Central roads: Chiang Mai to Sukhothai

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 21st, 2015. Published in: Travel blog » Thailand.
Cycle rickshaw in Thailand

From Chiang Mai to Sukhothai by any means … motorbike, bus, train, tuk tuk or even if I have to hire this cycle rickshaw.

Making plans for north and central Thailand

My original plan was to take a motorbike from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and tour the north of Thailand and central Thailand with it. That plan changed due to exorbitant fees the Thai bike rental places wanted to charge me in Bangkok. So I took the train. It’s a nice overnight which I have no problem with taking. In hindsight it was far nicer than taking a motorbike.

Once in Chiang Mai my plan was to tour the north of Thailand on a motorbike using the city as my base. That worked out just fine. However there’s only so much of Chiang Mai I can take a second time round. So I continued on with my plan to tour the north central part of Thailand on a motorbike. And this is where the whole bike rental problem started again.

Chiang Mai is great for many people, just not me

Chiang Mai's old city walls

Chiang Mai’s old city walls

Chiang Mai is one of those places people like to base themselves from when traveling. I can see why. It’s the perfect location for day trips and longer trips into Thailand’s north. Chiang Mai’s old walled city offers all types of accommodation from budget to boutique that suits everyone. There’s a near unlimited amount of great places to eat from Thai to western.

If you need a place to chill out and relax for a while, or use as a base to explore north Thailand  Chiang Mai is that place

However if the whole “there’s more tourists here than locals” scenario is something you want to avoid then Chiang Mai is not the best of places.

I liked North Thailand. Friendly, cheaper than expected, better food and plenty to do. I just didn’t like the drone of commercial tourism everywhere and quite frankly seeing tourists everywhere.

Western resturants in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s “Western” parts are something I wanted to be far from …

This is what I wanted in Thailand: a place to chill out and enjoy Thailand. A place to base myself to work for a while without seeing hipster westerners getting drunk or high and talking about startups all the time.

Neither did I want the last decades tourist trend of beer guzzling oldies in western bars or “restaurants” with various assortments of young local ladies tending to them.

Nor a place swarming with designer tour tourists looking for “elusive” elephant treks, long-neck tribes and tiger kingdoms.

Not fussy am I?

I just wanted that really elusive place in travel that offers some creature comforts while still being local enough to feel “special” and not running into a tourist on every corner.

I searched my map again …

Changing plans as you travel is essential

I was going south to Sukhothai. I’d give this tourist “temple town” a shot before ultimately seeking out Ayothaya which seemed like the next best thing for a base aside from Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai's train station

Chiang Mai’s trains did not go where I wanted them to

The only issue was I was not coming back up north and no one would let me have a motorbike at a good price to do this. They all wanted the bike returned. Those that said they’d organise a friend to pick it up and drive it back simply charged too much. My only real option was to buy a motorbike. Something I really didn’t want the hassle with.

I thought about just taking a bus or a train south. The train appealed more. But on my visit to Chiang Mai’s railway station I found out the train only went to  Phitsanulok which then needed me to catch a random bus to Sukhothai which no one had any information about.

Next was my guesthouse owner who simply said “You take bus, easier than too much trouble.” He was right of course. It just meant changing plans to the unromantic notion of just taking a bus instead of a train instead of a motorbike.

The bus from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai

The tuk tuk from Chiang Mai’s old city to the Arcane bus station was a simple affair. In the days prior to my leave I sat in a cafe beside a cluster of tuk tuks and listened to a morning of tourists bargaining with them. 50 baht was the impossible number. Some paid 200. Others 100. I took an early morning tuk tuk for 60 with an added 20 if he didn’t argue about taking 60.

Chiang Mai's Arcade bus station

Chiang Mai’s bus station leads to Sukhothai

Chiang Mai’s bus station is like most of Thailands bus terminals and not that tourist friendly. Scatterings of English signs and destinations does little to tell you where to go, when the bus was leaving or how much it was going to cost.

I went to the terminal opposite the shiny new one which only seemed to serve every destination aside from Sukhothai. The kiosks for Sukhothai were nearly all closed. No one seemed interested in having a”tourist” bus for another 5 hours.

I wandered to back where a row of battered buses were parked and asked a man if he knew where I could get the next bus to Sukhothai. He pointed to a ramshackle kiosk.

Old Sukhothai or New Sukhothai?

The lady behind the kiosk said the next bus to Sukhothai was in 30 minutes. The price was 280 baht. I bought the ticket still confused as to where it was going to drop me. It seemed there were 1.5 stations. The main one and the one small non-official one just outside the main park in Sukhothai where I wanted to stay.

I placed my bag under the bus and got onboard. There were two other tourists both doing their best to ignore me as is customary for tourists in Thailand to do on a local bus. The unwritten royal rule of “We are in Thailand so we shall pretend to be the only tourists here.” My saving grace was that I had both seats to myself far from them. The irony was joyfully lost with the added leg and buttocks room.

4 uneventful hours later and we were rolling into Sukhothai. I watched as we rolled passed a sleepy corner by the main gates to the park. Should I get off or keep going? The tourists stayed. And I stayed. That call of the moment thing.

I got off at the new main terminal just out of curiosity more than anything else. It was shiny and new and a songthaew red jeep ride away from the new city and slew of accommodation options.

Songthaew from Sukhothai bus station to the town

Bus station in Sukhothai

Bus station in Sukhothai

I let the hoard from the bus get picked off by songthaew drivers first and waited until the last had gone. The final lonesome driver came up and offered me a lift for 40 baht. I wasn’t going to argue. We walked to his songthaew and waited until he could round up some more passengers.

It seemed I wasn’t the only tourist with the same idea. The silent couple in the same bus reluctantly appeared at my songthaew too. Still ignoring me. They were arguing with the driver over the price.

The girl walked over to the side as my patience wore thin.

“What’s the problem?” I said breaking the unwritten rule.

She nodded towards the guy she was with, “He says they are overcharging us.”

“How much?”

“80 baht.”

I shrugged, “Well I’m paying 40 to Sukhothai’s new side.”

“We are going farther where our guesthouse is,” cut in the guy pointing to a map on his Lonely Planet guide.

I looked. They were indeed. They were going to the park area right next to the guesthouse I had originally chosen. I could easily have joined them but that would evoked socialising. I raised my eyebrows and sat back down on the tail of the songthaew.

“Well, it’s a little further than where I’m going so it makes sense to charge more.”

The guy wasn’t impressed. “It’s says it should cost 40 to the gates.”

I bit my lip. Guidebook price quotations … Maybe that royal rule had a purpose after all.

A group of Thai’s came over and boarded the Songthaew. I followed them asking the driver if he knew where my guesthouse was on the road. He repeated the name and nodded. The girl outside stared at her travel partner and was obviously not so happy.

We left them standing there as we drove away.Flexibility in traveling independently is something some people never get.

From plan A to B to C I’d made it to Sukhothai. Now let’s see if this town could be a better back up plan than Chiang Mai.

I think it might …

Temples in Sukhothai

Is Sukhothai a better place than Chiang Mai for me? Let’s put first impressions to the back burner until I can get out and have a look

Going to Sukhothai?

For anyone looking for directions to Sukhothai from Bangkok, Chiang Mai by plane, train or by road then you’ll find all those details on my dedicated guide on how to get to Sukhothai.

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in Chiang Mai or Sukhothai?

Here are the best online rates guaranteed!

I recommend you try my own hotel search for Sukhothai and my hotel search for Chiang Mai.


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