IMPORTANT UPDATE! since writing this article the slow characterful red buses no longer ply this route. It is a shame as the slower pace of these buses gave you time to enjoy the scenery along the route (and were probably safer than the higher speed tourist minivans!)
Most people will use Chiang Mai as their jumping-off point to the small town of Pai. Pai is a relatively short 130 km from Chiang Mai but most of the route passes through the mountains so journey times are usually over the 3-hour mark. Pai is well connected from Chiang Mai by bus with a few different options. Timetables do change frequently but departures are very frequent (especially for the minibus services) Most public buses will continue onto Mae Hong Son via the small town of Bang Mapha
There are three main choices for the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai:
1. Government Licensed “big ordinary bus” – These buses are usually old and red with plenty of Character 🙂 They move slow;ly especially up some of the steep inclines on the road to Pai the journey takes around 4 hours. These buses depart from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. The current fare is a very cheap 72 baht. The bus stops halfway for a 15-minute toilet and coffee break (no toilet onboard). Tickets can be bought on the day or in advance at the ticket office at Arcade Bus Station. Bus tickets for Pai (and other destinations on the Mae Hong Son route) are sold from their own dedicated ticket counter to one side of the main bus station. If you can not find it then ask around, and you will be pointed in the right direction.
2. Government Licensed Air-con Minibus – The 13 passenger seat minibuses which run this route are definitely a bit cramped when full, but air-con is provided (but not always that effective! especially with 13 warm bodies aboard). These buses are quicker than ordinary buses and take around 3 hours, however, the drivers do have a reputation for driving like lunatics! These minibuses depart from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. The cost of a ticket is a very reasonable 150 baht and tickets can be bought from the same ticket counter as the ordinary bus.
3. Tourist Minibus Service – The tourist minibus service is fast and efficient and usually operates with 13 passenger seat minibuses and are very similar to the government licensed minibus service. The main difference is that the tourist service includes pick up from your hotel and guest house in Chiang Mai. Tickets can usually be purchased at your own hotel or guest house or pop into the Travel Hub office at Thapae gate as we also sell this service. Journey time is around 3 hours and the fare is 170 baht
Ordinary Bus Time Table from Chiang Mai to Pai
Public Mini Bus Timetable Chiang Mai – Pai – Bang Mapha – Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son
Tourist Mini Bus Timetable Chiang Mai – Pai