Chiang Mai: Off to the beach or mountains

CHIANG MAI, 8 February 2019: Competition will heat up on two direct airline routes that will offer travellers and residents in Chiang Mai more options to hop on a flight to Krabi in South Thailand, or Luang Prabang in Laos.

Bangkok Airways will serve these two contrasting destinations – Krabi, a beach resort on Thailand’s Andaman coast and Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage town in mountainous Laos – with three weekly flights each during the summer timetable effective 31 March to the end of October.

It will face tough competition on the direct Chiang Mai – Krabi route, which is already served with three daily Thai AirAsia flights, while Bangkok Airways will muster just three flights weekly, 31 March to 29 April, followed by daily services in May.

Bangkok Airways will use the 144-seat A319 on the route, while Thai AirAsia flies the A320 with 180 seats.

Thai AirAsia’s cheapest roundtrip fare to Krabi is around THB5,500 before tax and fees. Online travel agencies such as Skyscanner are not currently posting Bangkok Airways fares for the new service starting 31 March.

A check of Bangkok Airways website, flagged a roundtrip fare of THB5,080 before taxes and add-on fees, but booking the return leg, Krabi-Chiang Mai, was problematic in April. Offers were limited to one-stop services via Bangkok. Once you shifted the booking request to May the nonstop service options, both ways, were easier to book.

Krabi is fast catching up with Phuket Island, as a popular beach destination, mainly due to an increase in direct flights from key Asian cities.

Airline links from northern cities such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to the two Andaman Sea destinations are also attracting the attention of travellers keen to combine mountain and beach experiences into a single holiday.

There are already numerous direct flights from Chiang Mai to Phuket. Thai AirAsia serves the route with three daily flights and roundtrip fares are pegged at around THB6,480. Bangkok Airways also offers a single daily flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket with fares around THB8,000.

Vietjet’s daily service from Chiang Rai to Phuket has been a resounding success with strong two-way traffic split between domestic holiday groups, international travellers and people working in Phuket visiting friends and relatives in the far north city that borders Laos and Myanmar.

Bangkok Airways’ three weekly Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang service will compete head-on with Lao Airlines when it starts 2 April.

The Lao national airline offers five weekly services to the World Heritage town in northern Laos (no flights Tuesday and Thursday).

Lao Airlines pegs the lowest roundtrip fare for April flights at USD215 (THB6,725) before add-on fees. The website is not user friendly. Full details of the fare and add-on fees are not clearly identified before you fill in your personal details. It also quickly turns into a time wasting endeavour due to the website’s failure to identify flight days. By punching in dates it eventually became apparent that the airline skips Tuesday and Thursday. Lao Airlines is not alone in confusing passengers. Most airline websites fail to provide details of frequencies per week on a specific route.

Unfortunately efforts to book a flight on Lao Airlines through an independent online travel agency, such as Expedia, Wego and Skyscanner failed. Lao Airlines like so many of the smaller airlines in the Mekong Region needs a broader channel coverage through OTAs.

Bangkok Airways’ website is not the easiest website to navigate when compared with independent OTAs, but its fares are loaded on all major booking sites and flights are available in all major global distribution systems (GDS) unlike Lao Airlines.

The Thai airline’s best roundtrip fare on the Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang route in April was THB7,567 considerably more than Lao Airline.

Fortunately, it flies on Tuesday and Thursday the two days when Lao Airlines takes a break.  The third PG flight is on a Saturday duplicating Lao Airlines. Departures for both airlines from Chiang Mai are late afternoon 1515 for QV and 1630 for PG.

Both airlines are using the 70-seat ATR72 on the route.