Located in the North of Thailand, Chiang Mai may not have a sprawling urban center like Bangkok or the idyllic beach and bay areas surrounding Phuket. Still, it has rich culture, majestic mountain ranges and a buzzing cafe and restaurant scene. Chiang Mai transportation, on the other hand, is not as picturesque.
To make your life easier, we’re going to unpack the best ways to travel to and around the city.
Getting to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has the largest international airport in Northern Thailand, with flights arriving from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Macau. A direct flight from Singapore with Scoot takes 3 hours, while a direct flight from Hong Kong with Air Asia takes 2 hours 40 minutes. In addition, the airport is only 2 miles from the Old City—a total bonus.
For travelers already in Thailand, there are daily flights to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, Phuket Krabi, and Koh Samui. It’s a convenient option since the flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is only 1 hour and 10 minutes. It’s 1 hour and 55 minutes from Phuket.
Some people, however, may prefer to take the more scenic and cheaper route, either by bus or train. The bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 9.5-10 hours, and prices start from $13. Bring along some snacks, water and a book while you take in the beautiful views of Thailand.
A trip on the train from Bangkok is slightly longer, taking approximately 13.5 hours. You can, however, book a cabin with a bed, making the journey a lot more comfortable ($30-$47 one way).
Pro tip: For the train and bus, booking your tickets a few days in advance is best to avoid any disappointments. It’s a very popular route.
Transportation in Chiang Mai
Now that you know how to get to this incredible city, it’s time to dive deeper into Chiang Mai transportation within the city.
There are various options for getting around, some of which you may not have heard of before. But hey, that’s part of the fun of traveling!
- Share a Songthaew
Songthaews are the most common mode of Chiang Mai transportation. So, act like a local and hop on. They also happen to be the most cost-effective option.
Essentially, they are colorful converted pickup trucks with two benches in the back holding up to 8 passengers. You hail one down, jump on, and either press the stop button or wave to indicate when you would like to get off.
It’s all a bit of fun and games.
Just be sure to hold on tight as there are no seatbelts. As a general rule of thumb, any trip within the city should be around 30 baht (~$0.89) per person.
- Tuk-Tuk (the iconic motorized Thai taxi)
Another popular Chiang Mai transportation method is the tuk-tuk.
Like songthaews, you will find them throughout the city, particularly around major tourist attractions such as Wat Phra Singh and Tha Pae Gate. The difference is that a tuk-tuk is private and will take you directly to your destination.
Set the price before you get in, and don’t be afraid to haggle a little. Some of those cheeky drivers tend to overcharge tourists.
For a short ride around the city, expect to pay at least 100 baht (~$3).
Tuk-tuks drive a bit faster than the songthaews, so be prepared to hold on!
- Chiang Mai Bus (the cheapest option)
If the two options above don’t sound like your cup of tea, perhaps the Chiang Mai bus is the best option.
At a set price of 20 baht ($0.60), there are multiple routes within the city. Like many countries, navigating the bus routes/stops can be challenging at first. But rest assured, after a bit of practice, you will feel like a local.
Keep in mind, this option does tend to be a bit slower and won’t take you door to door.
- Grab Taxi’s
Another convenient alternative is taking a taxi. Using the Grab app (similar to Uber), you can book a taxi using your phone. This option can be expensive compared to other options. However, as per most transportation options in Thailand, they won’t break the bank.
By catching a taxi, you will have an air-conditioned vehicle that can take you straight to your destination.
Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Now that you know your options for getting around the city, it’s time to get to the exciting part— planning your holiday! There are numerous reasons why Chiang Mai should be added to your Thailand itinerary.
- Explore the Buddhist Temples. Some of the most famous temples include the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Chiang Man.
- Visit Tha Pae Gate—part of the crumbling city wall, now a large public square with a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.
- Wander through the Sunday Walking Street Market. Local food vendors, craftspeople and artists set up along a ½ mile stretch in the Old City.
- Test your cooking skills at a Thai cooking class. There are many cooking classes to choose from. The key is finding an authentic one, such as Thai Farm Cooking School.
This is just the tip of the Chiang Mai iceberg, don’t forget about a day with the elephants! Here is a 3-day itinerary to help you plan.
Where to next?
A popular option for travelers is to head to Chiang Rai after a few days in Chiang Mai. It’s another beautiful lush city in the north of Thailand with numerous temples, waterfalls and hot springs.
To get to Chiang Rai, the most convenient option is by bus. The distance between the two cities is 118 miles, which will take 3-5 hours by bus.
Last but not least
Above are just a few activities you should include in your Chiang Mai experience. Besides, part of the fun of exploring a new place is just wandering the city. If you get lost, you know all the Chiang Mai transportation options. You can always count on a songthaew, tuk-tuk or Chiang Mai Bus to get you from A to B.
And most importantly, just have fun.
You’re on holiday in Chiang Mai, so why not take advantage of the songthaews and tuk-tuks. Ultimately, tuk-tuks get you from door to door without stopping, so this is a great option and a lot of fun!
Peak season is between October and April, when temperatures are pleasant and the days are mostly sunny. There is little to no rainfall during these months.
Yes, there sure is! Doi Ang Kang National Park, Wat Umong (temple) and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (temple) are three attractions that should absolutely be on your itinerary.