20pm. If booking in advance expect to pay around THB4500/USD120, but if in a hurry, the next day flight may cost you as much as THB7000/USD200.
Connecting flights via Yangon
Another option is to connect via Yangon. Bangkok Airways offer one daily service departing Chiang Mai at 11.40am and arriving to Yangon at 12.30pm priced similarly to Chiang Mai–Mandalay flight. There is also Myanmar National Airlines flight at 7.45pm arriving at 8.15pm but this one is somewhat inconvenient due to the schedule – though prices tend to be more attractive compared to Bangkok Airways (from THB3500/USD100).
From Yangon there are a dozen flights to Mandalay. Prices vary between MMK150,000/USD110 and MMK300,000/USD220. Golden Myanmar Airlines have one daily flight departing at 7am. Myanmar National Airlines have two morning flights at 6.30am and 7.30am plus an afternoon one at 4pm.
For more afternoon flights check Air KBZ – they have flights at 12.30pm, 1pm and 6pm while Myanmar Airways International offer a variety of flights throughout the day at 8.30am, 12.30pm, 1pm and 6pm. Flight times are between 55 and 90 minutes depending on the class of aircraft used.
From Chiang Mai to Mandalay overland
A popular option among travellers is to get from Chiang Mai to Mandalay overland. There are currently restrictions for foreign nationals on overland travel in certain parts of Myanmar. These include some central and northern parts of the country which you have to cross if heading to Myanmar via Mae Sai–Tachileik border crossing. That is why if you want to make the journey completely overland, you should enter via Mae Sot–Myawaddy border crossing. That said, you can still use Maa Sai–Tachileik border crossing to enter Myanmar and then take a plane from Tachileik to Mandalay.
Via Mae Sai–Tachileik border crossing
To cross the border at Tachileik you will need to take a bus from Chiang Mai to the Thai border town of Mae Sai. The most conformable and reliable option is GreenBus. There are several daily buses leaving Chiang Mai Arcade Bus station from 5.15am till 4.15pm. VIP buses depart at 8am, 9.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm. Additional VIP buses depart on Monday at 5.15am and 4.15pm. There is one more bus on Friday and Sunday at 4.30pm plus one addition ordinary bus on Friday and Sunday at 5pm.
VIP tickets cost THB400 while ordinary bus tickets are cheaper at THB260. The whole journey takes approximately 5 hours.
Chiang Mai Arcade bus station is located on Kaew Nawarat Road. To get there, take a red shared songthaew.
The border crossing into Myanmar is very straightforward. However during the peak tourist season it can get a little busy with travellers on a one day visit.
Note To enter Myanmar you will need a visa. 30-day e-visas is available for USD50. The visa should be obtained prior to your travel – there is no such thing as a visa on arrival in Myanmar. Applications should be made online through the official government website or in person via Myanmar consulate in your country or in one of the neighbouring countries to Myanmar, Thailand being the most popular option. If applying online, on completing your application you will receive the letter of approval by e-mail. The whole process takes approximately three days.
Tip The Mae Sai–Tachileik border crossing closes at 6pm. If you arrive later, there are enough accommodation options in Mae Sai. You can also spend a night in Tachileik if you feel like taking a break – a number of budget options can be found on the riverfront. Prices start from THB200.
Currently you cannot travel from Tachileik to Mandalay overland. From Tachileik you can get as far as Kengtung by bus, from where you are obliged to fly or get back to Tachileik. So it makes sense to take a plane from Tachileik to Mandalay. Myanmar National Airlines have two daily flights at 11.05am and 11.35am.Tickets are somewhat pricy at MMK300,000/USD220, though.
Afternoon flights depart at 1.35pm and are operated by Mann Yadanarpon Airlines (MMK175,000/USD130). Golden Myanmar Airlines also have a service at 2.35pm at a slightly cheaper price (MMK150,000/USD105).
Via Mae Sot–Myawaddy border crossing
If you want to do the entire journey from Chiang Mai to Mandalay by land it is possible to enter Myanmar through Maywaddy border crossing and travel to all way north to Mandalay by busses or a combination of trains and bus via Yangon.
From Chiang Mai you will need to travel to the Thai border town of Mae Sot. GreenBus offer 5 daily services departing from Chiang Mai Arcade bus station. VIP buses leave at 8am and 4.30pm with additional service on Friday and Sunday at 1.30pm. Tickets cost THB4000.
Ordinary buses leave at noon and 5.45pm with two extra buses on Friday and Sunday departing at 1.30pm and 2.45pm. Tickets cost THB290. One cheap local bus leaves daily at 6.30am and costs THB142. All trips take under 6 hours.
If you decide to break you journey and rest a night before going onward, it is better done on the Thai side of the border in Mae Sot as the choice is wider and the quality of accommodation is higher. A number of low price and midrange options are available in Myawaddy, too – expect to pay between THB500 and THB1000 for a decent air-con room, though basic fan rooms can be found for THB200.
Entering Myanmar is easy provided you have your Myanmar visa. Get your passport stamped and head to the bus stop 1 km from the Thai border. From there you can take either a direct bus to Yangon or a bus to Hpa-An, Thaton or Mawlamyine where you will need to change onto another bus heading to Yangon or onto a train (only from the two latter destinations).
The direct bus to Yangon departs daily at 9.30am and arrives to Yangon at 10pm. Tickets cost MMK13,000/USD10.
From Yangon to Mandalay
From Yangon you can travel to Mandalay by bus or train. In Myanmar buses are genuinely quicker and more reliable while trains do have a certain charm and offer he opportunity to take in some beautiful scenery along the way.
There are 2 ordinary and 4 VIP buses to Mandalay each day. Ordinary buses depart at 9am and 9pm and take roughly 8 to 9 hours. Tickets cost MMK18,000/USD13. VIP buses leave Yangon at 9am, 9pm, 9.30pm and 10pm costing MMK33,000/USd24 for the same 9-hour journey. VIP buses offer much more comfort and if you ask our opinion are worth investing in.
Yangon has 3 bus stations. Buses to Mandalay depart from the Highway Bus station. It is a large and confusing bus station with zero English signs – so be prepared. Taxis to the Highway bus station cost MMK8000. You will need to allow at least 1 hour to get from the city centre to this bus station.
Travelling by rail, Yangon to Mandalay is arguably the most popular railway route in the whole country. There are daily services connecting the two cities departing from Yangon at 6am, 3pm and 5pm. The journey takes around 15 hours.
Trains in Myanmar offer three classes of comfort. First class seats are usually a wooden seat with a cushioned bottom and are not very comfortable. Upper class seats are larger and offer more comfort. Sleeper class offers four berths and two berth sleeper compartment with washbasin and toilette at the end of each carriage. Prices depend on where you buy your tickets. The cheapest way to buy directly at the train station, but if buying from abroad you will inevitably pay more as there is no official online booking for Myanmar Railways. To get to Mandalay by rail, expect to pay between USD20 and USD30.
Yangon train station is located in the downtown area of the city and is easily reachable on foot or by taxi. Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and offers many budget and midrange accommodation options. Making this the perfect place to spend a night or two before you travel north to Mandalay.