Visit Northern Thailand

Updated: Jan 21

Basil chicken & rice with coffee shake in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

There is more to Thailand than the beaches, Bangkok and pad thai. Truth be told, the capital city was quite a disappointment. However, there is always value to be sought.

While the city has it's positives, from the occasional good meal to beautiful architecture, statues, and temples, beyond that silver lining, Bangkok has issues with air and waste pollution, food quality, the lack of commuter friendliness, and the tourism industry running rampant.

Northern Thailand is the complete opposite, with the blue skies , the green mountains, many activities, and the food is ACTUALLY spicy!

Chiang Mai pork curry with ginger called kaeng hang le aka Burmese curry, at Aroon Rai.

We were greeted into northern Thailand by this exquisite curry, which actually had a spice to it. Wonderful!

We spent 5 days in Bangkok, before heading north. There are three cities we highly recommend visiting, Pai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as they are all beautiful and have their own unique character.

How to get there?

Overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The simplest way to head north from Bangkok is a bus ticket to Thailand's northern hub, Chiang Mai (~$16.00/person). From the city of Chiang Mai you can visit Pai and Chiang Rai, it is worth it! The bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is an overnight bus that takes about eight (8) hours.

Mo Chit, the northern bus terminal.

Heads up, double check where your bus leaves from in Bangkok. There are two bus stations, the northern arrival bus terminal Mo Chit 1, next to Chatuchak market, and the southern bus terminal Sai Tai Mai.

The day we left, we were shopping at Chatuchak market, and the bus we booked left from Sai Tai Mai. Almost 20 kilometers away! (12 miles)

Luckily we checked our tickets and we knew before hand, so we planned to catch an Uber, since tuk tuks and taxis overcharge (almost 4x more than Uber and Grab), and the BTS Skytrain surprisingly doesn't go there.

For your first free Uber ride use our code samm47665ue!

Sai Tai Mai, southern bus station in Thailand.
Ticket pick up windows

Sai Tai Mai is a large bus terminal, checking in and finding your platform is very convenient, everything is numbered. The sleeper bus was nice, but the chairs don't recline flat like the ones in Vietnam and Cambodia, and at 5:00am the staff wakes you up by blasting traditional Thai music over the bus speakers.

Snacks provided by the bus company.
On the sleeper bus to Chiang Mai

Like many of the buses in southeast Asia, we arrived about an hour early to our destination. We were rushed off the bus into the cold, dark morning, tired and sleepy eyed, which we were well used to.

There are two bus terminals in Chiang Mai, bus terminal 2 (arcade bus terminal) and bus terminal 3. The terminals are next to each other, but to get into town, catching a ride is the best way.

To get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai or Pai, tickets can be bought online, or locally.

The 1095 highway to Pai has over 700 turns and some travelers even motorbike it. We were happy being in a shuttle driving that twisty road. We chose to take the Prem Pracha shuttle to Pai, one ticket costs $5.85.

View from the Prem Pracha office, check in here.
Benches in the office
2 to Pai, Thailand, seats 3D 3E.

To get to Chiang Rai from Pai, we had to do a little backtracking to Chiang Mai because it is the central hub of Northern Thailand, and located between Chiang Rai and Pai. We booked our shuttle with Prem Pracha back to Chiang Mai (arcade station); a nice 4 hour ride.

On our way to Chiang Rai. First leg of the journey, departing Pai to return back to Chiang Mai.
On our way to Chiang Rai. First leg of the journey, departing Pai to return back to Chiang Mai.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai it took another 3-4 hours by bus. Tickets can be booked at the same bus terminal.

The total cost from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai cost us 332฿ ($9.96).

Plenty of snacks to buy at Chiang Mai arcade bus terminal!!
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Bus
Arriving at Chiang Rai bus station terminal 1

Returning to Bangkok is just as simple. Or, check online for tickets to your next destination. Planning your own route around Thailand is that convenient.

Exploring northern Thailand is definitely worth the long bus and shuttle trips.

Our next stop after Pai was Sukhothai, Thailand. There was a direct bus to Sukhothai from Chiang Rai, and since the ticket was unavailable to purchase online, we had to book the ticket in person at the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 2.

462฿ ($13.86) for two tickets to Sukhothai via bus.

Bus schedule
Pandan buns! 35฿ ($1.05)
These are the songthaews that will take you to terminal 2.
These are the songthaews that will take you to terminal 2.

Happy & safe travels!

#Thailand #northernthailand #travelingthailand #backpackers #backpackingsoutheastasia #backpackingblog #traveling #travelblog #budgettraveler #travelblogging #recommendedtravel

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