There are three ways in which you can travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand: by plane, by train or by bus. The train and plane have similar prices so unless you want to break your journey in Sukhothai, plane might be more convenient option.
After a few months spent in Sri Lanka and a short time in India, the time had come to finish the loop around South -East Asia. Taking advantage of the visa waiver fee for Indian nationals on visits of 14 days, we decided to return to Thailand.
As a Polish and British citizen, I could enjoy a one-month stay in Thailand without a visa. I decided to use that extra two weeks to study Thai Yoga Massage at its source, in Chiang Mai. I booked the courses in advance, to be sure I’d get the spot.
Bangkok airport – Chiang Mai
I took a budget flight from Kolkata at midnight and landed in Bangkok at 4 am. The airport link trains started running at 5.30 am. I took the airport link and changed at Makkasan station. It was easy to follow the signs outside the Makkasan station to Petchaburi metro station from where I took the blue line metro to Hua Lamphong. It took me one hour, door to door. I wanted to catch the 8.30 am train to Chiang Mai, which would reach after gruelling 11 hours. Unfortunately, there were no more tickets. I had to wait till 1.45 pm for a sleeper train.
I was hoping to get a cheaper fan sleeper we took with Sayak to Chumphon the previous year, but this train didn’t have a fan option. The cheapest, 2nd class A/C sleeper (upper berth) cost 690 baht ($21)! I was already missing India where double the distance cost the same price. The bus to Chiang Mai wouldn’t be significantly cheaper but it would be equally long (around 12 hours). I opted for the train for environmental reasons, but to be honest, it makes much more sense to fly, time-wise and economy-wise.
A budget flight is the best option , especially if you don’t have a check- in luggage. Sayak bought for himself a flight ticket for just 700 baht including checked in luggage. If you arrive by air, you can save money and time on transfers. Sayak’s flight from India landed on main Suvarnabhumi airport. Conveniently, the budget domestic flight to Chiang Mai departed from the same airport. However, even if you arrive at Don Mueang airport, the process is easy. There is a free shuttle between two Bangkok airports (90 min with no traffic, 180min in the daytime). Meanwhile, I paid 65 baht just to get from the airport to Hua Lamphong train station.
I had over 6 hours till my train. I could have easily left my luggage at the station (40 baht) and walk around Bangkok. But to be honest, I was too tired after the night flight.
I forgot how miserable Bangkok could be for vegans (anywhere apart from Khao San Rd area). During those 6 hours, I spent at the Hua Lamphong, I struggled to find something edible. Apart from a miserably small portion of rice with veggies at the railway canteen, I found just sticky rice with banana and suki (glutinous rice dough dumplings with sweet peanut filling) at the railway food stall. Opposite the main entrance, I found food stalls in small lanes parallel to the main road. However, the only thing I could find was a fried chive cake with sprouts. Food was served on the train, but it was overpriced and my only option was rice with boiled vegetables. It’s better to get food before getting on board.
Luckily for me, the train was late, which meant it arrived at 6 am instead of 4.30 am. I could take a red songthaew (truck) or wait till 7 am for the first public bus to get me to town. The bus stop was across the parking site, on the road. It cost only 15 baht to get me to the city centre. I walked the remaining distance to my chosen hostel, outside the southern gate of the old town.
Sukothai stopover option
Sukhothai – an ancient capital of Thailand, is located exactly half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It doesn’t lie directly on the train line- one would have to travel through a nearby Phitsanulok town and then take a bus for two hours.
Prices [in Thai baht as of March 2019]
700 THB a budget flight (incl. checked-in luggage) Bangkok- Chiang Mai
690 THB A/C sleeper upper berth train Bangkok-Chiang Mai
90 THB chepeast meal on the train
40 THB luggage storage at Hua Lamhong train station
35 THB airport to Makkasan station by airport link train
30 THB Petchaburi to Hua Lamphong metro
30 THB rice and vegetables at the railway station canteen
22 THB water bottle
15 THB city bus from the train station to Chiang Mai city centre
1 THB water bottle refill from a purifying water machine on the street