Old Bus Station
Chiang Rai’s old bus station (baw kaw saw gao in Thai) was eclipsed as the province’s transport hub in April 2009 by the opening of a shiny new bus station on the southern fringe of the city, but it’s still a hub of activity in the heart of downtown. Since 2009, nearly all inter-provincial bus routes moved to run operations from the new station, leaving local Chiang Rai buses and routes to bordering provinces (Lampang, Nan, Phayao) for the old bus station. Aside from being the place to catch any bus within Chiang Rai province, the atmosphere is enough to make the bus station an attraction in its own right.
Local buses generally look hand-assembled (with some pieces missing) and seem like they’d never make it up the provinces steep mountain roads, let alone do it every day, but these old war horses do just that.An equally colourful array of ticket-touts, baggage boys, and drivers compete for interest with locals returning to high mountain villages packing everything imaginable. Chickens are the least of the surprises offered. Most interestingly, the more dilapidated a bus is, the more swaggering and confident the driver, as though the sheer force of his will is all that holds the bus together.
These local buses go absolutely everywhere in Chiang Rai. The most common routes for tourists are buses to the Burmese border at Mae Sot, to the ancient city of Chiang Saen, and to the Laos border at Chiang Khong for boats to Luang Prabang. The schedule below is a list of all the buses from this station, but there are also numerous sawngthaew routes that it appears only locals know – if you’re going somewhere unusual just ask around!
NOTE! The old offices for all inter-provincial bus routes have been vacated but routes and times are still posted. These buses all leave from the new bus station!
Destination Departures Duration (hours) Price
Mae Chan 6:00-20:00, every 20 minutes 0:40 15
Ban Pasang (to Mae Salong) 6:00-20:00, every 20 minutes 0:45 20
Ban Huai Khrai 6:00-20:00, every 20 minutes 1 23
Mae Sai 6:00-20:00, every 20 minutes 1:30 33
Chiang Saen 6:20-18:30, every 20 minutes 1:30 32
Mae Suay, Wiang Pa Pao, Mae Khajan (Wat Rong Khun) 6:20-17:30, every 30 minutes 1, 1:45, 2:15 27,46, 54, (7)
Thoeng, Chiang Khong 5:20-17:45, every 45 minutes 1, 1:45, 2:15 34, 65
Phaya Mengrai, Chiang Khong 6:30-16:30, every hour 3 26, 65
Wiang Chai, Chiang Khong 6:00-17:00, every hour 2:20 7, 65
Wiang Kaen 11:00, 13:00, 15:30 2:30 60
Phayao 16:30 2 44
Phayao, Ngao, Lampang 6:30-12:00, every 45 minutes 2, 3:30, 5, 6, 7 44, 67, 102
Mae Suay, Wang Nua, Chae Hom, Lampang 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 10:15, 11:00 1, 2:30, 5, 5:30 60, 140, 164
Chiang Kham, Tha Wang Pha, Nan 9:30am, every 2nd day 2, 4:30, 6 43, 60
Thoeng, Chiang Kham 7:45, 10:30, 12:45, 15:30 every 2nd day OR
6:00-18:00, every 30 minutes 2 31, 43
Phan, Mae Chai, Phayao (Wat Rong Khun) 9:30-15:10, every 30 minutes 1, 1:30, 2 23, 33, 44
Phu Chee Fa [van] 7:15, 13:00 2:30 150
Pa Det, Chun 10:30, 13:30, 16:30 2, 3 25, 40
There is a convenient and easy sawngthaew (share taxi) route between the 2 bus stations which costs only 10 baht, while a tuk-tuk will cost 50-80 baht depending on your negotiation skills for the 7km ride. You can catch the sky blue sawngthaw roughly every 20 minutes at the southwest corner of the main terminal building.
On the east side of the building is the ever-important bathroom where for a mere 3 baht you can smell stale urine and wash your hands if you’re lucky and the water’s running.
Also on the east end of the terminal building are 2 snack shops that offer bag drop service. You can leave your bags here while waiting for a bus connection for 10 baht/bag between the hours of 6am-8pm. Look for a few non-descript shelves with luggage on them.
Surrounding the old bus station are plenty of shops and restaurants, and in the evenings the night bazaar from about 5pm onwards.