The journey from Nong Khai to Chiang Mai is fairly common, it is the path that connects Vientiane in Laos with one of the main cities in northern Thailand. Nong Khai sits on the Thai side of the border, right next to the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge 1, just 25 kilometres away from Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.
The road distance separating Nong Khai and Chiang Mai is 630 kilometres and you can cover it by bus, airplane or a combination of bus and train.
Flights from Nong Khai to Chiang Mai
Currently there are no direct flights between Nong Khai and Chiang Mai and you have to rely on the airport closest to Nong Khai, which is Udon Thani.
A taxi from Nong Khai to Udon Thani airport will take around fifty minutes and cost around THB600/USD13.
There are also cheaper regular white minivans, which pick up passengers in Nong Khai’s Bus Station, around 5 kilometres from the border. These vans will depart towards both Udon Thani’s Bus Stations whenever they’re full, and cost THB50/USD1.5 and take around 45 minutes. Once at Udon Thani’s bus station, take a minibus to the airport for THB80/USD2.4 per person for a fifteen to twenty minute journey.
Finally it is possible to travel between Nong Khai and Udon Thani by train – it makes sense if you are travelling to Nong Khai from Laos also by train or if you stay anywhere closer to the train station rather then the bus station in Nong Khai. There are 5 trains a day between 7am and 7.10pm departing from Nong Khai train station. Travel time is under one hour and tickets are dirt-cheap priced between THB11 and THB48. From Udon’s train station you’ll then have to take a taxi or a minivan to the airport.
If you are starting from Vientiane, then there are direct International buses that will take you straight to Udon Thani for just THB80 or USD2.3 or 20,000 Kip. This bus departs eight times a day from the Vientiane Morning Market (Talad Sot) at 7.30am the earliest and 6pm the latest and it takes approximately two hours to reach Udon Thani. Tickets can be bought at the station.
Flights between Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are operated by Nok Air. There are two daily flights at 1.40pm and 6pm. Both take around one hour to reach Chiang Mai. Ticket prices do vary depending on when you book your flight but expect to pay around THB1800/USD50 even for next day departures. If you manage to score cheaper tickets, do not think twice and fly: you won’t save much on you bus or bus&train ride but will spend much more time. Another reason to fly to Chiang Mai is that the airport in Chiang Mai is conveniently located some 3 km from the centre and you’ll get to the Old Town or elsewhere in no time just grab the airport shuttles for THB80/USD2.4 per person.
From Nong Khai to Chiang Mai by bus
Even if flying is easy and always time-saving we do love travel by bus in Thailand. There is a direct night bus which connects Nong Khai to Chiang Mai, making the bus journey between the two a solid comfy option. The bus ride is likely to take you 12 hours.
The downside is that there is only one company serving the route which is Sueksa – so you are not left with many choices. Their bus departs daily at 7pm from Nong Khai Bus Station and arrives to Chiang Mai’s Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade) by 7am. Tickets cost between THB820/USD24 and THB900/USD26. It is a VIP bus so expect a drink, a snack and a meal either in the form of a lunch box with some rice and curry or a bowl of rice or noodles at a food court at the stop. There is a toilet on board plus at least two toilet stops en route. Tickets can be bought directly at the station or online.
Once in Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2, it takes around twenty minutes to get to the Old Town. The centre of the city is 3.5 kilometres away, and a tuk-tuk ride costs approximately THB100/USD3 and THB150/USD4.4, depending on your negotiation skills.
From Nong Khai to Chiang Mai via Udon Thani or Khon Kaen
If you missed the direct bus from Nong Khai to Chiang Mai, there is a variety of connection options.
The most obvious one is to connect via Udon Thani. There are multiple minivans and big buses leaving from Nong Khai to Udon Thani any time of the day. The trip takes about one hour and costs THB80. In Udon Thani hop onto a direct bus to Chiang Mai. Sueksa Tour buses leave from Udon Thani bus station 1 at the corner of Soi Rangsan and Sai Uthit Road, while Phet Praset operates from Udon Thani Central Plaza, two blocks west of Udon Thani railway station. It takes about 12 hours to get to Chiang Mai and tickets cost from THB600 for an express bus and THB800 for a VIP24.
You can also opt for Nong Khai to Chiang Mai via Phitsanulok route as described in our Chiang Mai to Nong Khai article or connect via Khon Kaen which is probably an easier way with an abundance of departures any time of the day.
From Nong Khai to Khon Kaen you can either by train or bus.
There are frequent bus departures a day from Nong Khai to Khon Kaen. The journey takes under 3 hours (170 km) and costs between THB120 and THB200.
Bangkok-bound trains call to Khon Kaen on their way west. There are 5 departures a day scheduled between 7am and 7.10pm. Expect the trip last between 2 and 3 hours. The cheapest tickets start from as low as THB35 for the third class fan hard seats and go up to THB300. Again, travelling by train is probably convenient if you stay somewhere close to the train station in Nong Khai. In Khon Kaen, the train station in around 2.5 km south of the bus terminal from where buses to Chiang Mai depart. You can either walk there or take a tuk-tuk.
Khon Kaen–Chiang Mai leg is served by a variety of bus companies operating express, VIPs and VIP24s buses. Prices fluctuate between THB600 and THB900 depending on the class of the bus. Check Esan Tour, Phet Prasert and Phu Luang Tour for the best deals. The journey takes between 11 and 12 hours with all the buses arriving to Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai.
Onward travel from Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai serves as an excellent base for exploring the whole North of Thailand.
A common destination is Pai, a town on Mae Hong Son province, 150 northwest of Chiang Mai. Minivans to Pai depart daily from the Chang Phuek bus station and Chiang Mai train station every half an hour or so, starting from 6.30am till approximately 5.30am. The journey takes four and a half hours with a lot of pin sharp turns – come prepared and opt for flying is you get motion sickness. Tickets cost around THB200/USD6 and can be bought online, at any accommodation or at the station. The largest of the van operators is Prem Pracha company.
Another option is taking a taxi, which takes three hours but costs around THB3000/USD90.
Similarly, Mae Hong Son is easily reached by flying, vans and local buses though the latter is the least convenient way to travel. The trip takes 6 hours and features even more turns (THB500). Kan Air does a good job delivering passengers to Mae Hong Son in mere 30 minutes and tickets cost slightly over THB1000/USD30.
Other destinations of interest that can be reached from Chiang Mai include Chiang Rai, Nan or Mae Sot to name a few.
Chiang Rai is around 200 kilometres away and it takes three hours to get there, with buses departing daily every hour for around THB300/USD8. The earliest one leaves at 7am and the last one at 6pm. There are several operators serving the route – check Greenbus for instance.
The other worth visiting destination is Nan, a town 320 kilometres east, sometimes referred to as ‘a smaller version of Chiang Mai’. There are numerous buses during the day, all taking about 5 and a half hours to get to Nan following quite a serpentine road. Tickets cost between 350THB/USD10 and THB450/USD13.
To get to Mae Sot followed by crossing the border to Myanmar at Myawaddy, there are daily buses (THB300-THB400) which travel the 350 km distance in 6 hours. There are also direct flights available for this route.
Finally, you can use buses, trains or planes to get from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Flying is probably most sensible way to travel as with a number of low-cost operators serving the route you are never too short of choices with prices sometimes starting from as low as THB800.
Recently a new train was introduced to serve this route what actually increased dramatically the level of rail travel between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Expect to pay between THB600 and THB1200 for a berth. Note that trains bring you right in the centre of Bangkok what may prove handy.
As always, buses remain a reliable and most budget-friendly way to travel between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, too (from THB500, 11–12 hours).