Chiang Mai is now the proud owner of no less than three official bus stations: Chiang Mai Bus Stations numbers 1, 2 and 3, with 2 and 3 really adjacent terminals. Number 1 is better known as Chang Puak Bus Station and is a small site tucked away behind Chang Puak Gate; this terminal primarily serves destinations within Chiang Mai province itself including Mae Rim, Chiang Dao, Fang, Tha Ton, Phrao, Hot, Chom Thong and Doi Tao. We’ve covered Chang Puak in our Chiang Mai transport section including prices, schedules and approximate times, so we’ll concentrate on the Arcade bus station here, which is the main station and has two terminals.
Arcade is a huge bus station, with transport servicing not only other northern Thai provinces such as Mae Hong Son, Lampang and Chiang Rai, but destinations throughout central and northeastern Thailand as well as Luang Prabang. On top of that there seem to be about 57 different transport companies operating, all with different routes, prices and timetables.
Bangkok-bound buses will drop you off at any major town en route to Bangkok such as: Phitsanolok, Sukhothai, Nakhon Sawan and so on, though if you’re after a smaller destination check which route they use first. Northeast Thailand coverage is excellent with direct (at least in theory) buses departing for: Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Surin, Khon Kaen and Khorat plus again with stops at other important towns and provincial capitals en route such as Phetchabun, Roi Et and Buriram (although bear in mind some of these are very long rides). Several daily departures are scheduled for each of these long distance destinations, including morning and evening options.
One company serving northeastern destinations with a good reputation is Nakorn Chai Air, which has excellent buses. Their website has only limited English information but they have helplines: 053 262 799 for Chiang Mai or 02 936 0009 for Bangkok. This company also serves eastern destinations such as Rayong and Pattaya directly without having to change buses in Bangkok. They have their own ticketing office and waiting area opposite the north side of terminal 2.
Bangkok-bound buses depart from Arcade almost non-stop, between one company and another, from early morning till late at night. Comfort levels and prices vary considerably. Allow at least 10 hours and anything between 300 baht or so for a “standard” bus through to 850 baht for a super-deluxe, VIP, reclining seat, express. Nakorn Chai Air, for example, has 12 departures per day for Bangkok from 09:00 until 23:00, with the trip taking nine and a half hours in total and costing 657 baht for a standard and 876 baht for deluxe.
The new terminal number 3 now even has an international departure with a new service to Laos run by the 999 bus company — more on that particular service in the next post.
Needless to say there’s plenty of eateries and convenience stores all around Arcade, which is situated at the far end of Kaeo Narawat Road just before it meets the Superhighway. (See our Chiang Mai city map here.)
For local transport to and from Arcade please see our Chiang Mai local transport post.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 1st July, 2012.