How to get to and from: Chiang Rai

How to get to Chiang Rai

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Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang Airport (CEI) is located eight kilometres north of the city centre. For a small town one it is surprisingly busy with no less than six airlines competing for the domestic route to Bangkok plus several daily international flights.

Budget airlines Nok Air, Thai Smile, Thai Air Asia, Thai Vietjet and Thai Lion Air plus Bangkok Airways all serve the capital with flight times of around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Nok, Air Asia and Lion Air fly into Don Muang whilst Bangkok Airways, Vietjet and Thai Smile fly into Suvarnabhumi, but this is worth double checking. (Some Thai Smile flights actually turn out to be Thai Airways.)

If you have an international arrival in Thailand with a connecting flight to Chiang Rai you will pass through immigration in Bangkok while in the opposite sense you’ll submit to formalities in Chiang Rai. The airport also has a small duty free zone.

The arrivals area has both metre taxi and airport taxi desks. The former are usually also available outside the main doors without any pre-booking required. A metre taxi to downtown will set you back around 120 baht while an airport taxi is between 200 and 250 baht. In the opposite direction you may be able to negotiate with a taxi or tuk-tuk for 150 baht or so while if an hotel or guesthouse calls one for you then they’re generally 200 baht again.

Airport taxi T: (053) 863 778
Mae Fah Luang Airport 404 Moo 4, Ban Du. T: (053) 798 000;(053) 798 170
Metered taxis T: (093) 253 2535
Nok Air T: (02) 900 9955; Freephone 1318
Thai Airways (Thai Smile) T: 9053) 711 179, (053) 715 207
Thai Air Asia T: (053) 798 275-6
Thai Vietjet T: (+84) 1900 1886

Car hire

RentalCars searches rates from multiple well–respected car rental agencies, providing an easy way to compare rates and available cars, with a variety of pick–up and drop–off locations offered.


As the provincial capital and transport hub Chiang Rai has good transport coverage for most of its districts as well as many in neighbouring provinces. The efficient Green Bus Company ensures a frequent liaison with Chiang Mai and all stops en-route as well as adjacent provinces such as Phayao and Lampang.

You have numerous bus options for Bangkok while long-distance merchants Sombat Tours and Nakhon Chai Air even offer regular connections to such far flung locations as Ubon Ratchathani, Chonburi, Pattaya, Rayong, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani.

Chiang Rai has two bus terminals; the cramped, old downtown one—terminal 1—and the new terminal number 2 south of town off Highway 1. Songthaews between the two should cost 20 baht per person. Number 1 is for local buses and adjacent provinces including Chiang Mai with long haul services to Bangkok and elsewhere leaving from terminal 2.

Local buses and songthaews
The conveniently located but somewhat confusing station number 1 offers the following destinations: bay 1—Fang and Phayao, 2—Chiang Kham via Thoen, 3—Pa Daet, 4—Wiang Nua, 5—Phayao via Phan, 6—Chiang Khong, 7—Mae Sai, 8—Mae Krachan, 9—Chiang Khong (again), 10—Chiang Saen, 11—Wiang Kaen, 12—Lampang and bays 13 and 14—Chiang Mai.

Bay number 1 is for minibus services, 13 and 14 are Green Bus’s air-con coaches while all others are old fan buses. Mae Sai buses will drop you at the junction with Highway 1130 where you change for Mae Salong; Chiang Kham ones at Thoen for local songthaews to Phu Chee Fah while for Phrao and Chiang Dao take a Mae Krachan or Wiang Nua bus and get out at the junction with the 1150.

Take Mae Sai-bound buses for Ban Du and Baan Dam Museum and any southbound ones (Wiang Pa Pao, Mae Krachan, Wiang Nua) will drop you outside Wat Rong Khun for 20 baht.

We won’t burden you with full schedules for each destination—suffice to say most have frequent departures during daylight hours. Routes of most interest to foreign visitors are as follows:

Chiang Khong: hourly from 06:00-17:00 taking approximately 2 hours for 65 baht and stopping both at the Friendship Bridge and in town.
Chiang Saen: every 40 minutes costing 37 baht and taking around 1 hour 30 minutes
Fang, via Tha Ton: Three departures per day taking 3 hours and costing 95 baht.
Mae Sai: every 30 minutes for 39 baht and taking 1 hour.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for above or the timing doesn’t suit then most nearby towns are also served by regular songthaews from a station on Uttarakit behind the main market. These include: Phan, Mae Chan, Payamengrai and Mae Suai so are fine then for Wat Rong Khun, Wat Huay Sai Khao and Baan Dam. Phan trucks for example depart every 15 minutes during daylight hours and stop outside Wat Rong Khun and Wat Huay Sai Khao for 20 and 30 baht respectively.

Several minibus services also operate out of terminal 1 and serve among other destinations: Phayao, Fang, Mae Sai, Sob Ruak and Chiang Saen. Phayao vans, run by Green Bus, depart at 08:00 and 14:00 from bay number 1 with an extra 16:00 departure on Sundays. Fares are approximately 60 and 100 for Fang which should have two departures per day depending on passenger numbers.

Mae Sai vans leave from an office on the opposite side of the terminal 1 carpark, charge 50 baht and are scheduled every 25 minutes throughout the day.

Other minibus services depart from terminal 2 including a Phayao and Phrae service for 63 and 165 baht respectively setting off in theory every 30 minutes between the hours of 06:00 and 18:00.

Minibus services do seem to change even more frequently than regular buses do so please double check times, routes and embarkation points in advance.

To Chiang Mai
The principal bus service to Chiang Mai is run by the excellent Green Bus Company which has ticket counters at both the new and old bus stations. You can also book on-line or purchase tickets at 7-eleven stores. They offer standard, (air-con), 1st class and VIP options but note that while most Chiang Mai buses are direct, certain ones take the long way round via Phayao and Lampang. Direct to Chiang Mai is a little over 3 hours. VIP buses have 3 seats per row only so you can get a single seat if you book in advance.

Published fares and times to Chiang Mai are as follows:

VIP: 09:15, 13:00, 15:30, 17:15 & 18:15 Friday and Sunday only; 258 baht
1st class air-con: 10:55, 11:50, 12:35, 14:05, 14:30, 15:15, 16:30, 17:45 & 18:45 & 19:30 Fridays and Sundays; 166 baht
2nd class air-con: 06:30, 08:15, 09:30, 11:15, 13:30, 15:45, 16:00 and 17:30; 129 baht

To Bangkok
All the Bangkok buses leave from, and arrive at, the new terminal, number 2. Sombat Tours, Bangkok Bus and the government run 999 all offer daily services and have offices around the main terminal building while Nakhon Chai Air with their own office just off the highway back toward the city also have daily scheduled buses. These all terminate at Mor Chit and will set you down at any major destination on route e.g. Phitsanolok or Nakhon Sawan. Sombat has the most frequent departures though note some of these do take quite round-about routes.

Principal services are as follows though there are others on offer at terminal number 2 and as usual please note that schedules and prices can (will) change at very short notice.

Bangkok Bus: 1st class: Daily: 18:30, 544 baht. VIP: 18:00, 634 baht
Nakhonchaiair (Nakhon Chai Air) Daily: 17:15, 17:45, 668 baht
Sombat Tour Daily, via Phayao, Lampang and Tak: 08:30, 17:00, 668 baht, 13:00, 572 baht, 16:00 890 baht
Daily via Phayao, Phrae and Phitsanolok: 18:30, 19:00, 544 baht, 18:00, 19:30, 599 baht, 18:00, 19:00 846 baht.

Other long distance services
Sombat Tour’s long distance offerings include detours on their aforementioned Bangkok services to such destinations as Phrae, Lampang, Kamphaeng Pet and Tak while I-san specialists Nakhon also run daily buses to Sisaket and Ubon Ratchathani plus no less than four departures per day for the Chonburi-Pattaya-Rayong (in that order) line.

Ubon will set you back 884 baht and this bus also stops at Surin and Si Saket, departing Chiang Rai daily at 16:00. The Pattaya buses depart at 13:35, 16:15 and 17.15 (gold class) and 17:45. Prices for Pattaya are 764 baht or 821 VIP/gold class.

International services
We’re referring here to scheduled public bus services rather than package deals organised by travel agents specifically targeting foreign backpackers. Whilst we’re still not fans of such lengthy bus rides, and we can’t guarantee quality of service, you’re less likely to be ripped off, fall for deceptive/false advertising or receive bad service, than a Pai, Khao San or Jetyod travel agent.

When we last checked Green Bus Company seem to have halted their international routes so fans of long distance bus rides will be saddened to hear their ambitious Chiang Rai to Kunming is no longer an option. (The Chinese-built Kunming rail link through Laos is progressing fast anyway and will provide a far more comfortable and faster ride.) Nor do they still run their Lao bus routes so, although these things change very quickly and high season may see additional options on the table at the time of writing only government-run 999 were proposing Lao destinations from their office at terminal 2.

This crosses the new bridge at Chiang Khong and proceeds to Bokeo, (Huay Xai), Luang Nam Tha, Udomxai and Luang Prabang. Prices are 220 baht, 500 baht, 675 baht and 950 baht in that order and departure time is 12:30 daily. They assured us there was no change of bus involved.

Bangkok Bus Line T: (053) 774 022 Call centre: (02) 030 4933
Bus terminal number 1 Prasopsuk Rd, Chiang Rai
Bus terminal number 2 Off Highway 1, south of Chiang Rai City
Green Bus Thailand Gen enquiries, Call centre, T: (053) 266 480
Minibus services to Phayao and Phrae Bus terminal 2, Chiang Rai T: (053) 773 861
Nakhonchaiair (Nakhon Chai Air) T: (053) 773 522 Freephone: 1624
Sombat Tour T: (053) 701 338;(053) 774 988 Freephone: 1215
Songthaew Station Uttarakit Rd, by the rear entrance of the main municipal market building


Public boats on the Kok River leave Chiang Rai for Tha Ton and destinations upstream daily—weather permitting—at 10:30. Tha Ton is 350 baht per person and Ruam Mit 100 baht. If you prefer private hire then a boat seating six (foreign sized) people will cost 2,500 baht, or 700 baht to Ruam Mit only, with a return from the latter costing an additional 100 baht. (Note in dry season water levels may restrict boats to a maximum four people. The boat pier is situated just on the right if you cross Mae Fah Luang Bridge on the way out of town. For a full description and details of the Kok River boat trip see our Tha Ton section.

Chiang Rai boat pier: T: (053) 750 009

Getting around

Central Chiang Rai is relatively compact and, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of our suggested eating and sleeping addresses lie within easy walking distance of each other and of the town’s principal tourist hotspots; the bus station, Night Bazaar and Jetyod Road.

The same goes for most of the city sites mentioned; museums, markets and temples, so for a two or three day stay in Chiang Rai, your own two legs, topped up with a couple of tuk tuk rides or even local buses to more distant spots such as Baan Dam, the Blue Temple and Wat Rong Khun should suffice.

Having said that a bicycle would be a great way to get around and offer access to edge of town sites such as Chiang Rai Beach or the aforementioned Blue Temple, Wat Rong Suea Ten, and the good news is that they are widely available for rent in town with several guesthouses even providing free ones for customers.

There are plenty of tuk tuks and metre taxis to be found and indeed you’ll see old-fashioned bicycle rickshaws around certain areas such as the municipal market. Local tuk tuks come in various guises, often taking the form of small blue-coloured vans—kind of mini-songthaews—more familiar perhaps to visitors to Laos than other Thai cities.

They function as regular tuk tuks though and comfortably seat at least half a dozen foreign-sized passengers though we do find some of the drivers who hang around the bus station and Night Bazaar for example, to be rather unscrupulous and these guys may well require some serious bargaining with. Normally rides around the centre shouldn’t be more than 60 or 80 baht going up to 120 to 150 for more distant locations such as Central Shopping Plaza or Chiang Rai Beach. They may well however try a per person rate which doesn’t really seem appropriate for tuk-tuk travel but succeeds in upping the price considerably.

Conversely we sympathise with taxi drivers since the 35 baht standard fare and additional two baht per kilometre doesn’t work for rides within a small city such as Chiang Rai. While many we found were prepared to turn on their metres we reckon they definitely deserve a tip on top. Longer taxi journeys work out approximately as follows: bus terminal number 2 150 baht, Ban Du (Black House) 3-400 return, the airport 200 and Wat Rong Khun around 2-300 return. Note that while Uber doesn’t function in Chiang Rai the similar service Grab does.

For most slightly out of town destinations then either the local bus or songthaew services function well too. The pick-up truck buses—songthaews—can leave from any of various spots around town though there is a busy station behind the municipal market on Uttarakit Road while local buses conveniently depart from the centrally located bus terminal number 1. Most drivers will have a pretty good guess at where you’re trying to get to and indeed vehicles at the songthaew station have White Temple written on the sides in English. If in doubt just check the name of the next provincial town in the direction of your target destination so for instance Mae Sai buses for Baan Dam, Wiang Pa Pao or Mae Krachan ones for Wat Rong Khun or Phan Town for Wat Huay Sai Khao. Again drivers will know where you’re going even if they don’t understand your accent.

Bicycle and motorbike rental
Logically grouped around the main concentration of downtown guesthouses, rental shops are ubiquitous along Jetyod Road. Most shops are renting the standard 110 or 125cc automatic scooters or simple run-around-town Chinese cycles though well-organised Chiang Rai Big Bike have a full range of motorbikes on offer including the increasingly hard to find semi-automatic Honda Waves, 250cc trail bikes and 500cc and up touring bikes. They also have decent quality equipment for rent alongside their well-maintained machines and we’ve always found staff members helpful with proficient levels of English.

B-Rider and Nice Rental also seem well-run spots though you may want to check bikes more carefully at some of the less professional outlets. Predictably with so many shops in such a small area, prices and deals are generally comparable with slight differences between say 110 and 125cc bikes or new and older ones. You’re looking at 200-300 baht per day for a standard automatic up to around 1,000 baht for a 250 trail version or 1,500 baht for a CB500X at Big Bike.

There may be some seasonal variation, particularly at smaller shops, depending on how few or how many bikes are sitting outside their store. Don’t forget to ask for discounts if hiring for several days and if you don’t want to leave your passport then 3,000 baht will be required instead as a deposit. Bear in mind that none of the shops we checked offered insurance so as usual, check your own travel insurance carefully before setting off. Several shops also offer car hire starting at 1,200 baht to 1,500 baht per day but his also will vary according to how business is going.

A few guesthouses and hotels may have bikes of their own for rent but as with tour and trekking offers the majority will be associated with certain hire shops and so may add on a surcharge for the convenience of having the Jetyod rental bike delivered to the guesthouse forecourt.

For bikes of the non-mechanised variety then if you want an upgrade on the basic but functional style you may have to look around a bit or wander over to the specialist bicycle shop Fat Free Bike. Certain guesthouses have better bikes than others while Bamboo Tour, next to Janson House, has some half-decent ones for 100 a day and Nice offered mountain bikes for 150 baht. The tattoo parlour opposite Wat Jetyod has simple 80 baht ones which are nonetheless perfectly adequate for tootling around town.

Bamboo Tour 897/3 Jetyod Rd. T: (086) 115 3980;(083) 041 2773 Open Mo–Su 09:00–20:00
B-Rider Jetyod Rd. T: (089) 636 6663, (089) 700 0338
Chiang Rai Big Bike Co Jetyod Rd. T: (090) 891 0997;(087) 182 0414;(087) 367 5987 Open Mo–Su: 09:00–18:00
Fat Free Bicycle 448/2 Klang Wiang Rd. T: (086) 430 5523 Open Mo–Sa: 09:00–18:00
Nice Rental Jetyod Rd. T: (083) 864 5054, (082) 192 9321 Open Mo–Su: 07:30–18:00
Tattoo Jetyod Temple, Jetyod Rd. T: (099) 380 6333 Open Mo–Su: 07:00–20:00