Chiang Mai is the sort of place you visit for a few days and leave some years later. This is a popular tourist destination whatever time of year you visit. The journey from Yangon to Chiang Mai can be long or short. Direct flights take as little as 90 minutes. Adventure seekers can take a longer overland route and experience beautiful nature and encounter local people and have glimpses of local everyday life along the way.
Note Before traveling to Thailand it is important to understand the visa requirements. Thailand has perhaps one of the most straightforward visa systems in Southeast Asia. The majority of the nationalities will get a 30-day stamp on arrival in Thailand – either by land or air. It is free of charge and involves nothing more than a little queuing at immigration. If you plan to stay beyond 30 days you can apply for a 60-day tourist visa at the Thai embassy in your country or in one of the neighbouring countries. There is the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon, too.
Flights from Yangon to Chiang Mai
If you want to fly to Chiang Mai direct, there is one daily flight connecting the two cities operated by Bangkok Airways. It departs from Yangon at 1.10pm and arrives to Chiang Mai at 3.05pm. Tickets start at MMK230,000/USD170 and can be booked with Bangkok Airways. Myanmar National Airlines also have a direct service twice a week on Monday and Friday departing at 4.55pm and arriving at 6.25pm. Tickets start from MMK150,000/USD100.
For indirect flights, there are more than 15 flights a day connecting travellers with Bangkok, where you will find over two dozens of flights to Chiang Mai. Prices start from MMK100,000/USD75 for the whole journey. You can expect the journey to take between 4 and 8 hours depending on connection times in Bangkok.
From Yangon to Chiang Mai overland
If you appreciate adventure more than speed and efficiency, there are three overland routes you can follow to get from Yangon to Chiang Mai. However, one route will involve a domestic flight within Myanmar. This is because a large section of the country is still out of reach for foreigners who want to travel overland.
From Yangon to Chiang Mai via Tachileik/Mae Sai
Tachileik is a small border town in Myanmar with its counterpart Mae Sai sitting on the Thai side of the border. In theory you can travel all way to Tachileik by land: from Yangon to Inle Lake and from Inle Lake to Tachileik via Kengtung. But is practice, the part from Inle Lake to Kengtung and vice versa is closed for foreigners travelling alone but in certain cases foreigners can hire an official guide at Inle Lake area or in Kengtung and cover this part by land. Note that it is definitely not cost-effective way and it is not always possible to do it even with a guide as restrictions do change depending on the current situation in the region.
The majority of flights from Yangon to either Keng Tung or Tachileik involve a connection in Heho or Mandalay. Golden Myanmar Airlines have flights every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday departing at 7am and arriving at 10.45am. Tickets start from MMK220,000/USD160. Myanmar National Airlines have services every Thursday at noon, arriving at 2.45pm plus every Saturday (10am–1.40pm), tickets cost more or less the same – MMK212,000/USD155. Mann Yadanarpon Airlines operate one flight every day except Sunday (10.30am–1.50pm).
Yangon Airways normally fly direct, departing daily at 11am, but this airline does not have any online booking facility. Tickets can be purchased through travel agents in Yangon only with airfare starting from about MMK180,000/USD130.
The border crossing into Thailand is relatively stress-free, but do not that it closes at 6pm. Once at the other side of the border you will find yourself in the small town of Mae Sai. If you are at the border around the time of closure, note that it is better to spend the night on the Thai side, though Tachileik does offer some lodging, too, but often at a slightly higher rates.
From Mae Sai, you can travel directly to Chiang Mai by Green Bus. The journey takes just about 4 hours. VIP buses depart daily at 6.15am, 7.30am, 8.15am, 9.45am, 2.00pm, 3.30pm and 6pm. The cost is THB400/USD12. There is one express bus leaving at 2pm – it costs THB260/USD8. Tickets can be purchased from the small bus stand in Mae Sai or online.
From Yangon to Chiang Mai via Myawaddy/Mae Sot
If you want to avoid Myanmar's costly and complicated flight schedules, you can complete the entire journey from Yangon to Chiang Mai overland crossing the border at Myawaddy–Mae Sot border crossing.
From Yangon, you will need to take a bus to the border town of Maywaddy. There is a VIP night bus departing each day at 9pm and arriving iton Maywaddy at 8am. Tickets cost MMK12,000/USD9 and can be purchased through travel agents or at Yangon Highway Bus Station.
Cross the border and get to the Thai town of Mae Sot. You will need to take a tuk-tuk to the bus stand – it will cost you about THB100/USD3. From there you can take a direct bus to Chiang Mai. Green Bus has several daily services, the first one departing at 6.15 am plus one departing at 10am – you should be able to catch the latter one if you arrive to Myawaddy by the direct bus from Yangon and cross the border without delay. Bus tickets cost THB400/USD12 and can be booked online. Advance bookings are recommended as buses do fill quickly, especially during peak season.
Tip If you miss the 10am bus, you can take a bus or a van to the city of Tak. This 90-minute, 70 km journey costs THB90/USD3. From Tak, there are regular buses that will take you up to Chiang Mai.
From Chiang Mai to Yangon via Htee Kee/Phu Nam Ron
One more option for the land travel from Yangon to Chiang Mai and possibly the most interesting is traveling through Dawei and entering Thailand at the Htee Kee–Phu Nam Ron border crossing. This will give you the opportunity to see some amazing countryside and spend a day or two in the picturesque town of Dawei.
You can reach Dawei by bus, train or plain. There is a VIP night bus from Yangon which departs at 2pm and arrives to Dawei at 5am. Tickets should cost MMK20,500USD15 and can be purchased from travel agents in Yangon or at the High Way Bus Station directly.
There is one daily train leaving Yangon at 6.25pm and arriving to Dawei at 7pm the next day. Tickets cost from MMK16,300/USD12 for a seat to 26,000MMK?USD20 for a sleeper. The journey is 24 hours long and you will travel through parts of Myanmar that have only recently been opened to tourists.
You can also fly to Dawei with Myanmar International Airways. They have a daily service at 11.30am arriving at 12.15pm. Tickets start at MMK146,000/USD110. Air KBZ has a direct service on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday leaving at noon and arriving at 1.10pm. Tickets cost MMK113,000/USD85.
Dawei has a beautiful 4 km stretch of beach and the place where you can try traditional boat rides. The town is full of interesting architecture. You will find nice restaurants along the beach and delicious freshly caught seafood. When you decide you have had enough of it, the border crossing to Thailand is some 5 hours away.
You will need to take a minivan from the small bus stand in Dawei proper, not the larger bus station which is located out of town. The minivan costs MMK25,000/USD18 and leaves at 8am. Ask the minivan driver to take you to the Thai border – sometimes they charge extra MMK3,500/USD3, but it is well worth to pay extra as the two borders are separated by 4 km of barren "no mans" land.
After crossing the border to Thailand, you will find yourself in a small town of Phu Nam Ron from where you can take the 2.00pm or 2.30pm minivan to Kanchanaburi. The cost is THB80/USD2.5 and the journey takes just about 1 hour.
Minivans will bring you to Kanchanaburi bus station. From there you will find regular minivans traveling to various destinations within the country, Bangkok included. The ride costs THB130/USD4 and vans leave hourly. Choose the minivan heading to Morchit Bus Terminal (e.g. Kwan Chee Vee Tour) as regular VIP buses to Chiang Mai leave from the same bus terminal.
From Bangkok, there are three options to complete your journey to Chiang Mai. There are buses leaving from Morchit bus station virtually every hour, with a number of VIP night buses also available. Bus tickets cost from THB450/USD14 and up depending on the class of the bus and the journey takes about 12 hours.
If you are a railroad travel buff, then head straight to Hua Lamphong train station and take a sleeper to Chiang Mai. With new modern carriages recently added to the network, it is not a bad idea. The journey takes 12 hours and sleeper berths cost from THB600/USD18 (sleeper fan) and up. Trains depart daily at 8.30am 12.45pm, 6pm, 6.10pm (recommended), 7.35pm and 8pm. Advanced bookings are advised as trains do get full, especially during tourist season.
You can also fly to Chiang Mai from any of the two Bangkok airports with the cheapest deals offered by low-cost airlines based in Don Mueang airport. There are numerous flights any time of the day and advanced tickets start at THB800/USD24.
When you reach Chiang Mai you will find one of the most culturally interesting and relaxed cities in Thailand. Chiang Mai has a fantastic range of accommodation to meet all budgets. Chiang Mai has excellent transport options connecting you will most parts of Thailand and Southeast Asia.