Chiang Mai is a major tourist centre with a good transport infrastructure that includes an international airport, a rail link from Bangkok, and frequent long-distance buses from all over. They connect the city to Northern Thailand destinations, as well as Bangkok, which is a 10-hour drive away. The one-hour flight from the capital is the most comfortable means of arriving, with budget flights serving almost every hour.
This city of 300,000 is easy to get around on foot, by bicycle or moped. The public transport in Chiang Mai comprises mostly of modified pickup trucks (known in Thailand as songthaews), which are cheap and ubiquitous, although it’s more convenient to hail a tuk-tuk (three-wheeler, samlor). A limited bus service runs, but is seldom practical for visitors. The pace of traffic is easy enough to navigate on a rented scooter, which is the most popular choice.
By Air to Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai is a major hub for domestic flights, offering regular service from Bangkok, Phuket, Samui, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, Udon Thani, plus a handful of smaller destinations. International flights arrive regularly from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Yangon, Seoul, Taipei and Kunming.
There are at least 30 flights a day between Chiang Mai and Bangkok on a variety of airlines, including budget carriers and the flag carrier, Thai Airways. Budget carriers include: AirAsia, Nok Air and Bangkok Airways, while the more comfortable Thai Airways can offer competitive prices, too.
Airfares are reasonable and the airport in Chiang Mai is modern, efficient and close to the city centre. Taxis into the town centre are fair and reliable, taking about 15 minutes. There is a counter in Arrivals to arrange this and you’re not going to save much by trying to haggle directly with the drivers. In general, the taxi arrangement in Chiang Mai is far more honest and free of mafia control than other tourist centres.
By Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai:
Getting to Chiang Mai by train is another popular option with budget travellers, though the service is becoming increasingly decrepit and prone to minor accidents. There are five trains a day consisting of differing classes and speeds that depart Bangkok’s Hua Lampong Station. The journey is typically slow due to there only being the one main line (12 hours minimum) so the overnight sleeper ticket is recommended.
By bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai:
Buses depart at least every hour between 05:30 and 22:00 from Mo Chit Station and take roughly 10 hours, with a similar schedule in reverse from Chiang Mai’s Arcade bus terminal. We recommend VIP buses, offered by either the government or private companies. These can also be arranged from travel agents with some departing from Bangkok’s Khao San Road.
By Car from Bangkok to Chiang Mai:
You can also hire a car in Bangkok or elsewhere for getting to Chiang Mai, and drive up at your own leisure, stopping off in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. The countryside is quite pretty as you enter the mountains from Tak or Phitsanulok onwards. With dual-lane highways most of the way, reaching Chiang Mai by car is a straightforward journey of around eight hours.
Driving in Thailand is on the left, roads are in good condition but driving habits are typically poor and accidents common, so drive defensively.