Taking the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is the easiest way to travel between these cities. They’re comfortable and let you get a glimpse of the scenery along the way. Travel time is only 4 hours too.
One of the fastest ways to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is by taking the minivan. Travel time only takes about 3.5 hours and will even have a toilet break for you to stretch your legs along the way.
The most comfortable way to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is by taking a private car. This will let you request for any stop along the way and also gives you enough privacy and space.
The ride between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is not that long but it is scenic, with plenty to see as you cross through national parks and past ancient temples and pagodas. Bus is the only means of public transport on this route, but if you can afford to splash out on a private car or minivan, you’ll be able to stop at many interesting places along the way.
Chiang Rai is best known for being a gateway to the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. Small, affordable and multicultural, it offers a different experience to the larger, more chaotic Thai cities.
Interesting temples to visit include Wat Phra Kaew, one of the oldest in Thailand, and the unique, modern-day White Temple. There are plenty of excellent places to sample Northern Thai cuisine. Surrounded by mountains, rice terraces and with the Mekong River on the doorstep, Chiang Rai is also a green escape, with lots to attract outdoorsy types.
There are no direct flights or trains between the two cities, so the only way of making this 190 km (118 miles) journey is by long distance bus, minivan or car. There are economy buses as well as VIP buses, or you can book a seat in a shared minivan for $16 one way.
Bookaway suggests traveling by VIP Bus which is comfortable and cheap, and takes around 4 hours. You’ll arrive at an out-of-town bus station so you’ll need to take a songthaew or taxi to your hotel.
If you’re traveling as a family or in a group, you can also book a private minivan or car - prices start at around $149.
If you’re going to travel on from Chiang Rai, you have plenty of options. The town is ideally located for exploring the Golden Triangle. Or, you might want to see the rest of the Northern Province, which has a lot to offer - especially if you like the outdoors - including mountain peaks like Doi Mae Salong, Doi Chang and Doi Tung, hill tribe villages, and a cool climate.
The route takes you on Highway 118 which skirts Doi Luang National Park and passes through Khun Cae National Park. It’s pretty scenic - from the window you’ll pass roadside temples, hilltop wats, buddha statues, paddy fields, mountains and rainforests - so you might want to think about traveling during the day rather than at night.
Taking an express bus
The Express Bus is a basic bus with A/C and a typical seating arrangement - two seats on either side of the aisle. If you want a comfier ride you should opt for the VIP Bus instead. During the ride the driver will stop so you can stretch your legs, use the bathroom and buy some snacks.
Be aware that this bus leaves from a bus station outside the center of Chiang Mai, so you’ll need to take a Grab taxi or songthaew to get there. When you arrive in Chiang Rai don’t alight at the first bus station, but wait and get off at the second bus station in the center of the town.
Taking a VIP bus
If you don’t fancy four hours on the Express Bus, the VIP Bus offers a better level of comfort. Run by the same company, the main difference is the seat layout. On the VIP Bus, seats are spaced further apart and are in rows of three (2+1) and recline properly, plus they have padded headrests, meaning you’ll be more likely to sleep if that is what you want to do. This seating layout is also good if you’re traveling alone and prefer not to sit next to someone you don't know. On this bus, you’ll also find USB charging ports for your phone or laptop and a mini TV system with headphones.
There are three departures every day, two in the morning and one in the afternoon. Remember that if you’re traveling during a Thai public holiday you’ll need to book your tickets well in advance.
Taking a minivan
Two companies operate air-conditioned minivans on this route. Minivans will collect you from a central location in Chiang Mai and drop you in the center of Chiang Rai. The journey time is around 5 hours, with stops along the way to use the bathroom and stretch your legs.
Be aware that if you have a lot of luggage that you cannot fit on your lap, you might be asked to pay for an extra seat.
Taking a private minivan
If you are traveling as a family or in a group another option is to book a private minivan for this journey. Prices start at $171 for up to 12 passengers. This includes hotel pick up and drop off in Chiang Rai.
Private minivans are usually new and modern, with comfy seats, A/C and some space for luggage in the back, however be aware that if you have lots of luggage, you might need to sacrifice a couple of seats for the bags. A plus point of booking a private minivan is flexibility - you can leave any time you like and you don't have to make your way to an out-of-town bus station.
Taking a private car
Private cars for between 2 and 4 passengers cost from $149 and will collect you and drop you off in any hotel in the city center. The plus side to this is flexibility - you can leave whenever you want, and you get to ride in air-conditioned privacy. Bear in mind though, this isn't a cost effective way of doing this journey if you’re a solo traveler.
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Bookaway's customers prefer Standard Minivan by Aya Service
Standard Minivan by Aya Servicewhich usually takes 3h 30m
161 Km (Air)
Express Bus by Green Bus starting at US$8
Approximately, there are 11 departures each day. You can also book a private ride and leave whenever you want.