Transportation in Thailand

Long Distance Travel Within Thailand

There are many ways to travel within Thailand. Deciding which one is best for you usually comes down to your budget, time constraints, sense of adventure, desire for interaction with local culture, Airplane wing Suvanabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailandand level of risk tolerance. I travel on all of these forms of transportation at one time or another, depending on the circumstances.

This is an overview of the various ways you can travel long distance within Thailand. Check back to see upcoming posts about domestic travel in Thailand.

Times are approximate. In Thailand, people live on “Thai time” – things happen when they happen, not necessarily when they are scheduled to happen. A good, relaxing life or vacation in Thailand is best achieved by leaving time expectations at home and going with the flow. Bring a book or iPod. Flexibility makes life so much more enjoyable.

Prices listed are approximate and could change at any time.

Plane

Advantages:

  • Fast. Most major Thai destinations outside of Bangkok can be reached in 45 – 90 minutes.

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive. (Though often much cheaper than domestic flights in more developed countries.)

Common domestic prices:

  • 2,000 – 3,500 baht

Train Train conductor in Ayuthaya, Thailand

My favorite way to travel long distance in Thailand is 2nd class sleeper.

Advantages:

  • Cheap.
  • Comfort. You can stand up and walk around, and even lay down in the sleepers.
  • A fun experience.
  • A chance for Interaction with local people.
  • The traveling late-night, international party in the dining car.

Disadvantages:

  • Slow. (But the journey is half the fun.)

Bangkok to Chaing Mai: 12 – 14 hours
Bangkok to Udon Thani: 10 – 11½ hours
Bangkok to Surat Thani: 8 – 9 hours

  • Often late. (Still, I love the train.)
  • Does not stop near Phuket. (Going from Bangkok to Phuket, you need to get off at Surathani (8 – 9 hours) and take a bus the rest of the way, another 4½ – 6  hours.)

Common domestic prices:

1st class sleeper

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 1,250 – 1,450 baht
  • Bangkok to Udon Thani: 1,100 – 1,300 baht
  • Bangkok to Surathani: 1,200 – 1,400 baht

2nd class sleeper

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 800 – 900 baht
  • Bangkok to Udon Thani: 650 – 750 baht
  • Bangkok to Surathani: 450 -750 baht

3rd class
(Bench seats; not available on all long distance trains)

  • Bangkok to Surathani: 250 baht

NOTE: 3rd class is my favorite way to go from Bangkok to Ayuthaya. It takes 2 – 2½  hours and you travel with local people. The cost can be as low as 15 baht!

Long Distance Bus Thailand long distance VIP bus

Advantages:

  • Cheap.
  • Relatively comfortable. 24 and 32 seat “V.I.P.” buses have only 3 seats across, and have toilets. They are not bad – for buses! 36, 40 and 46 seat buses are progressively cheaper, and less comfortable.

Disadvantages:

  • Slow.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 10 – 11 hours
Bangkok to Udon Thani: 8 – 10 hours
Bangkok to Phuket: 12 hours

  • Often quite late on Thai national holidays because of dense traffic, especially going back into Bangkok on the last evening of a holiday. Check your flight times and the Thai holiday calendar.
  • Comfort. Buses with more than 36 seats can be cramped.

Common prices:
(V.I.P. 24 and 32 seat buses)

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 500
  • Bangkok to Udon Thani: 400
  • Bangkok to Phuket: 980

Mini Bus (10-15 seat van)

The travel times and fares of mini buses are about the same as long distance buses, so I don’t see much advantage to them. On a V.I.P. bus, you have much more room to move and a toilet.

Advantages:

  • Very easy to find in tourist areas.
  • Cheap. Similar to air conditioned buses.

Disadvantages:

  • Comfort. Cramped. No room to move on a long trip. (Tough with a bad back!) No toilet.
  • Safety. Less regulated than major bus companies, many independent contractors, drivers often don’t get enough sleep.

Common Prices:

  • Similar to are conditioned, long distance buses.

Taxi (automobile) Taxis in Bangkok, Thailand

Found in all major cities. Can be hired for long distance travel to nearly anywhere in the country.

Advantages:

  • Custom transportation to fit your schedule and route.
  • A chance to learn about and interact with local culture and to see out-of-the-way sites.

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than the train or a bus.
  • May be limited somewhat by the schedule, routine or plans of the driver.

Common prices:

  • 1,500 – 2,000 baht per day
  • Fuel, toll fees, and meals may be extra (discuss these clearly before you begin your trip).

Suggestion: In your travels around Thailand, get a business card or phone number from a taxi driver you enjoy riding with and trust. Most would be happy to take you on a long trip. Look for a driver you get along with and who speaks at least some of your language. Treat them well with meals and soft drinks during the day and you can learn about Thai culture and interesting places on your trip.

Rental Car Car for rent in Phuket, Thailand

Advantages:

  • You are in complete control of your schedule and route.
  • Safer than a rental motorcycle.

Disadvantages:

  • Safety. Driving in Thailand is a big challenge. For most of  us, it’s not like driving back home. Moving enforcement of traffic violations is rare at best. If you are not a confident, defensive driver with nerves of steel, it’s better to let someone else drive.
  • Expensive. Don’t forget to figure the cost of fuel, which is expensive in Thailand as it is everywhere. Check to see if you have to pay for mileage or not.

Covering yourself:

  • Insurance. Get it. With a reputable rental car company, you will be covered for a reasonable price. With a shady company or private renter, you may not be covered even though you thought you were. Check with your insurance company at home or your credit card company.

Common prices:

  • 600 – 2,000 baht per day (more for luxury cars or SUVs)
  • You pay for fuel

Rental motorcycle Motorcycles for rent in Phuket, Thailand

I love to ride motorcycles and I plan vacations around motorcycle trips in Thailand. If you are an experienced rider, Thailand is a great place to ride. If you are an inexperienced rider, it can be a very scary place to learn how to ride.

Advantages:

  • Fun.
  • You are in complete control of your schedule and route.
  • Cheap, to relatively inexpensive.

Disadvantages:

  • Safety. Traffic in Thailand can be crazy! The most common injury for foreigners I have seen in hospitals around Thailand is motorcycle injuries, mostly “road rash”, but some much worse. Always wear a helmet and protective clothing. (Shorts and plastic sandals don’t qualify as protective clothing.) Emergency medical services are also very limited in rural Thailand.

Covering yourself:

  • Insurance. In general, there is little, to no, motorcycle insurance on rental motorcycles  in Thailand. Some big shops offer it, but it usually has very limited coverage. Usually, if you break it, you pay for it on the spot. Make sure you have medical insurance that covers you while riding a motorcycle overseas.

Common prices:
Ask for discounts for multiple days, weeks or months.

Common bikes for rent everywhere:

  • Honda Wave or Dream – 100, 110, and125 cc: 200 baht per day
  • Honda Click – 110 and 125 cc: 300 baht per day

Specialty bikes:

  • Honda Phantom – 200 cc: 650 – 800 Baht per day. (There are rumors that a new 250 cc Phantom may coming soon…)
  • Kawasaki KLX or D-Tracker – 250 cc: 650 – 800 Baht per day
  • Big bikes – 250 to 1,200 cc: 650 – 2,500 per day
  • You pay for fuel in all bikes.

Note: It is common practice in Thailand for shops or individuals who rent motorcycles to ask you for your passport to hold as collateral for the bike. I have been doing this for years without any problem. They have my passport, it’s true, but I have their bike. Some renters will let you take the bike if you leave a copy of your passport and a deposit, often something like 5,000 baht.

Enjoy your travels!
Joe

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One Response to Transportation in Thailand

  1. jules 21 September 2012 at 19:37 #

    I think most people that rent cars or motorbikes generally forget about the cost of fuel. Can be pretty huge % of the cost and really does make a big difference like you say.

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