As Chiang Mai is a more well-known city, travelers often visit here and miss out on the neighboring rural town of Chiang Rai. When I say miss out, they are seriously missing out! Chiang Rai is a charming and laid-back town that offers everything you would want from the Thai culture, just at a more do-it-yourself pace. With more and more people reading about Chiang Rai, or just stumbling upon it and falling in love, it is becoming a popular destination to travel to after Chiang Mai. To get from one to the other, here are a few options on how you can do it.
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Bus
As there aren’t any direct flights or trains running between the two, the easiest way to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is by bus. It’s also the most cost-effective and convenient option, with the Green VIP bus running five times a day from Arcade Bus Station. The station is located at the far end of Kaeo Narwat Road, near where it joins the superhighway. It’s super easy to get there if you just jump on a songthaew, and it will only cost you 50 THB ($1.5) per person. Taking a songthaew is a good option if you are a larger group as others will try to charge you a higher rate with just one person. Otherwise, Uber is also available in Chiang Mai and is a good option as you know exactly how much you are going to pay. Apart from the convenience, the bus is also crazy comfortable, with 24 huge reclining seats and a toilet on board. Seriously, it’s like flying business class! There are two stations in Chiang Rai, one at the outskirts of town and one right in the town center near the night bazaar.
The old bus terminal (Terminal 1) is the one near the Night Bazaar. The new bus station (Terminal 2) is located on the outskirts of Chiang Rai a 10 minutes drive to the old bus station. The Green Bus company drop off at both Chiang Rai terminals, but when buying tickets specify which station you prefer (the most convenient one for tourists is terminal 1 as you will get dropped off right in the city center.)
More information: Check bus times here
Cost: Roughly around $4-10 (130-300 THB) one way. For return tickets and public holidays, you’ll need to book a few days ahead. If you book through any green bus authorized dealer (they are all over old town), there is a 20 baht booking fee.
Trip length: 3 hours (Direct)
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Car
Whether you’re using your own car or renting one for this trip, the drive to Chiang Rai is an easy one. Once out of Chiang Mai city, the drive consists of multiple hills continuously shifting between winding roads and flattening out. The roads are in pretty good condition, so if you just drive, you’ll be in Chiang Rai within 3 hours. Expect a couple of checkpoint stops along the way, although you will most likely be waved straight through or won’t need to stop at all. A car is a great option if you want privacy, as well as the freedom to drive anywhere you want to!
Cost: Between $28-70 (1000-2500 THB) per day, depending on size/model etc
Trip length: 3 hours
Reputable Car Rental Companies:
- Budget Car Rental, Chiang Mai (Tel: +66 22 03 9222)
- North Wheels (Tel:+66 (0)53 874 478)
Editor’s Note: While in the area, check out our article on things to do in Chiang Rai to help you make the most of your trip.
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Private Tour
If you really want to make the most of your trip and you have the time to spare, you could also opt for a private tour. A Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Tour is a great option if you want to combine seeing the mainstream Chiang Rai tourist sights, such as the Golden Triangle and White Temple, with discovering areas that are off the tourist trail. Plus, with this tour, you will have the chance to stay overnight at a Karen Hill tribe homestay with a hill tribe family and learn firsthand about hill tribe culture and their way of life. If you have the time and you want to experience the authentic parts of Chiang Rai that most tourists miss, then this option is definitely worth considering.
Cost: Depends on the tour as they are tailored to what you want
Trip length: 4 days/3 nights
- Thailand Hilltribe Holidays (Tel: +66 (0)855 480 884)
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Mini Bus
Organizing a minibus to Chiang Rai is not as common, probably due to the convenience of the Green Bus. However, this option also earns points for convenience. You can book your trip from every travel agency or even ask at your accommodation to do it for you, and the minibus will pick you up from your hotel! Just make sure to check with your company first if they offer pick ups from your area. Most mini-buses are air-conditioned and are adequately comfortable, just be weary of travel sickness. The roads are quite windy over the hills so taking some motion sickness medication beforehand, or even bring a fan with you will make all the difference.If you are traveling in a large group (i.e. manage to take the whole hostel with you) this option would be ideal.
Insider Tip: As mini-buses aren’t as common, they only operate one way daily. You will have to organize your travel from Chiang Rai.
Cost: Approximately $11 (400 THB) per person / $35 (1300THB) for renting the whole minibus
Trip length: 3-4 hours
- Wandering Star Tour (Tel: +66 89 951 8996)
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Motorcycle
As always, our most recommended form of transport is renting a motorcycle! Not only is it fun and one of the best ways to see the stunning backdrop of Southeast Asia, but it allows you to go at your own pace and gives you the freedom to explore off road too! A motorcycle trip over the northern mountains is an experience you just have to have; combining the thrill of driving with the scenery is epic! As you can tell, we love riding, but it is important to make sure you’re a confident rider before taking on these roads. They are very windy and steep so only do it if you’re comfortable.
Cost: From $3 (100THB) per day, depending on what bike you rent. If you don’t want to leave your passport as a deposit, it will cost $56 (2000 THB)
Trip length: At least 3.5 hours
Directions: Take the 107 to Fang, continuing on the 1089 to Mae Chan just north of Chiang Rai
Insider Tip: We’ve scoured Chiang Mai for the best motorbike rental options and have found Tony’s Big Bikes! We absolutely love this place for numerous reasons, from the owners being riders themselves (which means they give awesome recommendations!) to them providing you with comprehensive accident insurance and good gear rental.
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by Private Driver Hire
Hiring a driver for the day is a great way to site see, especially if you want to hit a few spots in the same day! There are many amazing drivers in Chiang Mai so just ask around for the best recommendations. The best drivers will go above and beyond to make sure you have the best day, tailoring the day to what you want to see, assisting with entrance fees and recommendations, and are willing to wait around for you at each attraction. Most of these drivers have been tour guides for years, so who better to show you around and share their information than the locals themselves?
More information: If you want to take a taxi you can check times here.
Cost: From $42 (1500 THB). Depends on the driver, amount of people and if you just want a transfer or a full day service
Trip length: 3 hours (but depends if you organize to make stops on the way)
- Thailand Private Drivers (Contact Mr Joy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 081 960 5775)
- Chiang Mai Co-operative (Contact “Peung,” at Peung02@yahoo.com. Tel: 089-854-9684)
- Chiang Mai Driver (Contact Mr A. Tel: +66 086 1162074)
So, whether you like the sound of the convenient bus or want to get your adventure on and rent a motorbike, Chiang Rai is worth the trip whatever the transport! Enjoy the stunning landscapes, meet friendly locals and have the time of your life!
Looking for more information on Thailand? Check out our other articles
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- Top Bloggers Tell You How to Travel Thailand like a Pro
- Best Places to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand | Top Hotels & Hostels