How to Get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai
In this article, we will show you the best ways to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand as well as the costs for each option.
Where Chiang Rai Is Located in Relation to Chiang Mai
Chiang Rai is located about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Chiang Mai near the borders of Laos and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Being so close to Chiang Mai, there are no flights to Chiang Rai other than from Bangkok.
There are a few different options to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by road and all of them involve taking Highway 118 and Highway 1.
With a Private Driver (4,000–6,000 Baht / $130–195)
By far the most convenient and quickest way to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is with a private driver. Our driver will pick you up at your hotel, meaning you don’t have to make your own way to the bus stop in a taxi.
There is also no waiting around. Buses in Thailand often leave later than scheduled and can take longer than advertised to reach your destination due to the fact they stop to pick up passengers along the way.
Another benefit to having your own driver is that you can stop anytime you want. Whether you need a toilet break or you want to check out some of the attractions, having a Thai/English-speaking guide on hand makes everything a lot easier.
Benefits of hiring a private driver:
- It’s much quicker and more comfortable than taking the bus.
- You will be picked up from your hotel in Chiang Mai and dropped off at your hotel in Chiang Rai so there is no wasted time.
- You can stop to eat and drink or use the bathroom whenever you like.
- Driving can be quite stressful if you are not used to the Thai roads. Having a driver means you can sit back, relax, and take in your surroundings.
Hire Your Own Car (1,000–3,500 Baht / $33–115 a Day)
Hiring your own car definitely has its advantages. Like having your own driver, it means that you’re not wasting time waiting for buses. You can do things on your own schedule.
Having your own vehicle also gives you the freedom to explore Chiang Rai and the surrounding areas. For instance, you can take a detour to the coffee and tea plantations that are quite a distance from the city center.
We would only recommend hiring a car if you are 100 percent comfortable driving in a foreign country. The rules on the roads in Thailand can be quite different to those in the West and this can take some getting used to.
Also, once you get to Chiang Rai, the traffic in the city center can be terrible during rush hour. If you think beeping horns and overtaking motorcycles might stress you out, maybe stick with a private driver.
Thailand car hire essentials:
- Make sure to check the car thoroughly for dents and scratches before leaving the hire shop.
- Don’t forget, in Thailand, you will need an international driver’s permit to drive legally. You risk being fined if you drive without one.
- Check the insurance documents at the hire shop to make sure you are fully covered.
- Always return the car with a full tank of petrol. Car hire shops have notoriously high rates for refilling.
By Bus (140–280 Baht / $4.50–9)
The Green Bus service runs from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3 to Chiang Rai from 06:15 to 17:45 every day. The buses are air-conditioned and vary in quality depending on which class of ticket you purchase.
For example, the most expensive ‘V-Class’ buses do not stop to pick up passengers along the way, which can save quite a bit of time compared to the cheaper buses.
The trip between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai takes between 3 and 5 hours. Taking a bus is definitely not a luxurious form of travel but there is a toilet on board and it’s cheap and comfortable enough when compared with other buses and minivans in Thailand. It’s also the cheapest option on the list.
To get to Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3, your best option is to get a taxi or a tuk tuk. From the center of town, this should cost between 150 and 200 baht ($4.85–6.50).
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai bus essentials:
- Frequency: The Green Bus service departs every 30–45 minutes from 06:15 to 17:45.
- Time: The bus trip to the first stop in Chiang Rai will usually take about 4 hours.
- Ticket counter: Order online from the Green Bus website or just turn up and buy a ticket at the bus station.
- Fares:V-Class is 280 baht, X-Class is 180 baht, A-Class is 140 baht.
- Please note: V-Class cars will not stop for passengers on the way.
One to Avoid — Going by Shared Public Minibus (300 Baht / $9.80)
While hiring a private minivan with one of our trusted partners is a great idea for large groups, a shared, public minivan is definitely not!
The shared minivan option only has one benefit over the public bus and that’s the hotel collection. Although the journey by minivan tends to be quicker than a bus journey in Thailand, this is generally due to the fact that the drivers often have no thought for road safety.
Apart from going dangerously fast, minivans are very uncomfortable compared with a normal bus. Unless you book two seats, which will double the price, you will be cramped in a full vehicle with very little room to move.
If you are traveling with a large group, we can provide private minivan hire with one of our trusted transport partners. This ensures you have a fully qualified driver and guide for a safe journey to Chiang Rai.
Visit Thailand with Us
Visiting Chiang Rai with a private driver can actually work out much cheaper if it’s included in one of our personalized tours of Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand. Why not let one of our professional tour operators help put together your dream itinerary for Chiang Rai today? Check our tours below for more information.