Updated: Jan 21
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!
We were greeted into northern Thailand by this exquisite curry, which actually had a spice to it. Wonderful!
How to get there?
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Happy & safe travels!