Chiang Mai is a charming city famous for its temples and chilled climate. Sitting high in the mountains Chiang Mai is the gateway to some of the most beautiful areas of natural beauty Thailand has to offer. The city is surrounded by mountains, beautiful lakes and places that should be the highlight of any trip to Thailand. Many visitors to Thailand do see Bangkok and Phuket but only smaller numbers venture to the north of the country – what is a real shame. Chiang Mai international airport makes the city it one of the most accessible destinations in Thailand. You can also choose to take the scenic route and travel overland what will allow you to see some of the most scenic landscapes Thailand has to offer.
Flights from Phuket to Chiang Mai
The quickest and most time-effective option to get from Phuket to Chiang Mai is to fly. Air Asia offer three daily flights – in the morning at 10.35am (arriving at 12.40pm), in the afternoon at 2.10pm (4.05pm) and in the evening at 8.15pm (10.15pm). Tickets prices start at THB1,200 if you buy well in advance.
Tip The last flight of the day often offers the best airfare though schedule-wise it can be a bit inconvenient arriving to Chiang Mai quite late at night.
Bangkok Airways have one daily flight departing at 11.10am arriving at 1.15pm (THB2,000). Thai Smile also has one flight each day at 12.25pm arriving at 2.35pm, tickets start at THB2,600. Phuket airport is easily accessible from Phuket town by recently introduced airport buses (THB200).
You can also fly by connecting flights with a stopover in Bangkok – it some cases such flights can even cost you less than the direct one as with a great choice of departures between Phuket and Bangkok and Bangkok and Phuket you have much more flexibility. Prices for the complete journey start at THB1,400. You can expect the entire journey to take between four and eight hours, depending on airport transfer times.
Tip While connecting via Bangkok, choose airlines operating from the same airport, i.e. from either Don Mueang or Suvarnabhumi. Though there is a free shuttle bus between the two which takes approximately one hour, you are safer if you do not need to rely on it.
From Phuket to Chiang Mai by bus
Travelling overland between Phuket and Chiang Mai steals your time but allows you to take in the beautiful scenery en route. There is a direct bus service between Phuket Bus Terminal and Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. This journey is 24 hours long – well, yes, it does sound scary. However, the 24 seat VIP bus service does offer first class airline-style seating, with personal entertainment system and stewardess service. Buses depart daily at 12.30am and arrive to Chiang Mai by 12pm the next day. Tickets cost THB1,600. The service is operated by Green Bus and tickets can be booked online.
If the direct service is full or you just want to split your journey into two legs, travel via Bangkok. The journey time to Bangkok is approximately 12 hours. There are express, VIP and VIP24 buses plying the route, so you can choose basing on your budget and desired level on comfort.
Bus Express have ordinary express buses departing at 6.30am, 1.30pm and 3.00pm. This is the cheapest of the available classes (THB600) but still acceptable if you are ok with a bit tight seating. They also have one VIP24 bus departing at 5.00pm, with tickets costing THB1000.
Phuket Central Tour have express bus departing at 3.30pm (THB600) plus VIP and VIP24 services departing at 6.00pm and 6.20pm, tickets are THB750-THB1000.
Phuket Travel also have express (THB600) services at 4.30pm and 6.30pm and VIP24 buses at 5.20pm and 7.00pm (THB1000).
The majority of buses from Phuket arrive to Bangkok’s Sai Tai Mai Bus Terminal located on the Western bank on the Chao Phraya River, but some companies do proceed further to Morchit Bus Terminal in the north – check it before departure from Phuket. It can be more convenient to arrive to Morchit bus terminal if you are not planning to stopover in Bangkok for a day or two but to proceed with your journey to Chiang Mai immediately as buses to Chiang Mai depart from Morchit.
Tip If you need to transfer from Sai Tai mai to the Northern Bus Terminal Morchit, use city buses 28, 159 and 170.
There is a great choice of bus departures from Bangkok to Chiang Mai literally any hour of the day. Ther route is served by a number of companies offering different level of comfort – and prices.
Standard (express) class services cost from THB500 and VIP24 should be somewhere around THB1000.
Among the variety of the operators, Bangkok Busline is one of the companies enjoying great reviews from travellers. They have cheaper express buses (THB550) in the morning (6am) and in the evening (6.50pm and 8.35pm) plus a slightly more expensive VIP bus at 4pm (THB650).
Nakhonchai Air is one of the largest and most reputable bus companies in the whole country also have buses plying the route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Their highest class is called ‘Golden class’. Check New Viriyayanyont Tour, Lignite Bus or Siam Tour among the others for more options. Among these three, Siam Tour probably has more positive reviews. Price-wise they are all within the same THB650-THB750 range.
Note Though there seem to be an endless choice of bus departures from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, it is next to impossible to get the ticket for the same day during Songkran, New Year and start and end of Buddhist Lent periods. Do book at least 3-5 days in advance.
From Phuket to Chiang Mai by bus and train
No direct rail line between Phuket and Chiang Mai – alas! Well, to be more exact, Phuket is not served by rail at all. You still can travel the major part of the distance between Phuket and Chiang Mai by train, but such a trip involves traveling from Phuket to Surat Thani by bus firs.
There are minivans from Phuket town to Surat departing hourly between 8.00am and 6.00pm and costing THB200. The journey takes 3-4 hours. There are also air-conditioned buses costing THB170 departing at 7.00am, 7.30am 9.00am, 9.30am, 11.00am, 1.00pm, 3.00pm, 7.00pm. There are also local buses without air-conditioning leaving at 4.45am, 5.30am, 7.00am, 8.20am, 9.40am, 11.00am 12.20pm, 1.50pm. These ones cost THB100 and travel slower. Ticket for all buses can be purchased at Phuket Bus Terminal.
On arriving in Surat Thani, the bus will leave you at Talad Kaset 2. You will need to cross the road to Talad Kaset 1 and take the bright orange bus to the train station. The train station sits 15 km from Surat Thani proper, in the town of Phun Phin. Bus tickets cost THB15 or you can take a taxi at THB200.
There are 10 daily trains travelling north from Surat Thani to Bangkok. The journey time to Bangkok is 10–12 hours. Trains depart at 10.40am, 4.47pm. 5.38pm, 6.37pm, 8.14pm, 8.41pm, 9.04pm, 9.26pm, 11.28pm and 11.57pm. Tickets cost between THB500 and THB1500 depending on the type of the seat/berth you wish to buy. In Bangkok, all trains arrive and depart from Bangkok Hua Lamphong Train Station conveniently located in the centre of the city. From there you can just change for a train to Chiang Mai or take a break and spend a day or two in the capital before heading north to your final destination.
Trains for Chiang Mai depart daily at 8.30am, 1.35pm, 6.10pm, 7.35pm and 10.00pm. The journey takes approximately 12 hours. Recently brand-new carriages have been put to serve this route and the train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is now even comfier than before. Tickets cost from THB800 and up for a berth; if you need a plusher 2-pax compartment, expect to pay about THB1500. The railway station in Chiang Mai is located just 2 km away from the Old Town. Walk or take a taxi – it should not cost you more than THB100.
Why travel to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai makes a stunning change to the over-touristy pictures of Phuket. It is a vibrant but relaxed city, famous for its temples and chilled out way of life. Chiang Mai has much more to offer than just your ordinary city experience.
Doi Suthep and Doi Saket mountains stand on guard of the city of Chiang Mai. They offer stunning views over the city and the surrounding countryside. Both are easily reached from the city, too. Head to the main city market in China Town and to the riverfront front where you can take the local songthaew to either mountain for THB20. The yellow bus goes to Doi Saket and the white bus goes to Doi Suthep. Buses run from 5.00am until 6.00pm.
Venture a little further afield from Chiang Mai to discover the hidden mountain hippie town of Pai. This small, but so appealing bohemian hangout is busy with tourists of all feather but still retains its original charm. You can reach Pai by bus or by plane.
Green Bus has daily services connecting Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station and Pai. The journey takes a little under 4 hours with a break at a very nice hillside restaurant along the way. Tickets cost THB195 and buses depart every hour between 6.30am and 5.30pm.
If you want to arrive in style and take in the bird's eye view, you can fly from Chiang Mai to Pai with Kan Air. The flight takes about 30 minutes and you will have a chance to experience the trip in a tiny propeller driven aircraft. Tickets cost approximately THB4,000, departure time is 10.25am.
Another popular destination from Chiang Mai is the neighbouring city of Chiang Rai. Green bus offers daily services and brings you there in just under 4 hours. There are standard class buses departing daily at 7.00am, 8.30am, 9.00am, 9.30am, 11.00pm, 11.30pm, 1.15pm, 2.15pm,. 2.45pm, 3.00pm, 5.00pm and 5.30pm. Tickets cost THB130. There are also VIP buses departing at 8.15am, 2.15am, 2.45pm, and 6.00pm. Tickets cost THN170.
From Chiang Mai Arcade bus station you can get to virtually any place in Northern and North Eastern Thailand. Buses also travel south to Bangkok and beyond.
From Chiang Mai train station you can travel southwards and get as far as Malaysia and Singapore – though you’ll need to change trains several times – in Bangkok, Padang Besar and eventually in Kuala Lumpur and Gemas.