The distance between Koh Samui and Chiang Mai is about 1,440 km and depending on the means of transport you choose the travel between the two can take you from less than 2 hours to over 30 hours. Prices range considerably as well from THB1,500 for a slow ferry and an overland journey in a modest bus or train class to THB9,000 if you choose to fly with Thailand’s first boutique airline, Bangkok Airways, which serves Koh Samui–Chiang Mai route direct.
Direct flights from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai
Your choices to flying directly between Koh Samui and Chiang Mai are limited to Bangkok Airways daily 10.20am flight. It takes 1 hour 50 minutes to get to Chiang Mai and surprisingly the airfare starts from around THB3,000 – it is cheaper to go north than in the opposite direction! Predictably, web promo and web saver tariffs sell out quickly and if you miss them, expect to pay approximately THB6,000 one-way.
Connecting flights from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai via Bangkok
An easier way to fly is to connect via Bangkok. Bangkok Airways will bring you to Chiang Mai for between THB7,000 and THB9,000 and total travel time will be 5–7 hours.
Another option is to get to Suratthani airport from Koh Samui first and find connecting flights from Suratthani to Chiang Mai via Bangkok. Though your travel time will be longer, it is somewhat compensated by a higher level of flexibility and lower price.
Flights from Suratthani to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with one of the budget airlines like Nok Air or Thai Lion Air can set you back as little as THB1,000 each segment you fly and there are a lot of scheduled departures throughout the day with short layovers in Don Mueang.
From Koh Samui to Chiang Mai overland
This is the longest but often not the cheapest option. We do not recommend it unless you are planning overnight stops en route. Getting out from Koh Samui to either Suratthani train or bus station will take you 3–4 hours, give or take, and cost between THB300 and THB500.
There is a good choice of train departures from Suratthani and the best thing about travelling by train is that you can sleep all night through if you buy a berth in a second (about THB900) or first (THB1,700) class carriage. There are cheaper third class fan berths and seats for under THB400 but be ready spend on the move 9–12 hours.
Trains arrive and depart from one and the same railway station in Bangkok, Hua Lamphong, located very centrally. Similarly to Suratthani–Bangkok leg, there are a lot of departures to Chiang Mai and with the new carriages added recently rail travel has become even more comfortable. It takes 10–14 hours to reach Chiang Mai (THB600-THB1,800).
By bus and ferry
Lomprayah, Raja Ferry, Seatran and a couple of other operators offer combination tickets directly from Koh Samui to Bangkok which include a ferry ride to the mainland followed by a bus ride to the capital. These joint tickets provide the most convenient way to travel between Samui and Bangkok if you do not want to tailor-make your trip yourself. In general you may spend slightly less if you take a ferry, transfer to the bus station in Suratthani and then hop onto a bus to Bangkok, but it is really worth investing extra THB200 for the privilege of enjoying the package trip (up to 17 hours, THB900-THB1,300).
The only thing to check in advance is where your operator is going to bring you in Bangkok. The overwhelming majority of buses heading to Chiang Mai leave from Morchit Bus Terminal in the northern outskirts of Bangkok while buses from south arrive to the Southern Bus Terminal Sai Tai Mai. There are buses to Chiang Mai from Khao San Road, too, so you may want to choose an operator which brings you from Samui to Khao San (e.g. Lomprayah). A bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 11 hours and costs from THB500, but for THB1,000 you can travel in a comfy – if not plush – a VIP24.
If flying direct is out of your budget, we would recommend getting to Bangkok by a combination ferry-and-bus trip and then hopping onto a budget flight from Don Mueang airport to Chiang Mai. The airport in Chiang Mai is located very centrally so you won’t have to spend extra time to get to the city.