Situated in the far north of Thailand, the Golden Triangle is easily accessed from Chiang Mai, the nation’s second biggest city and major transport hub. From Bangkok, air travel is the most convenient option if you are not travelling on a budget, with the road journey from the capital being lengthy. Once in the region, transportation between key locations is easily done by bus, taxi, motorbike taxi or songthaew, but a rented car might be most practical.
Chiang Rai Airport
Chiang Rai Airport is a small facility with a single terminal, located just eight kilometres from the centre of Chiang Rai.The airport has the capability of serving international flights, but currently only offers domestic services to Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Daily services are operated by Thai Airways and AirAsia. There are several flights per day from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, while a single flight connects with Chiang Mai (through Thai Airways’ Thai Smile).
From outside the airport, passengers can hire regular taxis or tuk-tuks to take them either to the city centre or the bus station, or as far as Chiang Saen or Mae Sai.
Visitors booked to stay at one of Chiang Rai or Chiang Saen’s reputable resorts may well be offered a hotel pick up, either as a gratuity or for a fee.
Bus transportation to the Golden Triangle
Buses run from Bangkok as far as Chiang Rai, with the journey taking 11-12 hours and bypassing Chiang Mai. Passengers wishing to travel onto Mae Sai or Chiang Saen can take a connecting service – an extra 45-minute journey. From Chiang Mai, there are buses directly to Chiang Rai (three hours) and Chiang Saen (four hours, 30 minutes), and services to Mae Sai via Chiang Rai (four hours).
These buses leave hourly from the main bus terminal east of the city, though you may have to change in Chiang Rai to reach your final destination. Several guesthouses and travel agents also offer direct minibuses to Chiang Kong (for the boat ride along the Mekong to Luang Prabang in Laos) or to Mae Sai for visa runs.
Golden Triangle car transportation
The route to the Golden Triangle from Chiang Mai and northern Thai destinations is simple enough, although some of the route passes through mountainous terrain and motorists should be alert for dangerous drivers. There are plenty of signposts in English to assist foreign visitors. Those bound for Chiang Saen need to turn right off the main highway, but this turning is well signed and difficult to miss. From Chiang Rai to Mae Sai, the route is uncomplicated with plentiful signs as you head north.
Golden Triangle public transportation
Once in the Golden Triangle region, visitors can move between Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen and Mae Sai via public bus. Songthaew (covered pick ups) provide transportation for short distances and can be hailed in the street or accessed at strategic locations. Motorbike taxis, recognisable by the driver’s orange vest, are also available from selected locations for short journeys about town. Since distances are short, there are vehicles leaving more than once per hour from the bus terminal in the city centre.
Bike and car hire in the Golden Triangle
Renting a vehicle gives visitors the chance to better explore the area and get a greater appreciation of its natural beauty. Between Chiang Mai and Mae Sai, there are myriad opportunities to veer off the main road and discover small villages and traditional rural areas as well as to find resorts and interesting dining establishments.
Car hire is available in Chiang Rai at more reasonable prices than in Chiang Mai, although visitors will need to leave their passports with the rental company unless they require them to cross the Thai-Burmese border. For car hire, we recommend online booking in advance.
Motorbikes are also available and, while they have a greater potential for hazard, they are considerably cheaper than cars. Most bikes are step-through or automatic models which are ideal for novice riders, although larger clutch-controlled versions are also available. Motorcycles are suitable for getting from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai or Chiang Saen/Sop Ruak, but only the brave should attempt riding from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai on a rented bike as the traffic is dangerous.