Where to Go
Transport Chiang Rai
Although a fairly remote province, Chiang Rai is fairly well connected to the rest of Thailand and can be reached via private car, public bus, or airplane. However, it is also possible to take a train or plane to nearby Chiang Mai an then a three hour bus ride to Chiang Rai. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, but there are standard forms of local transport available for visitors: i.e. songtaews and tuk tuks.
There is no direct train to Chiang Rai. Visitors must take a train to Lampang (9 hrs. from Bangkok) or Chiang Mai (11 hrs.) and then take a bus to Chiang Rai. (2 hrs. from Lampang and 1.30 hrs. from Chiang Mai) For more details, call the State Railway of Thailand, 1690 (hotline), 0 2223 7010, or 0 2223 7020.
From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), to Highway No. 32 passing Ayutthaya, Angthong, and Singburi Provinces. Change over to Highway No. 11 passing Phitsanulok, Uttaradit, and Phrae Provinces then turn left to Highway No. 103, driving through to Ngao District where a right turn back onto Highway No. 1 will lead through Phayao to Chiang Rai Province. The total distance is 785 km.
From Chiang Mai it’s a three hour drive to Chiang Rai if you follow the fastest route and avoid stopping at attractions along the way. Otherwise there are several routes one can take between the two cities, the most straightforward of which are:
1.Take Highway No.107 north to Route No.109 and then Highway No.1 to Chiang Rai.
2.Travel South to Lampang on Highway No.11 and then follow Highway No.1 North to Chiang Rai.
From Bangkok, there are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned bus services from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) on Kamphaengphet 2 Road. The journey may take from 9 to 11 hours, though there are overnight sleeper busses available that may make the time seem to pass more quickly.
From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, air conditioned busses leave 12 times daily from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal for the three hour, 182 kilometer ride. Some busses continue on to Mae Sai and Chiang Saen.
Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. For more information, visit www.thaiairways.com or www.airasia.com
From Chiang Mai, both Thai Airways and Nok Air have service to Chiang Mai, though Nok offers flights only a few day each week. www.thaiairways.com & www.nokair.com
Getting around Chiang Rai town can be done on foot and by tuk-tuk or songthaew, although there are a few taxis if you need some air-conditioning or it happens to be raining.
To get into the countryside there are local busses and songtaews between rural towns, though exploring is likely more convenient in a rental car or motorbike. There are car rental agencies such as Budget and Avis in Chiang Rai as well as some more reasonably priced local agencies, including Northern Wheels. Be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road. If you are concerned, hire a car with a driver for a reasonably priced extra fee.
For around 200 to 300 baht per day you can also hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law.