There are a number of routes, which connect Mandalay with Chiang Mai ranging from direct flights to long but interesting road journeys. Both direct and connecting flights can be taken at quite affordable costs meaning that you will reach your destination in just a few hours. If you are more adventurous and want to see more of Myanmar there are a few options involving buses and trains that will take from a couple to multiple days and qualify for a full time road trip.
Flights from Mandalay to Chiang Mai
The excellent Bangkok Airways offer a daily, direct service between Mandalay and Chiang Mai – though it is not cheap. Expect to pay between THB4500/USD120 and THB7000/USD200 for this 1 hour 25 minute flight. Flights leave Mandalay daily at 17.55pm arriving Chiang Mai at 19.50pm.
Connecting flights via Bangkok
This option is cheaper than the direct flight and gives you more flexibility. Thai AirAsia offer a service involving a short layover in Bangkok Don Mueang (DMK) airport. They have one daily flight at 12.45pm and one evening flight at 6.10pm from Mandalay to Bangkok; both take just under 2 hours and tickets cost from THB2000.
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai you have endless options throughout the day from both Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports. Flights to Chiang Mai last one hour 15 minutes and you can score deals starting from THB800 though THB1500 looks more realistic out of promotion periods.
Tip Leave enough time to go through immigration in Bangkok before your onward flight to Chiang Mai.
Connecting flights via Yangon
This route is less cost effective than via Bangkok but still can be considered if you want to spend some time in Yangon. Most flight options will involve a night in Yangon as flights from Mandlay arrive in the evening in major part. Airport camping is not an option at Yangon airport.
Golden Myanmar Airlines offer three daily flights between Mandalay and Yangon. Be warned that only one of these flights is direct. Flight tickets in Myanmar tend to be on the expensive side – expect to pay approximately USD100 for this flight. Myanmar Airways International as well as Myanmar National Airlines fly between Mandalay and Yangon, too, with tickets costing more or less the same. Direct flight takes 55 minutes.
Direct flights between Yangon and Chiang Mai are operated by **Bangkok Airways. There is one daily direct flight available at 1.10pm (THB6000 and up). Otherwise connect via Bangkok.
Combination trips from Mandalay to Chiang Mai
Due to restrictions for foreign nationals on overland travel in certain parts of Central and Northern Myanmar, land travel is challenging and involves lengthy detours. The more convenient option would be to combine air and overland travel. This will allow you to follow a more direct route and provide the opportunity to see some of the stunning countryside.
From Mandalay fly to Taichileik. The majority of flights available for this route connect via Heho, but Myanmar Airways International has at least one direct flight at 2pm. Flying time is 1 hour 15 minutes, but note that as with all the other flights within Myanmar, tickets are a little pricey. Expect to pay from USD115 and up.
If flying with Golden Myanmar Airlines (daily at 9am) or Mann Yadanarpon Airlines (daily at 10.50am) via Heho, be warned that the airport transfer time at Heho is only 15 minutes. Heho is a very small airport and you do not need to go through immigration, but yet 15 minutes do not give you much time. You can also choose to spend a day in Heho. This will allow you to add another city to your list of visited places and avoid that 15-minute airport dash.
From Tachileik cross the border between Myanmar and Thailand to the Thai town of Mae Sai. For more detailed treatment of Tachileik–Mae Sai border crossing and getting from Mae Sai to Chiang Mai please read our How to get from Mae Sai to Chiang Mai article.
From Mandalay to Chiang Mai overland
It is still possible to complete the whole route overland – but you will need to head south before you go east. This detour allows you to skip the areas of Myanmar with the restrictions on overland travel for foreign nationals. The two options available are travel by bus or by a combination of train and bus. Both options take roughly two days. In most cases you will need to make an overnight stop in Yangon.
Overland by bus
As a rule bus travel in Myanmar is quicker than train travel and buses are also cheaper with a growing number of new VIP coaches available though you won’t find sleeper buses in Myanmar. It is important to note that Myanmar has quite a high rate of road accidents, especially during the monsoon season.
From Mandalay take a bus to Yangon. There are four VIP buses and two ordinary buses plying this route daily. The two ordinary buses travel during the daytime and take approximately nine hours. The four VIP buses are night buses taking between nine and ten hours. There are no overnight sleeper buses available at this time. However bus travel in Myanmar is constantly changing and improving with more and more operators entering the market.
Note Bus schedules do not change depending on the season meaning that during the high season it is highly advisable to check seats availability a couple of days prior your travel date.
Also, choosing between more budget friendly ordinary buses and pricier VIPs, keep in mind that ordinary buses are local buses lacking comfort and always filled up to the brim with people, luggage and sometimes poultry.
The VIP buses are improving all he time. They are quite comfortable and have under bus luggage compartment. Water and snacks are served during the trip and are included into your ticket price as well as a meal stop (in the small hours, though). There is some kind of on-board entertainment though you may not consider it as a plus. Some – not all! – buses do have toilettes on board but anyway there are bathroom stops en-route.
Bus stations in Mandalay
Mandalay has three bus stations. Kwe Se Kan is the main bus station located 10km south of downtown. Buses from here travel to all major destinations south of Mandalay, Yangon included. A taxi from the centre of town takes about 45 minutes and costs around MMK6000.
Ordinary buses depart at 9am (arriving at 6pm) and 9pm (5.30am), USD13 both.
VIPs cost USD24 and leave between 8pm and 9pm (arriving by 6am), plus sometimes there is also a morning VIP service around 9am at the same price. Your best source of information for bus schedules are local tour agents and your guesthouse. They will also help choose the bus service which provides complimentary pick up from your accommodation (downtown area).
Bus stations in Yangon
In Yangon you will arrive to the Highway Bus Station located 8 km south of the city centre. Most probably you will have to wait half a day to take the onward bus to Myawaddy – so head to the city for a tour or opt for a couple of days in Yangon if you have time. Due to traffic getting to the centre can take 1 hour+, often 90 minutes. Taxis to and from the bus station cost around MMK8000.
There is only one daily bus connecting Yangon with Maywaddy. This is a VIP bus costing USD9 and leaving at 7pm (11 hours; arrives at 8am).
Note that there are no English signs on buses nor at the bus station what actually makes it quite a confusing bus station – especially taking into account its size. It is advised to have your ticket handy to show any bus station personal. Allow plenty of time before your bus departs. Be warned this is a large and confusing bus station.
In Myawaddy, the bus stop is located on the southern side of the main road approximately 1km west of the Thai border. There will be plenty of tuk-tuks at the bus stand happy to take you to the Thai border.
Crossing the border at Myawaddy is straightforward. The staff at Myanmar immigration are surprisingly helpful so the whole process is stress-free. In the morning the border crossing is relatively quiet. Get stamped out of Myanmar then take a short walk over the friendship bridge to the Thai immigration to be stamped into Thailand. If you are a passport holder of a G8 country you will receive a 30-day visa exception stamp on arrival. This is free and allows you 30 days in the Kingdom of Thailand.
Tip If any touts offer you anything in the way of visas or assistance – ignore them as this will definitely be a scam. This border crossing is quick and simple requiring no assistance.
Once the border is crossed you will find yourself in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. There are ATM machines immediately after you cross the border both to the left and straight ahead just after tuk-tuks gathering point. No money change service is available.
The bus station in Mae Sot is situated close to the airport off route 12, a short tuk-tuk ride from the border. The cost of the ride will depend on your haggling ability and the mood of the driver.
The bus journey from Mai Sot to Chiang Mai takes just around 5 hours. The best option available is GreenBus offering multiple daily services from 6.15am to 3.30pm. Buses leaving after midday arrive to Chiang Mai in the dark, so the morning ones can be a more convenient option. If you travel from Yangon to Myawaddy by the direct bus which arrives to Myawaddy at 8am, you should make it in time for the 9.45am GreenBus bus. Ticket cost THB290 (express) up to THB400 (VIP).
If direct Mae Sot-Chiang Mai options are already fully booked, take a minivan or a bus to the town of Tak. Minivans leave from the Burmese market from 5.30am and 7pm (THB80), buses operate from the Central bus station close to the airport. Thep Prasert has many buses during the day (THB154). The journey takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Tak sits on route 1, the main route for buses travelling from the south to Chiang Mai, so there are a lot of options to catch a bus. The journey generally takes under 5 hours.
If you get stuck in Mae Sot or would like to relax for a day, there are some budget accommodation options available. Prices start at THB300. There is no single area for budget accommodation – just look around or ask locals.
From Mandalay to Chiang Mai by train and bus
It is not possible to complete this entire journey by rail. In fact you can only cover a part of your Myanmar journey train – from Mandalay to Yangon and then, if you choose, from Yangon to Thaton or from Yangon to Mawlamyine. The remaining parts of the journey will have to be completed by bus or air.
Train travel in Myanmar can be slow and unreliable. But this is a fantastic way to see the country and experience some beautiful scenery. There are three types of train class in Myanmar.
First – This is usually a wooden seat with a cushioned bottom. Not very comfortable
Upper – A larger and more comfortable soft seat.
Sleeper – Four berth and two berth sleeper compartment with washbasin and toilette at the end of each carriage.
Trains can get cold at night-time. This is not due to any air-conditioning but to the lack of glass in the windows. Luggage is stored under your seat and trains may be in a poor state of repair. In 2016 some newer trains have been added to the network.
There are three daily trains from Mandalay to Yangon at 6am, 3pm and 5pm, all taking 15 hours to reach their terminus. Expect to pay between USD20 (upper seat) and USD30 (sleeper).
From Yangon, you can hop onto one of the south-bound trains at 7.15am, 6.25pm or 9pm passing via Thaton (USD15, 6½ hours) or Mawlamyine (only 7.15am and 9pm; USD18, 10 hours). From both of them there are direct buses to Myawaddy passing via Hpa-An.
Once in Myawaddy, proceed to Chiang Mai by bus as described above.