There are 13 flights per day going from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Thai Lion Air and Bangkok Airways both offer services. A typical one way ticket costs 1,200 Thai Baht. In contrast there are just 6 trains running daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. An average price for a second class sleeper on the train is just over 1,000 Thai Baht. The flight takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. The train journey takes between 12 to 14 hours. So flying is cheaper and quicker. Why take the train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok?
For a start the money comparison is a little over-simplified because there is the extra expense of getting to and from an airport. Don Muang airport doesn’t have a rail link and a taxi into town costs 500 Thai Baht. From Chiang Mai centre to the airport costs about 120 THB. In comparison you can walk from Chiang Mai Train Station to the old town. You can catch the MRT from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok to Sukhumvit for 130 Thai Baht per person.
The different additional costs of getting to and from a travel hub make the train and the plane journey about the same price.
Obviously in terms of time the airplane option wins hands down. Even if you have to wait around in airports, get searched and scrutinised and all the other palaver that goes with modern air travel. So again, why take the train?
My main argument is that it is nicer. There is still a small amount of romance left about train travel, even with Thai characteristics. You get leg room and even a bed if you travel over night. You can get up and walk around with getting in everyone’s way. You don’t feel hemmed in like transported livestock in economy class on a plane.
As many people have commented in the past – train travel is more civilised. You can bring your own food and drink, you can go to the dining car for something or you can catch the attention of one of the hawkers going up and down the train. You can go to the end of the carriage for a crafty cigarette. And best of all you can look out the window and see something of the Thai countryside rather than just clouds.
Train travel in Thailand is straight forward. It is not hard to find your platform. The trains aren’t running an exact schedule like their Japanese counterparts but they are fairly reliable. You can get tickets the day before normally. You can even buy Chiang Mai to Bangkok train tickets online if you get them 3 days in advance. Click the book button below to check availability and buy a ticket, or use the ticket search engine at the top of the right hand column.
Finally, what is the rush? There is much to explore between major tourist destinations in Thailand. People often have the mind-set that only a handful of places are worth spending any time in. That is not true. Thailand is a diverse Kingdom with many hidden gems. Tourists are missing out. For example between Chiang Mai and Bangkok is Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. Both are former capitals and full of ancient temples and palaces. Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage spot. Trains give you the freedom to make stops on the way and discover a bit about Thailand.
It might not be the most convincing of arguments for people who hate being on transport but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in travel, as in life, it is the journey not the arriving that teaches you more.