4 Ways to Get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: Ultimate Guide

Looking for the best way to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Thailand’s most northerly major city? 

The distance from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is just 172 kilometers, or about a 3-hour drive. You can visit on a day trip or stay overnight, like I did.

You can get to Chiang Rai by self-driving, hiring a private driver, taking a tour, or hopping on a bus. 

There are no Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai train options, and the flight route through Bangkok doesn’t make sense. 

It’s a popular route, but much of the information online is outdated, so I’m here to share my recent experience. 

I just got back from a 4-day trip to Chiang Rai, taking the bus both ways. It was a comfortable 3-hour ride, much easier than riding my scooter during the rainy season. 

As a solo traveler, safety and comfort are my top priorities. It was nice to nap on the way!

So, let’s start planning your trip to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai.

👉 If you’re short on time and don’t want to spend hours in crowded public transport, check out this Chiang Rai Temples Private Tour from Chiang Mai. It has over 200 5-Star reviews and includes the most famous White Temple plus lesser-known ones without so many tourists.

Traveler sitting comfortably inside the Greenbus VIP service on the route from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Plenty of room on the Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai VIP bus.

1. Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Bus (Green Bus)

One of the easiest and most comfortable ways to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is by taking the Green Bus. That’s how I went, and it couldn’t have been easier. 

I recommend taking the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai only if you plan to stay overnight in Chiang Rai for one or more nights.

Green Bus has a monopoly on this route, making them the go-to choice for travelers. 

There are 16 buses daily, starting at 7am and arriving in Chiang Rai around 10:45am. The last bus leaves Chiang Mai at 6pm and arrives in Chiang Rai around 9:20pm.

I recommend buying your bus ticket 1-2 days before departure, especially during peak season (November to February).

There are two types of Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai buses: Express and VIP. 

Both buses are very comfortable as far as buses in Southeast Asia go, and both include a complimentary bottle of water. I went with the VIP both ways, but my friend took the Express and said it was great. 

Bring a sweater—the AC blasts the whole way. Some locals like to watch videos with the volume on, so bring earphones. 

You’ll select your seat when you buy your tickets. Avoid the first row if you have long legs. Avoid the back on the VIP bus if you don’t want to sit next to the toilet.

The luggage is secured under the bus.

👉 Pro Tip: I use this site to look up train, bus, and ferry routes.

The Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai Express bus pulling away from the parking lot.
This is the Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Express Bus.
Interior view of the Greenbus Express seats, showcasing comfortable seating for the journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
The seats on the Green Bus Express Bus are slightly smaller than those on the VIP Bus.

Express Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The Express bus is a bit cheaper, costing 271 baht ($7.34 USD) online and 210 baht ($5.69 USD) in person. 

The Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Express bus takes about 25 minutes longer because it stops for a bathroom break halfway through the trip and has slightly smaller seats, although still comfortable and spacious. 

Traveler taking a selfie with the Greenbus in the background, highlighting the bus route from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
The VIP Bus to Chiang Rai is slightly more comfortable and has a bathroom.
nterior view of the Greenbus VIP seats, showcasing comfortable seating for the journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
I like the seat configuration in the VIP Bus to Chiang Rai so I don’t have to sit next to anyone.

VIP Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

The VIP bus costs 315 baht ($8.54 USD) at the station and 380 baht ($10.30 USD) online. It has a toilet on board (which I didn’t use), and the seats are a bit more comfortable. 

The VIP bus does not make any stops on the way.

I got a single seat by the window without anyone directly next to me, perfect for a solo traveler! The complimentary cookies and moist toilette were a nice touch, too.

Ticket counter (red) for the Green Bus service from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, showing available routes and schedules.
Why is the ticket window for the Greenbus painted red at the Chiang Mai Bus Terminal?

Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3

The Chiang Rai bus leaves from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3, also known as Arcade Bus Terminal. It’s an 18-minute drive from the center of the Old City or about an hour’s walk. 

My Grab motorbike cost just 65 baht from the Nimman neighborhood.

Or, you can hop on a red truck for about 70 baht per person.

Ironically, the Green Bus ticket window is painted red at the Chiang Mai station, but it’s easy to find by the entrance. 

Overview of Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1, with Green Bus and local transportation options visible.
Plenty of tuk-tuks are waiting to pick up passengers at the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1.
Travelers buying tickets at the Greenbus ticket office in Chiang Rai for the bus journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
The Greenbus ticket window is easy to find at the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1.

Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1

The bus stops at two Chiang Rai bus terminals, but most travelers get off at the second and final stop at Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1. This terminal is right in the center of town.

The Green Bus ticket window at the Chiang Rai bus station is painted green, as it should be.

You can walk to your accommodation right from here, depending on where you’re staying. There are also a ton of tuk-tuks waiting for you. 

Some of my favorite restaurants are near the bus terminal, in case you’re hungry.

My hotel said it would cost about 80-100 baht to get a tuk-tuk from the bus station to my hotel, about a 7-minute drive away. You can also check the price on Grab before you negotiate.

I walked to nearby Nice Rental to rent a scooter for my time in Chiang Rai. They charged me 210 baht/day for a 125cc scooter, which I thought was a little expensive but not bad.

👉 I highly recommend Airalo eSIM for travelers to Thailand — it’s affordable, easy to set up before your trip, and provides seamless connectivity the moment you land, making it the perfect choice for hassle-free travel.

Solo female traveler (me) posing in front of the White Temple, wearing flowy red pants.
Get to the White Temple right when they open at 8am for the best photos!

2. Small-Group Day Tours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

If you don’t have time to stay overnight in Chiang Rai, I recommend taking a day tour from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai instead of the bus.

These tours stop at the famous White Temple, Blue Temple, and Black House.

Many travelers visit Chiang Rai as a day trip from Chiang Mai. While it’s a popular choice, I personally wouldn’t recommend it. 

The 3-hour drive each way means you’ll spend about 6 hours in a car, leaving little time to truly explore. 

However, if you’re short on time and determined to see the famous White Temple, some highly-rated tours can make the trip worthwhile!

The best part of these Chiang Rai day tours is the knowledgeable local guide who shares interesting facts and history about each temple. This is something I missed out on going by myself.

#1 Top Pick
A solo female traveler (me) walks away from the camera in front of the beautiful White Temple in Chiang Rai.


Chiang Rai Temples Tour: White Temple, Blue Temple & Black House

✅ Max. 9 participants

✅ Includes hot spring stop

✅ Includes pick-up/drop-off

#2 Pick
Statue of Buddha at the stunning Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, adorned with intricate golden details.

From Chiang Mai: Chiang Rai Temples Guided Tour

✅ 2,500+ reviews

✅ Designated pick-up/drop-off spot

✅ Includes hot spring stop

#3 Pick
Artistic painting of an elephant at the Black House in Chiang Rai, showcasing unique local artwork.

Chiang Rai White Temple, Blue Temple, Black House from Chiang Mai

✅ Includes cafe stop

✅ Optional add-on to see Golden Triangle + Mekong Delta Cruise instead of Blue Temple and Black House

3. Private Driver / Private Tours from Chiang Mai

If you’re traveling with a partner or friend or simply prefer a more personalized experience, hiring a private driver or taking a private tour is a fantastic option. 

This way, you can go at your own pace and have more control over your itinerary, take as much time as you want at each stop without feeling rushed, and be more comfortable for the long ride than in a minivan.

This tour offers a very knowledgeable guide who will help you get great photos and share interesting facts about each site. It’s a bit more expensive than small group tours but offers more flexibility and comfort.

#1 Top Pick
A traveler taking a selfie in front of the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, capturing its beautiful architecture.


Chiang Rai Temples: Private Tour from Chiang Mai

✅ Rated 5 stars with 680+ reviews

✅ Knowledgeable guide helps you get great photos

✅ Most flexible tour option starting at $129 USD for 2 people

You can also try to find a driver and negotiate a lower price. Remember that they might not have as much historical knowledge as an official guide. 

A blue scooter parked next to the green tea plantation outside of Chiang Rai with workers in the background picking tea leaves.
I opted for the bus and rented a scooter when I got to Chiang Rai instead.

4. Self-drive by Renting a Scooter or Car

If you love the freedom of exploring on your own schedule, self-driving by renting a scooter or car is a great option for getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. 

When I book a Chiang Mai rental car online, I recommend and use Discover Cars.

Discover Cars is my first choice because I always find the best deals during my research. And what’s more, they provide FREE cancellations up to 48 hours before your reservation.

I considered driving myself to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai but decided that 3 hours on my scooter was a long time, especially with the risk of rain during the rainy season. I liked being able to nap on the bus!

The route is straightforward, following Highway 118 and Highway 1. The roads are in good condition and not too busy, making for a pleasant drive. 

Some parts of the drive are quite scenic with lots of greenery, though it can get hot in the sun as there isn’t much shade. Fortunately, there are plenty of gas stations, cafes, and 7-Elevens along the way for breaks and refreshments.

Keep in mind that they drive on the left-hand side in Thailand. 

Technically, you should have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive here. 

Your IDP should have a motorcycle designation for scooters. I was stopped at a police checkpoint on my scooter in Chiang Rai and was glad I had my proper license to avoid a fine.

If you plan to stay in Chiang Rai for a couple of days or more, having your own transportation is convenient. It allows you to explore the area at your own pace. However, I wouldn’t recommend this option unless you’re a confident driver.

I really enjoyed visiting all the temples on my scooter, which allowed me to move around easily. 

It would have been nice to have a guide to learn more about what I was looking at, though!

🚗 Book a Chiang Mai rental car today!

FAQs: Getting From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

How do you get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?

To get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, you can take a bus, hire a private driver, join a day tour, or self-drive a car or scooter. The bus ride is about 3 hours and costs 210-380 baht ($5.69-$10.30 USD). Small group tours cost around $53 USD, and private tours cost about $129 USD for two people.

Is Chiang Rai worth going to?

Yes, Chiang Rai is worth visiting, especially if you can go for a few days. There’s so much more to do than take pictures of the photogenic White and Blue Temples. You can hike to waterfalls, visit sprawling tea plantations, and explore the vibrant local markets. If you’re short on time, I’d recommend Chiang Mai and Pai over Chiang Rai.

What is nicer, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

Both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are charming, but Chiang Mai is more interesting to visit as a traveler. Chiang Mai is larger and offers more activities, while Chiang Rai offers a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere with stunning temples. 

How long should I spend in Chiang Rai?

Spend at least one night in Chiang Rai to explore the area without rushing. This allows you to visit the temples, enjoy the local culture, and relax. If you can, extend your stay to two or three days for a more in-depth experience and explore the countryside around Chiang Rai.

A solo female traveler (me) stands in front of the green tea plantation, holding a plastic cup filled with iced tea and smiling at the camera.

Final Thoughts: How to Get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

I just got back from my five days in Chiang Rai and realized how much outdated information is online. I hope my recent experiences help you plan your trip to Chiang Rai!

Most travelers choose to visit Chiang Rai as a day trip from Chiang Mai, either through a small group tour or a private tour. 

Taking a day tour of Chiang Rai is a great option if you have limited time and want to see the famous temples before moving on. 

However, I personally think taking the bus and spending the night is the best way to experience Chiang Rai. It gives you more time to explore and enjoy everything the city offers.

Renting a scooter or car is also an easy and flexible option if you’re comfortable driving. The route is easy to drive, and the roads are in good condition, with plenty of places to stop for gas or snacks.

Now that you know how to get to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, it’s time to plan out your Chiang Rai itinerary!

Read More About Chiang Rai:

📝 Thailand Travel Planning Guide 🇹🇭🌟

Before you embark on your unforgettable journey to Thailand here are the essential tips every traveler should know:

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Thailand?

✅ 100% YES! — My #1 Safety Tip for all travelers is to buy travel insurance for every trip in case anything happens on their visit. I recommend and use SafetyWing – it’s cheap and comprehensive.

💧Can you drink the water in Thailand?

🚱 No — It’s recommended to drink filtered or bottled water in Thailand (but using tap water to brush your teeth is usually fine). I recommend this reusable water bottle! It works great, turning tap water into safe-to-drink water that tastes good.

🚙💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Thailand?

Yes — Renting a car in Thailand is one of the best ways to see the countryside! I recommend Discover Cars, which checks both international companies and local companies, so you get the best rates.

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Thailand accommodations?

My go-to for Thailand hotels is Booking.com. For hostels, I use HostelWorld. Or get free accommodations with Trusted Housesitters!

✈️ What’s the best site to book Thailand flights?

For finding cheap Thailand flights, I recommend CheapOAir.

🎫 Do I need a visa for Thailand?

🙅🏻‍♀️ Likely Not — US, UK, and EU passport holders don’t need visas for stays of up to 30 days in Thailand.

💰 𝗖𝘂𝗿𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝘆: The currency here is the Thai baht, and there are plenty of ATMs if you need cash. I always withdraw from ATMs to get the best rates (select “no” when it asks you if you accept the conversion rate).

🚕 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻: Getting around Thailand is a breeze! Grab is safe and cheap in major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok has a modern metro. It’s easy to use local transport such as songthaews, too.

📶 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗻𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘁𝘆: Thailand has reliable internet connectivity. SIM cards are easy to find and cheap.