Transportation - Get In
Chiang Mai International Airport handles both domestic and regional international flights. The route from Bangkok is one of the busiest in the country (Thai Airways flies daily almost every hour, with additional flights in the peak tourist season). Other airlines operating direct services from/to Chiang Mai include:
- Air Asia. A well-known Asian low-cost airline, has domestic flights from/to Bangkok (Don Mueang airport), Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai. Used to be the cheapest option if you booked at least a week before, but now it's true only during the best promotional offers (typically available months before the flight). Regular fare for tickets to Bangkok, including taxes, is from 1,400 baht (with fees for luggage, food, seat reservation easily adding almost half of that). Promotional fares can be much less. Prices can be significantly higher if you book just a few days before, or want a specific day/flight.
- Bangkok Airways. A full-service carrier positioning itself as an "Asia's boutique airline", flies to from/to Ko Samui, Bangkok(Suvarnabhumi), Krabi, Phuket and Udon Thani. Surprisingly, Bangkok Airways can be cheaper than the budget airlines, particularly if you book just a few days ahead. from 1,390 baht to Bangkok.
- Kan Air. Kan Air flies to and from Chiang Mai to Khon Kaen, Pai, Nan, Mae Hong Son, Hua Hin and Phitsanulok.
- Nok Air. Thai (semi-) low-cost carrier, flies from/to Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport more than ten times a day (typically from 1,500 baht. Promo fares can be as low as 800-900 baht). They also fly from/to Udon Thani once a day, the price is 1,000-2,000 baht (2014) and while it's still more expensive than a bus, it's much cheaper than the price of the Lao Airlines flight to Vientiane, which is easily accessible from Udon Thani.
- Thai Lion Air. A subsidiary of the leading Indonesian low-cost carrier, Lion Air, started operations in Thailand in December 2013, and offers attractive fares to Bangkok Don Mueang airport (starting from 820 baht, including snacks and 15 kg check-in baggage) with several flights a day and numerous onward destinations available from Bangkok.
- Thai Airways. Flies from/to Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) (from 2,500 baht, but sometimes there are "Special offers" as low as 1,500 baht) and Phuket. In addition, flights to nearby destinations like Nan or Mae Hong Son, while currently not offered, were available seasonally in the past.
- Air Asia flies from/to Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur andMacau.
- Bangkok Airways flies from/to Mandalay, Siem Reap, Singapore and Yangon.
- Cathay Pacific - from/to Hong Kong.
- HK Express - from/to Hong Kong.
- China Airlines - from/to Taipei, Taiwan
- China Eastern Airlines from/to Kunming, Yunnan Province, China
- Korean Airlines - Four flights weekly from Seoul/Inchon
- Lao Airlines - from/to Luang Prabang in (Laos), from there the flight continues onward to Vientiane
- Silk Air - from/to Singapore
- Thai Airways - doesn't have direct international flights, but has many connections via Bangkok; if you arrive to/depart from Thailand on their flight, it's wise to check the through fare to/from Chiang Mai, as it often will cost just several hundred baht more (yet slightly more if stopping over in Bangkok for a few days or departing from another airport).
- V Air - from/to Taipei
The airport is three km southwest of the city centre, only 10–15 minutes away by car. Legal airport taxis charge a flat 120 baht for up to five passengers anywhere in the city. If you take a metered taxi, the fee will start from 40 baht plus a 50 baht service fee from the Meter Taxi counter. The taxis operate from the exit at the north end of the terminal, after baggage claim and/or customs, walk into the reception hall and turn left. As of July 2015, the airport finally has a shuttle minibus service available, offering drop-off to any hotel in the city for a flat fee of 40 baht - perfect if you're arriving alone and don't mind waiting 5-10 minutes for a few fellow passengers. Alternatively, take Bus 4 to the city centre for 15 baht, or charter a tuk-tuk or songthaew for 50-60 baht per person. Most hotels and some upmarket guest houses offer cheap or free pick-up/drop-off services.
If you're flying out from Chiang Mai, note that there are no ATM or money changing facilities at the international departure terminal of the airport.
Chiang Mai has two official bus stations, consisting of four bus terminals:
- Arcade Bus Station (Terminals 2 and 3 plus the Nakhonchai Air Terminal) (สถานีขนส่งอาเขตเชียงใหม่) (At the far end of Kaeo Nawarat Rd just before it meets the superhighway), . Buses from and to destinations outside Chiang Mai Province use this station. It has two official terminals, separated by a tuk-tuk stand and a road and tank trap-like obstacles. The private bus company,Nakhonchai Air, has a separate terminal behind Terminal 2.
- The Arcade Bus "Station" is a mess, with no obvious order to the layout. There are ticket offices in both terminals. Further complicating the confusion, behind Terminal 2, Nakhonchai Air has a separate terminal. If walk from the front to the rear of the Terminal 2 building, you will see a big "Nakhonchai Air" sign. Keep walking, and cross the parking lot to the rear, you will come upon it. The terminal itself is normally hidden from view by out-of-service buses.
- Terminal 2 has a tourist police office, ATMs, food vendors, and many ticket sellers, including the booking office for BKS government buses. Buses depart from here for Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Udon. There seems to be no logic as to what buses go to which destination from which terminal and there is a good deal of overlap.
- Terminal 3 is the larger and newer of the two. It has an air conditioned waiting room with Internet cafe upstairs, small food vendors, ATMs, the booking window for Green Bus (Window 20), and numerous other ticket sellers. Buses for Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Ubon, Korat, Nan, Hua Hin, Luang Prabang, Mae Sot depart from here.
- Chang Phuak Bus Station (Terminal 1) (Off Chang Phuak Rd, on the north side of the moat, about 1 km north of Chang Phuak Gate), . This station handles buses within Chiang Mai Province including Mae Rim, Chiang Dao, Fang, Tha Ton, Phrao, Hot, Chom Thong, Doi Tao, and Samoeng.
In effect, there is a fifth bus terminal if you count songthaews as buses. From the Warorot Market, songthaews depart for a variety of locations within a radius of about 50 km, such as Samoeng. The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common are red songthaews (hence the alternative name of rot daeng, or "red car", which roam the main streets in the city. Warorot Market (west bank of the Ping River) is the most common terminus for songthaews that travel along fixed routes. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban town of San Kampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim and Samoeng in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo to the northeast. The songthaews line up along the road that is parallel the Ping River, between it and the market. Destinations are posted on round, yellow signs but are only in Thai.
A variety of daily buses leave frequently from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit), offering varying choices of price, comfort and speed.
- Rattling government buses make frequent stops at every minor township. The journey takes around 12 hr and costs 200 baht.
- Non-stop 24/32-seaters and 1st class buses such as Nakhonchai Air provide larger seats and snacks; making the long trip more comfortable. They manage the trip in around 9 hours and it costs around 550 baht. Be cautious about the so-called "VIP" buses touted on Khao San Rd. They may be cheaper, but you may end up crammed into a 2nd class bus or worse.
At Arcade Bus Station, where you'll arrive, public songthaews wait nearer Terminal 3, adjacent to the road that bisects the two terminals. Look for local people getting into them, and ask the driver if he goes to your destination (if the songthaew is empty, don't forget to confirm the price). A shared trip to Tha Phae Gate (south edge of the old town) should cost 20 baht each, though you may have to wait for a driver who agrees. Virtually all songthaews will pass Warorot Market (city centre, just after crossing the river), from where it's just 1 km walk to Tha Phae Gate, or numerous (see "Get around" section) songthaews to other areas.
Alternatively, you can charter a songthaew or take a tuk-tuk. The drivers will approach you once you've arrived and will ask as much as 100-200 baht to the city centre/Tha Phae Gate, showing you a bogus price list with "fixed" prices. Bargain, it's just 5–6 km, so the fair price for tuk-tuk there is 50-60 baht, and is not more than 100-120 baht even to the opposite side of the city. It may be difficult to bargain with these drivers, however. A good idea is to ignore them from the start, walk out to the nearby street, and catch a passing tuk-tuk/songthaew there. If your luggage is light, you can walk to the centre, but it's quite a long walk, as the Arcade bus station is located in the city's northeast outskirts.
Songthaew touts may ask foreign tourists for 150 baht per person for a shared ride into the city, but this is excessive and they should drop to 100 baht if challenged. Similar prices are demanded by tuk-tuk drivers.
The best policy is to walk to the main street and catch a tuk-tuk for perhaps 60-70 baht (total), or a songthaew for 20-30 baht per person. You will have to haggle for either.
From Hua Hin
Buses depart the Hua Hin BKS Station at 08:00, 17:00, and 18:00 for Chiang Mai, 12.5 hr, 851 baht (Oct 2013).
Buses depart the Nakhonchai Air Terminal in Pattaya (Sukhumvit Rd, ~60 baht motorbike taxi fare from Beach Rd) for Chiang Mai several times during the day. Last bus about 21:00. Fare is 785 baht (Nov 2013). Travel time is about 11 hr, with no stops longer than 5 min. Buses to Pattaya from Chiang Mai leave the Nakhonchai Air Terminal at Arcade Station daily on roughly the same schedule.
There is at least one daily direct Green Bus service from Phuket Terminal 2 to Chiang Mai's Arcade Terminal 3. This VIP-only service departs Phuket at 15:00 arriving in Chiang Mai the next day at 13:00. Cost is 1,912 baht (Dec 2013). This trip is a killer: 22 hours on the bus! The first break en route is at 20:20. The second is at 06:38, some 10+ hr after the first break. Although the bus is a state-of-the-art Sunlong vehicle and the seats great, this is simply a long time to be on a bus. Probably better to break up your trip by stopping in a city en route.
To/From Udon Thani
From Udon to Chiang Mai: Phetprasert Bus Company has three buses a day depart from in front of the Central Festival Shopping Mall. Depart Udon/arrive Chiang Mai times are: 17:45-05:25; 18:45-06:25; and 20:45-06:40. Fare is about 636 baht (Apr 2015). Buy your ticket at the Phetprasert ticket counter in the downtown bus station, a 5 min walk from Central Festival. There is an inconvenient out-of-town bus terminal that may have more buses to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai to Udon: Phetprasert Buses leave Chiang Mai/arrive Udon at: 14:30-02:15; 17:30-05:15; and 19:30-05:30. Buses arrive at the Central Festival Shopping Mall, a convenient location 5 minutes from the downtown bus station. Fare is about 636 baht (Apr 2015). Buy your ticket at the Phetprasert ticket counter in Arcade Terminal 2. Buses depart from Arcade Terminal 3.
Services from Bangkok leave on a regular daily schedule and take 12–15 hours to reach Chiang Mai. If you go by night train (recommended), try to choose one which arrives late to get an opportunity to see the landscapes. They are impressive, with bridges and forests and villages and fields.
Daytime services leave at 08:30, and 14:30 with second-class (281 baht) and third-class (121 baht) carriages. The seats in each class differ in softness and width, and can become uncomfortable after 10+ hours.
Overnight sleepers provide comfortable bunks with clean sheets and pillows in first- and second-class. First-class beds (~1,400 baht) are in private two-bed compartments. In second-class (~900 baht), the carriages are open but each bunk has a curtain for privacy. First-class is always air-con, second class is sometimes air-con. There are usually four trains per day with sleeper accommodation, though only two of these will have first-class compartments. Station staff will be able to help you.
Carriages are kept clean; the toilet and floors are regularly mopped during the journey. Vendors make regular rounds selling snacks, drinks, and lacklustre meals. Vendors will try to inflate the prices for tourists so be prepared to get ripped off, haggle, hop off quickly at stations to make a purchase (or order through the window), or bring your own.
In second-class, the bunks are folded away leaving pairs of facing seats. At some point in the evening, or on request, they are flipped down into bunks and made up into beds. In first-class, the bottom bunk is used as a bench seat before having a futon mattress deployed onto it in the evening.
If you're not in the mood for bed when your carriage mates are bedding down, you can head off to the dining car, which provides fairly good food and drink at not too great a premium. Later in the night, the dining car can be converted into a disco, complete with loud music and flashing lights.
Tickets can be bought up to 60 days in advance at any station in Thailand. Booking in advance is advised, especially for the popular 2nd-class overnight sleepers. Larger stations accept payment with Visa/MasterCard. This is fairly safe, as SRT is a state-owned company. Alternatively, if you are not yet in Thailand, the e-ticketing SRT website will let you buy and print out an e-ticket. Note, The State Railway of Thailand discontinued the Internet Ticketing service from 14 Jan 2013. Some find it tricky to register. You have to avoid any special characters while filling the registration form. You must book at least three days in advance, and you can only purchase 1st and 2nd class air-con sleeper tickets which are 150-200 baht more expensive than fan-only car tickets. The price on-line is thr same as at the ticket office. Various travel agencies, some available to contact from outside Thailand, can also procure tickets for delivery or pick up, with fees typically starting at 100 baht.
SRT charges 90 baht to transport a bicycle between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai train station is about 3 km east of the city centre. Many songthaews and tuk-tuks await each train's arrival. If you want to walk, exit the station, cross the open square in front and turn left on the first major road you come to (Charoen Muang Rd); this road goes directly to city centre.
Transportation - Get Around
In lieu of a local bus service, locals get around the city on songthaew(สองแถว). These covered pick-up trucks have two long bench seats in the back (songthaew means "two rows" in Thai, and travel fixed routes picking up passengers en route who are going the same way.
The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common by far are redsongthaews (called rot daeng, red truck), which don't follow a specific route and roam the main streets around markets, temples, or the bus/train stations. These are the most convenient to take if you are going somewhere specific. Prices must be negotiated, but expect 20 baht anywhere within the city walls and 40-60 outside. During peak season these prices can double to 40 baht within the city walls and up to 200 baht outside. Because of the city's somewhat irrational road design, especially inside the old walls, the driver may be forced to take a circuitous route to get to a nearby destination, but it will make no difference to the fare.
Fixed route songthaews congregate around Warorot Market. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim and beyond in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the north-east. Fare is dependent on distance: a yellow songthaew to Samoeng (~50 km) is 60 baht.
From the Chiang Mai Gate Market (south edge of moat), songthaews also travel to Hang Dong (20 baht) and San Patong, southwest of Chiang Mai.
To catch a songthaew approach a waiting driver or flag one down on the street, state your destination and if the driver is going that direction he will nod in agreement and give you a price. Negotiate a lower fare if you wish. The price agreed to should be per person. It's a good idea to confirm this with the driver before you leave. On reaching your destination, ring the buzzer on the roof to tell the driver to stop. The driver will pull over, wait for you to get out and pay.
Songthaews not orbiting on a fixed-route can be hired outright, just as if they were a meter-taxi. Negotiate a price before departure.
By tuk-tuk or samlor
Tuk-tuks are a quick, though noisy way to get around. Fares are usually 30-40 baht for a short hop (as of July 2012 it seems that the minimum has gone up to 40 baht for pre-arranged locations) and 50-100 baht for longer distances, depending on the proficiency of your bargaining. As a guide, expect to pay 40 baht from the old city to the riverside and Night Bazaar, 40-50 baht to the railway station, and 80-150 baht to the bus station or airport. Tuk-tuks parked near the bus and train stations will ask you for something like 120-150 baht. Just haggle or walk away to the nearest road and stop a passing tuk-tuk or songthaew there. A good rule of thumb is that unfair drivers will seek you out, but you have seek out the drivers who will give you a fair price.
According to expats, the highest fee for a tuk-tuk at any time of day or night should be 150 baht for any location in the city.
The fee seems to be based on multiples of 20 baht which is the smallest note. It is a good idea to stock up on notes and coins as whenever you offer a note higher than the agreed fee the driver has no change.
A few samlors (three-wheeled bicycles) still cruise the streets and will happily take you to a temple for the same price as a tuk-tuk, though at a considerably quieter and slower pace.
Chiang Mai has metered taxis, although not as many as tuk-tuks and songthaews. The "flag fall" is 50 baht for the first 2 km. Then 10 baht per kilometre after that. Journeys longer than 12 km can be negotiated. This fare structure applies to all metered taxis in Chiang Mai Province.
You cannot generally hail taxis in the street. To book a taxi, call +66 53-279291, state your destination and the call centre will give you a quote. Or contact individual drivers via the mobile phone numbers displayed on their vehicles.
By motorbike or motorcycle
A motorbike is a convenient and cheap way to get around the city or reach the outlying sights. There is an abundance of near indistinguishable rental companies in the city, though most guesthouses can arrange rentals as well. 100 cc and 125 cc machines with automatic transmissions capable of carrying two people are the easiest to jump on and ride away if you don't have driving experience. A scooter or moped, such as the Honda Click, is the most convenient as it can carry bags on the floorboard. Off-road bikes and larger street bikes are also an option. An international driver's licence is not required, and generally no licence of any type is required although this means you will not be insured.
Motorbikes cost about 150 baht/day for a 100 cc motorbike and 150+ baht/day for a Honda Click 125 supplied with helmets and an anti-theft chain. Larger machines cost 700 baht/day for a V-twin or larger sport-bike. Expect discounts when renting for a week, month or longer.
Renting will require a deposit, and while many companies ask for a passport, you should under no circumstances leave your passport with anyone as collateral. However, most shops will accept a photocopy with a cash deposit of around 3,000-5,000 baht. While the petrol/gas tank may be full on pickup, it is not uncommon for shops to deliver a bike with just enough fuel to go make it to a service station. They may siphon the remainder off when you return it so the next person is forced to do the same. In any case, return the bike with as much or more fuel than received to avoid any penalties. Also check the mechanical condition of the bike offered. Focus especially on the brakes: the degree of "pull" needed for the brake levers and the travel required by the foot brake. Check that turn indicators and headlights work properly, and that the tyres are reasonably OK.
Some rental agreements claim to insure you, but generally only cover the bike for theft or damage. Don't expect much compensation in the event of an accident. And irrespective of who is at fault, assume that you will be the one blamed.
Chiang Mai traffic police are fond of setting up checkpoints to stop motorcyclists. These invariably happen during business hours, Monday-Friday. They occur at two places, on the moat circular roads, usually just after a turn, and at the foot of Tha Phae Rd near west side of the Nawarat Bridge. If you or your passenger are without a helmet, you will be stopped. If you do have a helmet, you may be stopped anyway, to check licence and registration. If fined, you have to go to the police station near Warorot Market to collect your confiscated licence plus pay a fine of several hundred baht.
Traffic inside the old city walls is subdued enough to make biking a safe and quick way to get around. Bike rentals are plentiful; rental costs 30-250 baht/day depending on the bike quality.
Car hire services are available at the airport and throughout the city. Cars typically offered include the Toyota Vios, Altis, and Yaris, and the Honda City and Jazz. Typical rates for newer models are 1,200-2,000 baht per day. Expect a slight discount when renting weekly. Utility pickups such as the Ford Ranger are available for about 1,400 baht per day. Many places offer minivans such as 10-seat Toyota Commuters with a driver from about 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Older Suzuki Caribbean 4WDs are a cheaper option at around 600-800 baht per day, but they are relatively difficult to drive and less mechanically reliable than a standard passenger car.
All the multi-national rental companies are present in Chiang Mai. Two local car rental companies:
- Thai Rent-a-Car, 60 Airport Rd. 1st Floor Domestic Arrival Hall (Exit 1) (Chiang Mai Airport), .
Hiring a car or minivan with driver is a great option for travelling to places outside the city, and the price is often similar to hiring a car and driving yourself. You'll also be able to relax and enjoy the scenery in air-conditioned comfort. The cost for a private car with driver is generally from 1,500 baht per day plus fuel depending on the type of vehicle and where you are going. The driver will typically pick you up with a full tank of fuel and you pay at the end. Large Toyota Hi-Ace, Nissan Urvan and newer Toyota Commuter minivans go for around 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Most hotels and some guesthouses can arrange it for you, in addition to vehicle rental outlets, and the many travel agencies in the city.
The old city moat is only about 1.6 km on a side, and as such is easy to walk around. The airport is also quite close to the old part of the city, about 2.5 km, so if you have the energy and an hour to spare, you can even walk to and from the airport. Note that this is not necessarily a pleasant experience as the sidewalks are uneven (or non-existent) and Chiang Mai gets hot during the day, especially during the hot season, and rainy during the rainy season. The cost of a taxi or songthaew from the moat area to the airport is around 150 baht.