This was our first experience of using the Thai bus system and by and large it was ok (once you work out where the buses leave from).
Chiang Mai has 3 bus stations – Chang Phuak on the north side of the moated city – this is where local songtaews are based. It is also known as Terminal 1. Then there is the Arcade Bus Station which comprises Terminal 2 and 3 which is located near the super highway and Central Festival Mall to the North East of the city. It is just over 4 kilometers from Tapae Gate and is where the regional buses depart to all points North, South, East and West.
I had done some investigation prior to our planned trip down to Sukothai (about 300 km’s south of Chiang Mai) and even rode down to the Arcade bus station some weeks prior to departure to get the lay of the land. As a result of this we learnt that all but 2 buses, each day, went to Sukothai via Lamphun, Lampang and Tak. The other two made more stops along the way and took a bit longer than the scheduled 5 hrs 30 mins. These were the ones highlighted in red on the timetable at the start of this post.
The day of departure from CM (Chiang Mai) arrived and we packed our bags and headed off about 9 am for our 10.15 am departure to Sukothai. This would give us plenty of time to get to Arcade Bus Station, buy our tickets (207 baht – about $8.30 AUD) and get the bus. As it turned out we were able to get a songtaew very quickly and arrived at Arcade much earlier than expected. Excited at the prospect of not having to ‘hang around’ the bus station we saw that there was a 9.45 am departure (having almost totally forgotten about my earlier research). We asked at the ticket booth how long the earlier departure would take and were told 5 hrs 30 minutes, and the 10.15 am departure – 5 hrs 30 minutes, same same.
OK – we’ll take the earlier bus. Who wants to hang around a bus station longer than is needed anyway? This is where you learn that the Thai people only tell you what you want to hear – not the real answer!
We boarded the air conditioned bus and all was well through Lamphun and Lampang and then about 40 clicks south of Lampang we turned left onto a side road and soon the bus was labouring up steep inclines and travelling through dry forest. Where the ‘f’ were we going? We were on the 1048 heading towards the Mae Mok Reservoir. The air con in the bus started to deteriorate due to the strain and we wondered how long this ‘detour’ would add to the journey.
Eventually we descended back to the plains to some quite spectacular scenery and local village life. We ventured into small communities (like Thung Saliam), dropped locals off, picked up local parcels for deliveries further up the line and continued on our way. Looking at the map I figured we’d approach Sukothai from the north and therefore turn right (south) once we joined the north-south 101 road. Wrong. We turned left and headed into Sawankhalok! Pick up a couple more passengers, drop off some more parcels to addresses on the way and finally we are heading south to Sukothai.
We arrive just on 6 hours after departure which is about when the later 10.15 am bus was due to arrive – I have no idea if it arrived before us or not.
So, was it worth catching the earlier ‘slower’ but same, same bus? At the time we weren’t particularly impressed that it took longer than advertised BUT on reflection it was probably a much more interesting insight into how the locals travel and provided some quite interesting scenery. If you’re not in a hurry then this a worthwhile trip.