Getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai

Sunset at Chiang Rai’s bus Terminal 1

Hi again everyone, if you’ve been following my recent chain of posts you’ll know that whilst in Chiang Mai I had the pleasure of finding the “Silver Temple.” HERE’s the post if you’re interested.  I was so moved by the uniqueness of this temple, I went to look for other such artistic temples and find some I did. BUT… they weren’t in Chiang Mai, they were in another city named, Chiang Rai and luckily it’s close enough to Chiang Mai to warrant a visit.

How to get to Chiang Rai then? Well, there are no direct flights nor direct trains to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. So that leaves buses, car (self drive or taxi) and motorcycle.  Keeping in mind that it’s at least a 3 hour journey, I chose go by bus because it was the cheapest and IMO most comfortable and safest. As far as buses to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, there’s really only one company that I could find whilst searching online (in English) and that is the Green Bus Thailand. They offer 3 “classes” of tickets…A, X and V (V for VIP, the costliest, roomiest and quickest. Plus there’s a toilet on board). I booked a Grab taxi and off I went to the bus station. There are 2 bus terminals in Chiang Mai and the one that I needed to go to was Bus Terminal 3. The ride cost me $200 TBH from around Tha Phae Gate to Terminal 3.

Entering from the front entrance, the Green Bus’s ticket counter is on the left and quite clearly marked, you can’t miss it. There’ll most likely be a lot of people yelling calling at you to get your tickets from them though as soon as you walk into the building. I just went to the line in front of the ticket agents under the Green Bus signage. Thankfully, the ticket agent’s understanding of English was good enough for me to pick my seat, ensure that my destination is Terminal 1 and book my VIP return tickets, two days in advance, at a cost of $560 TBH. Quite easy and hassle free. Here’s some photos of the front of the terminal taken at night because like this whole trip I’m winging it.

After purchasing my tickets I walked around a bit to try to find where I’ll be getting on my bus. I looked at my ticket and found two berth numbers. Great! Whilst looking around inside, I couldn’t find any berth numbers. You actually have to go outside of the building to find the berth numbers. The signage is on the outside walls. I actually lucked out and found my bus berth on the first try. It’s the first exit on the right when walking further into the terminal.

Chiang Mai’s bus Terminal 3 berths

The terminal has two floors but the second floor is basically empty with a small seating area and empty shops.  The only reason why I went up there was because there was signage indicating that there were clean toilets up there plus it’s relatively deserted so no need to wait in line. All the toilets in the terminal have an entrance fee but the main floor ones have an attendant at the entrance collecting the fee and selling toiletries like toilet paper just in case you didn’t bring your own. In my experience, when traveling in Asia always, ALWAYS have a packet of tissues and wet wipes with you (In Singapore you can also use them to reserve your seat/table at food courts)! The entrance to the toilets upstairs are coin operated turn styles but I’m guessing there’s an attendant around somewhere that cleans frequently because the toilets are clean. Here’s some photos inside the terminal, not of the toilets cuz that’s creepy.

If you have time, there is a mall next door with food shops and bars in  it, and at night there’s street food vendors in the parking lot. The bar on street level looked energetic and happening whereas the bar upstairs was more quiet and moody. I would have loved to grab a beer or three but I was on meds from the dentist. Around the corner is also some sort of religious area with statues and shops selling all sorts of religious items was pretty cool to just stumble onto something like this.

On the day of departure, I went about an hour early and bought some snacks and drinks, even though I’m supposed to get a drink and a snack on the bus (which turned out to be a small bottle of water and a small little cake, like a swiss roll).  At the berth, there are lots of attendants walking around in Green Bus  uniform (they are very easy to spot) so I asked one which berth will my bus be at and she looked at her clipboard and pointed. Easy Peasy. Looking at the buses coming in and out, you can’t visually discern which ones are the VIP ones and which aren’t. I would say 98% of all the buses I saw looked, um, dated.  Some more than others. There were a couple of really nice looking double decker tour buses but sadly not Green Bus ones. A bus arrived relatively close to the time on my ticket but didn’t look VIP at all to me but it looked newer than most of the buses that came and left this berth. There was only a paper sign on the window saying Chiang Rai, so I proceeded to get on the bus. I figured if it’s the wrong bus the attendant would stop me. Anyways, when the bus pulled in, I started having flashbacks of riding the Greyhound buses back in College.  I got on the bus and was pleasantly surprised. It was cold, seats were big and leg room was more than sufficient. I had my back pack on the floor in front of my chair and couldn’t feel that it was there.  My happiness subsided a bit when I sat down. The seats weren’t as comfy as they looked and mine felt a bit lumpy but at least mine reclined. I saw other fidgeting with theirs and eventually gave up. There were individual aircon jets you can adjust and I adjust mine away from me and I still had to put on my jacket.  Still for this price, well worth it and so much better than the Greyhound buses I used to ride back in day.

Things to note: I was told by hotel staff that there was construction on the roads to Chiang Rai that started last year and that my bus ride would probably be more than 3 hours. They recommended that I should not put my bag in the cargo hold of the bus as there have been reports of attendants climbing into the hold (while the bus is moving) and stealing things. I only had my backpack so I wasn’t worried about that plus I always have a TSA combination lock to lock bags’ zippers together. Anyways, I’m happy to report that we got to Chiang Rai in 3 1/2 hour and I didn’t get robbed. I did see some road construction going on outside Chiang Mai in multiple spots on the ‘highway’ between my naps.

Once In Chiang Rai’s Terminal 1 you can immediate tell it’s much more subdued and less busy than Chiang Mai. Terminal 1 is within downtown Chiang Rai with shops and buildings all around so most likely you’d want to alight here. Terminal 2 is on the outskirts of town and is the first stop, so make sure you’re aware of where you are and where you want to alight, as any instructions given by the attendant is in Thai. Frankly I didn’t have much time to look around Chiang Raias I only had one day including travel to see the three artistic temples that I planned on visiting. Long story short, I only saw two because they were just so awesome! Keep a look out for my posts regarding the white temple and blue temple, I’ll be putting them up soon. Anyways, I made it back to the bus terminal to catch my bus back to Chiang Mai about 30 minutes before the departure time. A bit too close for comfort. I shouldn’t have stressed because my bus was late.  How late? Well, 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time, a bunch of passengers bombarded the attendant with questions to which she only answered with wait (in English) she said a bunch of stuff in Thai but most of us couldn’t understand and those that did, didn’t translate so I went into the terminal to ask the ticket counter and they told me they don’t know where the bus is but it should be here shortly. 30 minutes turned into an hour, an hour turned into two. Yup 2 hours late. The most stressful part, for me, was the hopes and dashing of hopes every time a bus pulled into the berth. Then the thoughts of “I hope that’s not my bus” when a clunker drives in. I couldn’t wander too far off either because I don’t want to miss my bus. But just so you know, there is a night market that sets up just behind the parking lot. I saw a bit of it but not too much. There was even some comic relief that made my day a bit better. I found it quite entertaining to see some of the more irate passengers causing a fuss, and at one point a Chinese guy was literally jumping up and down screaming “VIP, VIP” while his buddies tried to calm him down but they too eventually moved away and left him jumping by himself. After he calmed down an attendant went up to him and noticed that he had some prohibited food items(the very pungent, durian) in his bag and when they tried to tell him that he can’t bring them on the bus, he began his VIP chant again but this time he pulled out his ticket out and waved it around. While waiting for the bus he and his buddies ate the durians. The best part about the wait was the sunset probably why I wasn’t all too upset about the delay.

Thankfully on the bus everyone just slept. Even more impressive that being two hours late, this bus driver might actually be a retired rally car driver. We still made it back to Chiang Mai in about 3 1/2 hours, on winding roads and in the dark! Keep in mind that there are scattered construction areas along the way. Yup you can tell because those were the only areas with lights aside from the roadside establishments that our driver liked to stop at so frequently.  He stopped far enough away where I couldn’t see where he was going or what those stalls/huts were for. Maybe checkpoints, I don’t know but he wasn’t gone long, a few minutes at most each time. There were a couple times at the construction areas where I couldn’t tell if we were on the correct side of the dirt road because sometimes headlights were on our right and sometimes on the left. The area wasn’t lit well enough for me to see any railing or traffic cones or maybe there weren’t any but like I said, this driver is impressive.

All in all, I will take this method of transport again because well, it was fun and I don’t think there’s a better way from Chiang Mai. I’ll probably be back in Chiang Mai before the year is done and I’ll definitely go back to Chiang Rai but next time I’m gonna spend at least 2 days in Chiang Rai.

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