The VIP Green Bus is the affordable luxury travel way to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Plane, Bike or VIP Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai?
It’s about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Our first question after we decided to visit was how best to cover that distance.
We talked a couple of expats in Chiang Mai, Dan and Jess, who had rented motorbikes for the journey.
On the one hand, that seemed adventurous to me. On the other, that seemed like a little slice of Hell to Lisa given we’d have to deal with our bags (even if they are the best long-term travel bags in the world!). So making the journey by motorbike was a hard pass for us.
Next thought: we DO love to fly places…especially on upscale flights!
And it’s totally possible to fly from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai…it’s just not convenient…or affordable.
The short trip gets very long as it requires a connection (Bangkok is the closest), meaning at least 5 hours of flight time plus connecting time. Not to mention airport check-in time, etc. The prices we saw were around 4,000 Baht ($125US) pp round trip. Not worth it.
This left us with what ought to be the obvious choice for any traveler between the two cities: The VIP Green Bus.
About Green Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
There are several bus lines in Thailand but for all practical purposes Green Bus owns the Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai route. And it does so with flair!
Green Bus actually runs three types of busses between the two cities (all prices approximate!):
A Class: Think of this as coach class. It has 4-across seating and no bathroom which means it makes restroom stops along the way. Price: 129 Baht ($4US) round trip pp.
X Class: Economy Plus. Still 4-across seating but slightly better seat pitch and there is a bathroom on the bus so no potty-break stop delays. Price 295 Baht ($9.30US) round-trip pp.
V Class: Business Class. Also commonly referred to as the VIP Green Bus. This is a step up in both configuration of the seating and service: it is 3-across seating with wide seats that recline and have a foot rest. And each passenger gets a bottle of water and a ‘snack’ that looked to me like a Hostess Twinkie knock-off. Price 553 Baht ($17.40US) round-trip pp.
$13 to move from coach to business class is the very definition of affordable luxury!
VIP Green Bus for the affordable luxury win!
Using the Green Bus website you can create an account, log in and then choose and pay for your bus. You can also choose your seat! And in doing so it even lets you know if the already-selected seats will have a male, a female or a monk sitting in theem in case you are picky about your seatmate…so choose wisely!
Chiang Mai VIP Green Bus Terminal
There are several bus terminals in Chiang Mai. The VIP Green Bus operates out of Bus Terminal 3 to the Northeast of the Old City.
We decided to waive down a red truck to see how much it might cost to go from the center of Nimman to Terminal 3. Answer: 150 Baht ($4.70US) for the two of us.
20 minutes later we were at the terminal!
A few minutes after that we found our VIP Green bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai:
We climbed on board and settled in for the 3+ hour journey (emphasis on the PLUS):
The Journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
Once out of Chiang Mai the first hour of the journey from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was slow and bumpy through endless road construction.
The GOOD news, I suppose, is that once all the construction is finished it will shave an hour or so off the ride.
In the meantime, though, it’s a bumpy slog over lots of unpaved road and narrow lanes:
Eventually we got past the construction and it was smooth sailing…at least until we had to slow to allow a large caravan of bizarre-looking busses to pass.
I only caught the tail end but there must have been 20 or so of these busses passing us on the wrong side of the road:
In all the ride took about 3 hours and 45 minutes from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. I was very happy we had chosen the VIP bus as Lisa got to sleep. A lot:
We had chosen bulkhead row 1.
Having done so, I recommend against choosing row 1 on the VIP Green Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
In all of the other rows on the VIP Green Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai you can extend your feet under the seat in front of you.
In row 1 you have a hard wall.
Lisa is short enough that she was comfortable, but even at a short-ish 5’8 I could not recline and have my footrest up without bending my knees – not comfortable.
I ended up not using my footrest as a result.
On our return journey we were in row 4. It was a far more comfortable experience even when the woman in front of me reclined her seat all the way back (and they recline very far!).
Arrival and Bottom Line
There are two bus terminals in Chiang Rai: one well south of the city center and one smack dab in the city center.
The city center terminal is walkable to most of the central attraction including the night market, clock tower and restaurant areas. It was about a 10-minute walk to our hotel, the Sann. Which I review in the article What to do in Chiang Rai for Affordable Luxury.
The VIP Green Bus Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is a great way to go. For the price delta it was a no-brainer for us.