Chiang Mai, located 1,450 km north of Koh Phangan, can be reached by a combination of ferry and flying or ferry and overland travel. Expect the total travel time to be at least 6 hours if you ferry to and fly from Koh Samui direct and pay at least THB4,000 up to 30 hours if you ferry from Koh Phangan to the mainland and then rely on buses and trains to get up north – it may cost you as low as THB2,000 though.
Flights from Koh Phangan to Chiang Mai
No, there is no airport on Koh Phangan. Your options are limited to flying from Koh Samui airport or Suratthani airport on the mainland. To get to either of the two, you will need to take a ferry first.
Raja Ferry, Seatran Discovery, Phantip 1970, Songserm and Lomprayah all offer joint tickets from Koh Phangan to one or both of these airports, and this is the most convenient deal to grab. It won’t cost you much more if you travel by separate tickets (THB450 for Koh Samui and THB600 for Surattthani; 2 and 5 hours respectively).
From Koh Samui you can fly to Chiang Mai direct with Bangkok Airways. Koh Samui–Chiang Mai tickets are normally cheaper than in the opposite direction with airfare starting from THB3,000 and so we feel like it is a very sensible thing to use this opportunity to save a huge amount of travel time.
Thai AirAsia has two daily direct flights from Suratthani to Chiang Mai (1h45m; from THB2,000) otherwise you will need to rely on connecting flights with a stopover in Bangkok. For budget-friendly options check deals offered by low cost airlines like Thai Lion Air and Nok Air. They all use Don Mueang airpot in Bangkok as their hub.
Thai Smile, Thai Airways and Bangkok Air fly via Suvarnabhumi airport and normally cost double with flying time more or less the same.
From Koh Phangan to Chiang Mai overland
To get out from Koh Phangan to the mainland you will need to take a ferry first – either to Donsak in Suratthani or to Chumphon. Getting to Suratthani is somewhat easier as there are more options, travel time is slightly shorter(2h30m to the pier in Donsak vs 3 hours to the pier in Chumphon), ticket price is lower and there are a lot of joint trips offered which bring you directly to Suratthani train station, bus terminal or the airport for a smoother continuation of your journey north.
From Suratthani you can hop on a train or bus heading north to Bangkok and then change onto the onward transport to Chiang Mai.
Taking a train means the possibility to sleep comfortably during your trip if you opt for a berth in a second or first class carriage (from THB1,000; 12 hours) and a hassle free connection in Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok (more 13 hours to Chiang Mai and up to THB1,800).
Buses may come out cheaper if you make use of ordinary express buses (THB400-500 each leg; travel time 9 hours to Bangkok and 11 hours to Chiang Mai). More comfortable VIP buses will cost you between THB800 and THB1,000 each way, but note that in most cases you will need to change bus terminals in Bangkok – it will take you about one hour.
There is a direct bus from Suratthani to Chiang Mai operated by Greenbus, but it originates from Phuket so it is not always possible to grab a vacant seat in Suratthani (20 hours; THB1,500).
An option to consider is to buy a joint ticket from Koh Phangan to Bangkok with e.g. Lomprayah that will bring you right to Khao San Road where you will be able hop onto another bus to Chiang Mai or make an overnight stop. Joint tickets to Bangkok should cost you about THB1,300 (12 hours) with a further THB1,000 to Chiang Mai.
You can always combine ferry, flight and bus or ferry bus and train to get most of your trip.
Combination ferry and bus tickets from Koh Phangan to Bangkok are always a good value and can be easily followed by a cheap flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
The airport in Chiang Mai is located very centrally and you can virtually walk out there to your accommodation.