Go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

4 Ways to Go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The northern Thai city of Chiang Rai is 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Chiang Mai.  It’s close to the border of both Myanmar and Laos and it’s a popular place to visit in Thailand. All of the ways to travel from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai are overland and by road.  There’s no effective way to fly between the two.  Chiang Rai is famous for its temples, most specifically the White Temple.  This guide covers whether you’re going from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai or Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai as you’ll need to know the best way to travel between these two destinations.  There are three different options for going between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai whether you choose to take a bus or a private transfer between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, your choice will likely depends on the time you have available and your budget.  An alternative, if you are really pushed for time is to take a day trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai and I’ve covered those options as well. Here’s our guide on how to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

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Quickest Way to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The bus is quick, but the bus stations aren’t close to the old town areas. The quickest way to travel to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is to get a transfer.

Where is Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the northeast of Chiang Mai, in Mueang Chiang Rai District.  Chiang Rai is Thailand’s most northerly major city and has a population of around 200,000.  The Kok River runs along the northern part of Chiang Rai, on its route from Myanmar to the Mekong River.  Taking the Mekong River slow boat is a popular place to go to after Chiang Rai if you’re heading to Laos (I wrote about the slow boat here)

How to Go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai – Transport Options

In this guide on how to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we’ll cover the fastest way to travel go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, the easiest way to go to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, and how to visit Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai if you are short of time.  There is no train between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai as the train tracks do not go any further north than Chiang Mai.  Our guide on the best things to do in Chiang Rai is here.

How to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

For transport from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, then you have several options, all of which take Highway 118 and Highway 1.  You can take a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, or you can take a taxi to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai.  If you are short on time, then you can take a day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and see all the highlights in a (long) day.

The easiest way to see Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is to take a day trip from Chiang Mai.  Small group tours travel in a minivan and give you the maximum time in Chiang Rai with minimum hassle.

1.     Day Trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

With pickups from your hotel or hostel in Chiang Mai, a day trip to Chiang Rai is the perfect way to see the city famous for the White Temple.  You’ll get to see the White Temple, Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple, and also the Black House in Chiang Rai.  This is a great option if you’re a solo traveler, in a small group, or simply short of time.  You can check availability on day trips to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai here.

2.     Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

It’s about 200 kilometers (125 miles) by road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and taking the bus is the cheapest way to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.  Buses that run from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai take about 3 hours and 30 minutes.  Buses to Chiang Rai leave Chiang Mai from the Chiang Mai bus terminal 3 (you can see this on our map below) and arrive at the Chiang Rai bus terminal 1.  The first bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai leaves at 07:30 and the last bus of the day from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai leaves at 18:00.

There are two types of buses between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.  The VIP bus has slightly larger seats and goes direct, the Express Bus takes a little longer.

You can check the bus timetable from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai here

If you are arriving in Chiang Mai on the train, then the bus terminal is 2.2 kilometers (1.3 miles) away.  The bus terminal in Chiang Mai is 15 minutes by taxi from the old part of the city, which is most likely where you will be staying.

Thailand Buses

The buses that run this route have air conditioning and some may have WiFi.  If you arrive at a bus station to take a van to Chiang Rai then you’ll need to confirm the price and pay in cash.  If you want to pay on a card, then you’re best to pre-book online here.  The earlier you book, the better seat you’ll get.

You can take a VIP bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai – or you can take an Express Bus. The Express bus takes a little longer.  In total, there are 12 buses a day that you can prebook to go to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai.

Check availability, prices, and book seats on buses from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai here.

The downside of taking the bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is that you’ll need to arrange transport to get to the bus terminals in each city.  I’ve covered where they are in the map of bus stations later in this article.

We took the bus between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai – and ended up taking taxis to get to the bus terminals, so bear that in mind when you’re looking at the cost of transport.

The bus between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is a popular route in Thailand – and you can read about general transport in Thailand in our guide here.

Bus interior Chiang Mai

3. Minivans from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

If you have a group of up to 9 then you can pre-book a private transfer in a VIP minibus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.  You’ll get picked up at your hotel or hostel in Chiang Mai and get dropped off at a location of your choice in Chiang Rai

Check availability and prices for private minivans from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

4. Taxi from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Taking a private taxi to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is one of the fastest ways to go to Chiang Rai.  It is also the most comfortable way to travel.  You can check prices for Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai taxis here.

Map of Chiang Mai Bus Terminals for going from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

You can also see the bus stops from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai here

How to to Go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai map

The quickest way to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

It takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.  There is one basic route that goes along Highway 118 and Highway 1.  It will be quicker to go by a private transfer or a private minivan as you won’t need to get to and from the bus terminals. You can book the quickest route from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai here.

Can you fly from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?

Technically yes, you can fly to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, although all flights go via Bangkok, which is why I haven’t included this as a usable route.  You can get to the airport in Chiang Mai by tuk-tuk and the Chiang Rai airport is 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) from the city.

The easiest way to go to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

The easiest way to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is to get a door-to-door transfer, but if you are near one of the bus stations, then that is a great option.  If you don’t want to stay or travel independently, then a day trip to Chiang Rai is an easy way to travel.

The cheapest way to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The cheapest way to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai is to take the bus – reserve your seats here.

Popular Routes in Thailand

Want to know more about different forms of transport in Thailand? Our guide to Thailand transport is here. And here’s how to travel some of the popular routes around Thailand, your options, and how we did it.

Travel Tips for Exploring Thailand

Final Words on How to Go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

It’s not difficult to go between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai – the bus company that runs this route has been doing this for many years now and is reliable.  If you are tight on time, then taking a day trip to Chiang Rai is a great way to see the highlights of the city and return to your hotel in Chiang Mai.  If you’re a group then a private transfer or private minivan is a good option. The bus, however, is also comfortable and runs around 12 times a day between the cities, although you will have to arrange transport to and from the bus terminals in each city.

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