Due to a constant flow of exciting, culturally rich, and enlightening things to do in Chiang Mai, many world travelers who come to Southeast Asia will come to this city at some point in their adventures. If you’re coming to Chiang Mai from Southern Thailand, or one of the surrounding SE Asian nations, there are many options for transport. One can often feel overwhelmed by the varying suggestions from strangers, and backpacker blogs, so here’s a simple breakdown of how to get to Chiang Mai.
Flying is certainly the best way to travel around SE Asia if you’re looking for minimal steps in getting to your destination. Fortunately, flying around the region tends to be extremely affordable. Here are some airlines that offer decent service and great prices:
Probably the most commonly used airline in SE Asia, Air Asia delivers well-priced and comfortable flights all over the region. You can generally find a flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok for 30 – 60 USD, keeping in mind that buying a flight the day before may mean paying more than that. Flying to Thailand from surrounding countries can be cheap as well. I’ve personally flown from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok for 60 USD (add that to a connecting flight to Chiang Mai and you can get to CM from Saigon for under 100 USD). Air Asia is notorious for having flights take off a little late, but the quality of service and comfort is good for the price.
Nok Air is another popular airline among frugal travelers. It’s very similar in quality and price to Air Asia. You can find domestic flights to Chiang Mai for 40 – 80 USD, and international flights for very cheap. Nok Air doesn’t fly to as many places as Air Asia, but they tend to have a lot of special deals going on so pay close attention to their site!
Here’s another airline that’s similar to Air Asia and Nok Air in quality and price, offering flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for well under 100 USD. The down-side to Lion Air is that it only offers flights within Thailand and round-trip from Singapore and Malaysia. While departures from surrounding countries are limited, if you’re coming from the islands or Bangkok, check out Lion Air!
One thing to be aware of is that these budget airlines tend to try and charge you for baggage and other small things, so just pay attention to extra charges when booking. Even still, when looking at flights to Chiang Mai from cities around the region, check all three of these sites to compare, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a great price.
Taking the train is an experience many travelers like to do for the novelty of it. It is certainly a lengthier and maybe less comfortable way to get from point A to point B, but some would suggest doing it for the experience, and the beautiful views. Plus, it’s very cheap.
You can get a train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok for 10 – 50 USD, depending on which class you choose. 3rd class trains aren’t much better than taking a bus, but 2nd class cabins have been praised for their comfort and affordability. Probably the best option (especially during the hot months) is to do an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai. It will take around 12 hours, and you’ll be able to lay back and relax until you reach your destination.
Here are some good sites to use when booking train tickets:
Taking a bus is relatively the cheapest way to travel around Thailand. If you don’t do proper research on the bus companies however, it can be a very uncomfortable and chaotic experience. You can generally always find busses to Chiang Mai by just showing up at Morchit Bus Station in Bangkok. The cost of these busses range from 12 – 25 USD. Taking the overnight VIP bus is the best way to go, because with the right company you will be on a bus with air-con, reclining seats, blanket, and food/drink provided.
One of the best companies is Nakhonchai Air which provides a nice overnight VIP bus experience for 20USD or less!