You essentially have four options for getting from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: tourist bus, deluxe/VIP bus, train, and flights. Which method of transport you choose really depends on your budget, time line, and how much luxury that you prefer.
- Still in Chiang Mai? Get more out of your stay with this Chiang Mai travel guide!
You'll find no shortage of travel offices dotted around Chiang Mai offering transportation back to Bangkok and even as far as Luang Prabang, Laos. Tickets are not flat priced and will vary slightly from agency to agency -- shop around. Travel offices with prominent locations such as Moon Muang Road -- the main tourist strip in Chiang Mai -- and around Tapae Gate may charge slightly more than those found on the back roads.
- See how to get from Chiang Mai to Laos.
When you book a ticket the travel office will call the station or bus company to verify that they have a seat for you. Do not assume that there is availability until the agent calls! Book well in advance during and immediately after big festivals in Thailand such as Songkran and Loi Krathong.
Some tickets include pickup at your hotel or transportation to the Arcade Bus Station or Chiang Mai Railway Station. Be sure to clarify if the cost of the ticket includes transportation or if you are responsible for making your own way to the station.
Tip: Nearly every bus in Thailand is labeled as 'VIP' -- don't pay extra for upgrades to VIP, you'll most likely end up on the same bus as everyone else.
Flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok
Flying is certainly the most expensive-but-comfortable option for getting back to Bangkok. Chiang Mai International Airport (airport code: CNX) is open from 5 a.m until midnight with many daily flights back to Bangkok. Thai Airways offers at least one flight every hour from Chiang Mai to Bangkok; book at least one week ahead to get the best fare.
Chiang Mai International Airport is located only four miles southwest of Tapae Gate in Chiang Mai. Getting to the airport takes around 25 minutes depending on traffic.
The Train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok
Night trains are a relatively comfortable alternative to flying and even save you a night of accommodation. The dining car sells food, drinks, snacks, and often fuels a social atmosphere.
First-class tickets put you inside a two-person berth; if you are traveling alone you will be sharing a close space and a sink with a stranger. Many travelers opt for the second-class sleeper trains which consist of rows of bunks with privacy curtains. The top bunks are cheaper than the lower, however, they have slightly less space for stretching out. All train cars now have air conditioning.
The Chiang Mai Railway Station is located east of the city on Charoen Mueang Road -- the extension of Tha Pae Road once you cross the river. You can make your own way to the station to purchase tickets, or pay a small commission through a travel agent that will go collect the tickets for you.
Tip: Trains fill up quickly; you should try to book several days or even weeks ahead whenever possible.
Tourist Buses to Bangkok
Most tourists end up on the cheapest buses, generically referred to as the 'tourist buses'. These double-decker buses will get you to Bangkok for cheap, although comfort and leg space are usually not top priorities. You'll find bus tickets from 350 baht to 500 baht depending on the agency; the buses are practically the same -- shop around! Tourist buses typically depart around 6:30 p.m. and arrive in Bangkok at 7 a.m.
The price of a bus ticket usually includes pickup at your accommodation. The bus terminates at Khao San Road in Bangkok.
Note: Theft on night buses has been an ongoing scam in Thailand for a decade. The bus assistant climbs into the luggage hold while passengers are sleeping and sifts through stowed bags for small objects. Never leave money or valuables in your stowed bag and don't be surprised if you discover a small item missing days later.
Deluxe and VIP Buses to Bangkok
Although almost every motorized box with four tires claims to be a 'VIP' bus, there is a safer, slightly more expensive bus option than the cramped backpacker tourist buses. Deluxe and 'VIP' buses depart from the Arcade Bus Station, typically have less tourists on them, and include a meal or snack, drink, and movie depending on the company. All have reclining seats with a fair amount of leg space.
Deluxe buses from Chiang Mai to Bangkok can be booked for around 750 baht and up. Although you'll find buses departing to Bangkok all the time from Arcade Bus Station, the most common times for the night buses are 7 p.m. (arriving at 6 a.m.) and 9 p.m. (arriving at 8 a.m.).
Tip: If you get to choose your seat, the front seats on the top deck of the bus have more leg and bag space than any other seat on the bus!