Navigating across Thailand with children – the best way to get from the mountainous north to the capital
Thailand is one of the most phenomenal locations to visit as a family. Culturally rich and compared to many other countries in South East Asia easy to navigate, even if your Thai is poor you can fumble by in English with relative success, and kids are simply adored wherever you go!
In this family travel guide, we will be taking you through the best way to get between two of the most popular tourist destination in Thailand, Chaing Mai and Bangkok. There are plentiful options you can take, though it will boil down to budget and your patience for long journeys with kids. Here’s how we’d suggest families tackle the Chiang Mai to Bangkok route.
This post is part of our series Discover South East Asia
Chiang Mai to Bangkok Distance
The stunningly picturesque Chiang Mai sits in the mountainous north of Thailand, 600 kilometres north of Bangkok as the crow flies. As the road goes, however… it is more like a 700km journey by land, depending on what mode of transport you take. Here are all your options:
The Cheapest Way – Chiang Mai to Bangkok By Bus
Cost: 500 to 800 baht ($16 to $26 USD)
Timing: 10 to 11 hours
The bus is your cheapest option getting from Chiang Mai and Bangkok if you don’t mind a little inconvenience in comfort and can handle the winding roads.
Prices are variable on the quality of the bus with some only providing a fan (less than 500 baht), others have AC. Trust us, pay for AC. There are what you’d best describe as backpacker bus options all the way through to VIP sleepers where seats can recline.
There are several different bus operators keeping pricing competitive and a regular departure timetable throughout the day and night. Our recommendation would be to aim for the VIP overnight bus with kids so they get some shut eye with AC.
Top tip: Use the designated toilet stops. You only want to use a toilet bus in a true emergency; use the designated driver breaks to stretch your legs and use the loos, be prepared for squat toilets though.
The Quickest Way – Flying Chiang Mai to Bangkok
Cost: Varies greatly on season and if you book ahead 1000 to 3000 baht ($32-$95 USD) per person
Timing: 1 hour 20 minutes
Flying is by far the quickest way to get between the two cities with the journey by air from Chiang Mai to Bangkok taking less than 80 minutes. It is also the most expensive, though there are many airlines that serve these route making pricing pretty competitive, especially if you can book ahead.
The Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is located four miles southwest of Tapae Gate. Getting to the airport takes around 25 minutes by taxi or tuk-tuk and will add another 100 to 200 baht (3.30 – $5.80USD).
Most flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok arrive at Don Muang Airport (DMK) rather than Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) so do be mindful of this if you have a connecting international flight. Don Muang Airport is closer to the city centre in Bangkok, you can tax a combination of bus and metro at a cost of around 70 to 90 baht ($2-$3USD) per person, or with kids you may prefer a taxi to town, approximately 350 to 500 baht ($14 – $20USD)
TOP TIP: Be careful of baggage allowances! Whilst you can pick up some pretty cheap budget air deals some of them ARE too good to be true once you get slugged with luggage fees.
Chiang Mai to Bangkok By Train – The Scenic Way
Cost: From 500 baht ($16USD – second class seated) to 1700 ($54USD first class sleeper)
Timing: 11 to 14 hours
The train takes longer to travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok but may make for a (slightly) more pleasant and interesting experience when travelling with kids. Trains depart from Chiang Mai railway station and arrive at Hua Lumphong Station in Bangkok.
The overnight sleeper would be our recommended option, it costs a little more but will be a lot more comfortable for families. There are first and second class options for both the normal train and the sleeper train. The newer trains offer a first classroom that can sleep up to 4 and has a lockable door.
Top Tip: There are only limited 1st class cabins so do book early if you’d like to use this option in the busy season
Now before you go running off and booking your train tickets for a do be prepared; This is not a European quality overnight sleeper. It’s more comfortable than sitting bolt upright squeezed between the locals for 14 hours with only a fan, but it is noisy. The beds aren’t that comfy (the bottom beds are notably nicer than the top with no window) and it’s likely to be boiling hot or freezing cold! Pack earplugs, a facemask, a warm jumper and keep your valuables nearby.
The trains in Thailand are notorious for running late too so always build a fair bit of flex into your timetable, as you no doubt already do travelling with kids! You can expect both squat and seated toilets but be prepared and bring your own snacks, the food onboard is overpriced and doesn’t have the best reputation!
Don’t forget to add the cost of transfers from the train station to your end destination in Bangkok or to the airport if you’re continuing on your journey internationally from Bangkok.
NB Children under 12 pay a discount and under 3’s are free
Chiang Mai to Bangkok By Private Transfer
Cost: From $400
Timing: 9 hours
When travelling with kids this may be the more expensive option but possibly more comfortable as you can move at your own pace with your own driver and AC control. This is a great option if you’ve got a lot of kids and a lot of luggage and don’t mind the windy roads. Most minivans can take up to 9 passengers, ideal for groups to share too.
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More adventures from South East Asia with Kids
If you’re looking at exploring further around South East Asis with kids we can also recommend you read next:
- Bangkok Highlights With Kids
- Phi Phi Islands – Romantic Escape or family-friendly?
- 24 Hours in Chiang Rai with Kids
- Exploring the Angkor Wat Temples with kids
- Organised Chaos: Why Vietnam is perfect with kids