While Thailand is justifiably famous for its hospitality industry, the Bangkok area is infamous for its road congestion during daytime hours, though at night, traffic levels abate considerably. Smaller cities like Chiang Mai and Buriram or even Phuket are also quite busy at peak hours, but nothing like Bangkok. Domestic flights can get delayed sometimes but price and time wise, a very good option, while driving yourself on highways can be very expensive (car rental and insurance from 1500 baht/day, plus fuel costs and tolls) and complicated due to signage and constant road works all over the country, besides Thailand having one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world. Never the less, railways and the government bus companies provide very safe and comfortable links between many cities and towns, the only draw backs are the long travel times and lack of sufficient nice facilities and generous stopage times along the way for restaurants or to go to toilets, in-bus facilities although relatively comfortable, allow only the bare basics in terms of personal relief. In this respect, it may be a good idea to travel distances in excess of 350 km by air, as the bus trip will take about 7 hr compared to 1 hr and ticket prices cost around double (about 450 baht compared to 900 baht). Trains 2nd class sleeper cabins cost about same or more than flights but are even slower than buses. A trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train can take more than a day and cost more than the 1.5-hr flight (about 1200 baht compared with 1000 baht to fly). When in smaller cities or towns, you can hire a step-in 125/150cc bike at a reasonable price (about 1000 baht/week with helmets included, and you need proper bike driving permit) to get around and explore nearby areas. Normally if you stay in reputable places, be it low cost or expensive, the people running the establishment can arrange this on your behalf since they have valuable local knowledge and contacts, never the less, always do a web search to get an idea of what to expect.
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting in a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Never terribly expensive to begin with (at least by Western standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators: with a little research, it's possible to fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2,000 baht. On highly competitive routes like Bangkok to Phuket it is possible to fly for less than a bus ticket if you book in advance. Various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to advertised prices.
The airlines have moved away from routing all flights via Bangkok and offer non-stop connections between popular destinations like Chiang Mai and Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai, Phuket and Ko Samui and Phuket and Siem Reap. The budget airlines are also selling 'flights' that are actually packages combining flights with ferry and bus transfers to extend their reach to destinations without usable airports. Few airlines limit themselves to domestic operations; you are likely to find that some budget airline offers better connections to Myanmar or China. The numerous airlines and changing routes make flight price comparison websites useful as long as you buy tickets directly from the airline; you are not going to get Thai budget airline tickets cheaper through a third party.
Pan-ASEAN low-cost carrier AirAsia has great coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers steeply discounted tickets if booked well in advance; however, prices rise steadily as planes fill up. It's often the cheapest option, sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if booked at least a week or two in advance. They fly their A320s from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, and to Cambodia, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Their website displays "all-inclusive" prices during booking (which, however, still do not include optional surcharges such as baggage fees). On-line booking is straightforward and can be done even using the mobile phone, but must be done at least 24 hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in desk close one hour before the departure time.
Bangkok Airways promotes itself as "Asia's Boutique Airline", and has a monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways), Sukhothai, and Trat. Quite an expensive and "posh" option; however, their Discovery Airpass with fixed per segment rates can be good value, especially if used to fly to Siem Reap, (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang, (Laos). The Discovery Airpass can only be purchased abroad.
Kan Airlines uses Chiang Mai as its hub and specializes in routes poorly served by its bigger competitors. For example, it is the only airline flying to Hua Hin.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting lurid paint schemes with a bird's beak painted on the nose. Owned mostly by Thai Airways, they compete with Air Asia on price and, with a fairly comprehensive domestic network, are a pretty good choice overall. They ran into some serious turbulence in 2008, cutting their flights by two-thirds, but now seem to have recovered.
Orient Thai, previously One-Two-Go, is easily the dodgiest of Thailand's main carriers, flying a ragtag bunch of ancient planes with a poor safety record, including a crash in Phuket in 2007 that killed 90 people. The fleet has been grounded on and off, but as of late-2010 they're flying again. Unlike most LCCs, their ticket prices don't change much, meaning they're often the cheapest option for last-minute flights. If you're taller than about 1.80 m, get an exit row seat unless you want to ride the whole flight with your knees resting against the seat in front.
Thai Airways International is the most reliable, frequent, and comfortable Thai airline, but usually more expensive than the alternatives (look for their promotions). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways (and Bangkok Airways) tickets; you can also book on-line. Thai Airways is a member of Star Alliance; all domestic flights, except some promotional fares, give at least 500 Star Alliance miles, which may (partially) compensate the price difference.
Thai Lion Air is a budget airline started in 2013 as an offshoot of the Indonesian Lion Air. It still runs aggressive price promotions on most popular routes but you may have to fly very late or very early with inconvenient airport transfers.
Thai VietJet Air operates flights on behalf of the Vietnamese VietJet Air using Suvarnabhumi as its hub.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000-km network covering most of the country, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but safer. You can pick up fruits, snacks and cooked food from vendors at most stations.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three classes of service:
Tickets may be purchased on-line starting 1 February 2017 from Thairailwayticket.com. Tickets may be purchased from 60 days in advance to two hours before departure.
You can ship your motorbike on the same train on which you travel. All trains do not have baggage cars, so check with the ticket office. Shipping costs for motorbikes are roughly equivalent to the price of a first-class ticket on the same train.
Full information regarding routes, timetables and up-to-date ticket costs along with interesting videos can be found at seat61.com.
Thailand's roads are head and shoulders above its neighbors Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia and in the last few years, being the subject of major improvements but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are common and bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves awake, with predictable and tragic results. Lately, road blocks and strict policing are being implemented quite often in an attempt to address the situation but it may still take same time for the results to start bearing fruit. There are an estimated 24,000 fatalities on Thai roads annually. It's common for motorbikes — even police! — to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around major holidays, especially Songkhran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers forget to switch on headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
Unlike in its neighbours (except Malaysia), traffic moves on the left side of the road in Thailand and Thai cars are generally right-hand drive. Most official road directional signs are written in both Thai and English.
Renting a car to explore on your own is not a very cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track, unless you are with a 4-person group, and will avoid the constant hassle of haggling with local taxi/tuk-tuk drivers. Most major roads are marked in both Thai and English and traffic culture is not as bad as some might lead you to believe. Keep a sharp lookout in both mirrors from passing traffic including 18-wheelers and scooters. If you travel with one companion and have a motor bike license, it's worth it exploring the possibilities of using small automatic gearbox 125/150cc step-on bikes to do shorter local excursions and use other mass means of transport for longer travel distances between cities and towns. It's quite safe to use these bikes and it allows one to appreciate the landscapes, if you stick to moderate speeds and keep to the left hand side of the road, like the local bikers do.
Traffic on major highways moves at 100-120 km/h, while smaller highways are generally 80 km/h. Gas stations are common and most Thai are more than willing to give directions in spite of any language barriers.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some Western drivers.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and dangerous, and driving at night also increased the risk of accidents — even if you're sober, many others aren't.
If you're traveling by public conveyance-bus, train, airplane-you may be shocked at the difference in cost between long distance and local travel. A 119 km journey between Khon Kaen and Udon Thani in a minivan costs 84 baht, or 0.71 baht per kilometre. Traveling the three kilometres from the bus station to a hotel will cost 60-100 baht, or 20-33 baht per kilometre (Nov 2015).
Renting a car usually costs between 1,200-1,500 baht if you want to go for an economical one like a Toyota Vios. Most international companies can be found in Thailand. Also check guides to particular cities for reputable local car rental companies, which are often a little cheaper. You can choose among international companies such as Budget, Avis or you can choose to book with local company like www.thailandcarsrentals.com. Check the documentation and make sure that everything is done according to rules. Perform required checks and notify the car company about any damage before using the vehicle.
Buses travel throughout the country and the government's bus company BKS (บขส Baw Kaw Saw), known in English simply as the Transport Company, has a terminal in every province of any size.
Generally speaking, BKS buses are a good option for both price and comfort. There are also private buses sanctioned by BKS, which operate on the same routes from the same terminals with the same fares, and these are also fine. The ones to watch out for are the illegal bus companies, which operate from tourist areas (especially Khao San Road) and subsidize slightly cheaper tickets with worse amenities, schedules and safety. In particular, beware of non-government "VIP" buses, which often turn out to be cramped minivans - and you'll only find this out after paying in advance.
The basic BKS bus types are:
Some buses may have TVs and sound systems blaring, so earplugs are well worth having, just in case. On long-haul buses, if your ticket allocates you a front seat, you may have to switch seats if a monk boards.
If you are travelling a long distance on a daytime bus, take a minute to figure out the sunny side and the shady side of the bus. For example, going from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on a 09:00 bus (south), seats on the right side will be bathed in sunlight all day (curtains are provided), so the left side is preferred by most.
Like travelling by train, pre-booking and e-ticketing is also available in some bus lines routing from Bangkok to reachable provinces and vice-versa. e-Tickets can be booked and purchased through travel agencies, bus-line websites and online ticketing systems such as, 12go.asia.
Other reputable tour bus companies:
Minivan services are ubiquitous, although under the radar as minivans typically are anonymous grey Toyota vans with no company markings. They serve shorter routes, such as Krabi to Phuket, about 180 km or Bangkok to Hua Hin, about 200 km. The purported advantage of taking a minibus is speed, as they move quickly once they get going. Disadvantages are that they are expensive compared with standard bus travel, they can be uncomfortable as they are usually crammed full, and they offer little room for luggage. Take minivans from bus stations. Do not take minivans that offer to pick you up at your hotel. They will pick you up, but then you will spend the next hour driving to other hotels to pick up more passengers. You will then be driven to an aggregator where all the collected passengers will disembark to wait for the minivan to their respective destinations. Then you will likely be driven to a bus station to change to a third and final minivan. Better just to sleep in, then go to bus station to book your (cheaper) minivan ticket, thus saving 2 hours of pointless discomfort.
A songthaew (สองแถว) is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side — hence the name, which means "two rows" in Thai. In English tourist literature, they're occasionally called "minibuses". By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.
Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses (generally the most economical way to travel shorter distances) and also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to someplace if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price of the ride before embarking.
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (e.g., the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively recent development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket.
Tuk-tuks are small, noisy, and perhaps dangerous; but possibly the worst thing about them is that, as a passenger, you cannot see a damned thing due to the low roof line. To catch even a glimpse of the passing scene you will find yourself practically supine.
You will often find yourself at the mercy of the tuk-tuk driver when it comes to pricing as you will likely have no clue as to the acceptable raa kaa Thai ("Thai price") and will probably have to cough up a raa kaa farang ("farang price"). Even if you do know the Thai price, the driver may just not bother to accept it on principle. If you pay with a larger denomination bill, it is also probable that the driver will whine that he has no change. If this happens, try to break the note in a nearby shop.
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and starting to become more popular in Chiang Mai, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport - insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter. Always use the meter! Most drivers do not speak English, so be sure to have your hotel staff write the names of your destinations in Thai to show the driver.
As is the case throughout virtually all of Southeast Asia, motorcycles (motosai) are the most common form of transport overall; the most popular type are the 100 cc-125 cc step-through models. These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 10 baht. Negotiate the fare with the driver before using his service otherwise you may be charged more than you expect.
Motorcycles can be rented without difficulty in many locations. Rates start at around 125 baht/day for recent 100-125 cc semi-automatic (foot-operated gear change, automatic clutch) step-through models, 150 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models can also easily be found, although the rates reflect the risks: up to around 2,500 baht/day for the very latest model high capacity sport bikes, such as the Honda CBR1000RR. In all cases, lower prices will apply if paying upfront for more than a week or so; in some cases, long-distance travel may be prohibited. Motorcycle rentals do not include insurance, and both motorcycling accidents and motorbike thefts are common.
Many places will rent to you without requiring a license, but legally speaking you must have a valid Thai license or International Driver's Permit. Often a deposit will be required; sometimes a passport photocopy, or even the passport itself will be requested (Don't do this. Bargain to leave some baht instead). Helmets are normally included, but are usually ultra-basic models with very flimsy chin-strap fasteners. If you're intending to travel by motorcycle and have a good quality helmet at home, then bring it with you. If supplied a helmet with a chin-cup (many cheap rental helmets are), slide the cup up the strap out of the way and securely fasten the bare strap directly under the jaw, as this is much safer.
Insurance is usually not included (or even available), so try to ensure in advance that the insurance you leave home with is going to cover you; alternatively, arrange cover with an insurance broker locally in Thailand. If you rent a vehicle without insurance and it's damaged or stolen (take photos of the bike at the time of rental!), the bottom line is that you will be required to pay in full the cost of repairing or replacing it. Furthermore, some travel insurance policies will only provide medical cover in the event of an accident if you hold a motorcycle license in your home country.
According to the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, Thailand in 2010 had 38.1 road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the second highest in the world. 74% of those fatalities involved "motorized two or three wheelers". Motorcyclists (including passengers) are required to wear crash helmets and to keep their headlights switched on at all times. Enforcement varies widely, but in tourist areas spot checks for helmets and/or licenses are commonplace. While the fines are light (typically 400 baht) the inconvenience can be considerable as offender's vehicle and/or driver's license is impounded until the fine is paid, and the queue at the police station can be lengthy.
Some (but not all) border crossings allow motorcycles through. At those which do, documentation including proof of ownership must be produced (with the possible exception of day visits to Payathonzu, Myanmar via Three Pagodas Pass).
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 800 baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 600 baht/day for open-topped Jeeps. Cars with insurance start at just under 1,000 baht/day, and come down to around 5,600 baht/week or 18,000 baht/month.
Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left hand side of the road. Fuel at large petrol stations is 37-45 baht/litre. Small kerbside vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few baht more.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It's worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum to use one of the international franchises (e.g. Avis, Budget, and Hertz) to minimize the risk of hassles, and to ensure that any included insurance is actually worth something.
More reputable agencies require that valid licences be produced. Foreigners who do not have a Thai driving licence must carry a valid International Driving Permit. Even if you manage to rent a car without an IDP, not having one will invalidate the insurance and count against you in the event of an accident.
A common rental scam involves the owner taking a deposit, and then later refusing to refund it in full on the basis that the customer is responsible for previous damage; the Tourist Police (dial 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam involves the owner having someone follow the rented vehicle and later "steal" it, using a set of spare keys. Always report thefts: a "stolen" vehicle may mysteriously turn up as soon as the police become involved.
One of the Thais' many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.
Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the longtail boat (reua hang yao), a long, narrow wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long "tail" stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manoeuvrable even in shallow waters, but they're a little underpowered for longer trips and you'll get wet if it's even a little choppy. Longtails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely. Figure on 300-400 baht for a few hours' rental, or up to 1,500 baht for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, longtails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services, sometimes ferries (departure every 30 min) also run from the Surat Thani to popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Truly long-distance services (e.g., Bangkok to any other major city) have, however, effectively ceased to exist as buses, planes, and even trains are faster. Safety measures are rudimentary and ferries and speedboats do sink occasionally, so avoid overloaded ships in poor weather, and scope out the nearest life jackets when on board. As of November 2018, ferry service is available between Hua Hin and Pattaya, a 2.5-hour journey for 1,250 Thai Bhat on a catamaran with a maximum capacity of 340.