We have never been big fans of long road trips or riding the rails. Of course there are exceptions. Winding our way through the beautiful Southern Alps of New Zealand or zipping along the tracks at 200 mph on the Japanese shinkansen (bullet train) is always fun.
Outside of the potential headaches of long lines and lost luggage (which doesn't happen to us now that we only have carry on bags), we like to get to where we are going quickly. Most of the time, flying is the way to go. In Thailand all of these options are readily available, but the funny thing is, they all cost about the same price.
How can airfare be the same price as a bus ticket, you ask? I don't know all the number crunching behind it, but it truly is just as cheap!
Taking the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is nearly a 12 hour trip. You leave in the evening and travel all night to arrive in the morning. So you don't get a whole lot of sightseeing done except for a couple of daylight hours on both ends of the trip. The cost is between 600-800 baht ($17-$25) for a 2nd class sleeper car. One benefit to this mode of transport is that you save on a hotel because you are traveling at night. We did use this method as we traveled in Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur to Alor Setar bound for Langkawi Island and it was a wonderful experience.
You can purchase bus tickets from Chiang Mai to Bangkok between 300-500 baht ($9-$15) on the "tourist bus" or 750 ($22) baht for the VIP bus. On the VIP bus, it comes with an attendant plus you get snacks and water. Again, this trip is between 10-12 hours.
Our favorite airline to travel within Thailand is Lion Air. We just purchased our ticket for the one hour flight to Bangkok when we leave in September for 395 baht ( $12) per ticket. With taxes, (which are less than $5) for two people, our total one way transportation costs are only 795 baht ($23)! This price includes free seat selection, free sports equipment (15 kgs), and free check-in baggage up to 15 kgs. You also get your one carry-on bag up to 7 kgs.
Now, you might be thinking we are flying on one of the original Wright Brothers creations, but that is not the case. Their fleet are all brand new 737-900s.
This airline, like Air Asia, operates out of Don Mueang Airport. This is the old international airport in Bangkok which has essentially turned into a domestic and low cost airline hub. If you have an international flight that leaves Suvaranabhumi (pronounced "sue wanna poom") airport, no problem, there is a free shuttle between these two airports for those who have same day departures.
When you travel as much as we do, finding bargains is very important as well as how you get there. Options are plentiful and discounts are to be had, but you have to do a little research. As we are finding out, since we are not tied to our work/school schedule anymore is that rock bottom prices for transportation can be easily found during the off season.
So, if you have the time and flexibility to travel during the low season, look at all your options when traveling. You never know what hidden gems are out there. Good luck!